Perhaps the only trend more amazing than the rapid pace of technological innovation that we have seen over the past several years is the speed with which we have started taking the latest inventions for granted. When we stop marveling at – for example – virtual assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa, and when we start viewing them as a regular part of daily life, it can be easy to lose sight of the incredible possibilities that these technologies create.
But if we combine elements of new technologies in innovative ways, we can create products with even more amazing (and practical) abilities.
I believe that is where the future of RPA lies, and I think we’ll start to see more of it in the coming year. Most importantly, the merging of various technologies into RPA will allow automation to become more accessible than ever before to virtually every employee. That’s why 2019 is the year we will start to see the decentralization of RPA.
Sound abstract? It’s not. Imagine a virtual assistant as easy to use as Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Now imagine that virtual assistant running on your computer and performing the same repetitive processes for today’s RPA solutions – for example, automatically processing insurance or medical claims, payments, and other paperwork. And imagine it being able to learn and make strategic business decisions with amazing effectiveness, relying on its AI-driven ability to identify patterns and make predictions.
If we could integrate those capabilities, we could create a software robot with the ability to respond to user requests as smoothly as today’s best virtual assistants. It could perform important business processes, some of which would require it to weigh strategic considerations and make decisions – and it could do it all at the command of a regular user. That technology could be user-friendly enough for each employee to have their own robot, and each of those robots could push the boundaries of automatable business processes further than they’ve ever been pushed before.
Here’s the thing: All the technologies mentioned above – virtual assistants, RPA solutions, and AI-driven technologies for finding patterns and making predictions – can be integrated, and soon they will be. I expect to see RPA solutions incorporate technologies including those that drive virtual assistants and intelligent performance management systems, and I expect to start seeing it before 2019 is over.
But as remarkable as those technological capabilities will be, their impact on the productivity of businesses and individuals – the ways they will allow for the decentralized use of automation – will be even more amazing.
The Coming Decentralization of Automation
There is already little doubt as to the potential value of automation for businesses. It is hard to deny that automation increases efficiency, cut costs, and prevent errors. But for many companies and many employees, seeing the upside of automation does not necessarily mean starting down the path to implementing RPA.
The main obstacles? The twin challenges of finding processes to automate and developing automation workflows for each process. The exciting news is that both of those hurdles are now poised to crumble.
In general, that’s because RPA is constantly getting more user-friendly. More specifically, it’s because it is now possible to automatically identify automatable processes and create workflows for them – two capabilities that essentially automate the process of automation.
As RPA becomes even more accessible to regular business users, it’s not hard to imagine what technologies like these could do for workers and their companies. For example, think of an HR specialist who needs to enter the details of 40 new employees into all of the company’s systems. With an RPA solution that uses machine learning to identify patterns, after the employee enters the relevant information for a few employees, their own robot could display a message offering to complete the data entry for the rest of the employees.
And with robots increasingly able to make AI-driven strategic business decisions, the capabilities of RPA can go even further. For instance, let’s say an insurance company’s customer service representative receives a call from a customer who would like more information about health insurance for their young child. As the employee updates the customer’s electronic file, their intelligent robot could pick up on the pattern showing that this is a golden opportunity for cross-selling. Not only could the robot then prompt the employee to recommend other relevant insurance policies, but they could tell the employee which policies to suggest in order to optimize the customer’s experience and maximize the company’s profit.
Why Automation Is Headed for a Split
As much as we can expect RPA to become increasingly user-friendly for regular employees who don’t necessarily have a technical background, there will still be processes that will be more complicated to automate – especially large-scale, centralized, back-office processes. Think of the way a large corporation might benefit from automating all of its processing of invoices from a wide variety of vendors. For processes like these, a user-friendly attended automation solution with an intuitive interface might not be the ideal solution.
Large-scale processes like these present big businesses with great opportunities for automation, especially because of the volume of work that can be saved by automating a single one of these processes. Yet they represent just a small portion of the opportunities for automation that are present within today’s companies. I would estimate that these kinds of processes make up roughly 20 percent of enterprises’ automation potential, while the processes that individual employees will soon be able to automate account for around 80 percent.
While the potential for small-scale, user-friendly automation increases, I also expect to see the solutions for handling large-scale, back-office automation continue to improve in 2019. With both solution types continuing to get smarter and more effective, in a sense they will undoubtedly move in opposite directions. The back-office solutions will attempt to show that no process is too large for automation, while their more user-friendly counterparts will show that no task is too small for it.
With those trends pushing automation solutions in such different directions, I expect to see a divergence within RPA solutions in 2019. Both types should continue to grow, creating more potential benefit for companies – but we should expect them to grow apart.
2019 Will Be the Year, Because the Technology Is Already (Mostly) Here
Considering the potential benefits for businesses, it seems logical to expect at least some RPA solutions to incorporate additional technologies allowing them to become decentralized. Few would argue with the idea that the more of a company’s employees who can use RPA, the more the company stands to benefit from that automation.
That leaves two important questions: Are these technological developments really possible, and why should we specifically expect them to happen in 2019?
Both questions have the same answer: We know these advances are possible in 2019, because in 2018 we have seen the technology that will make them possible. For every one of the capabilities that I have mentioned, there is already at least one innovative solution on the market. In fact, if we return to the examples of robots helping an HR specialist and a customer service representative, we can see how combining today’s technologies would enable an attended (desktop) robot to perform all of the necessary steps.
How could the robot “know” that an employee is performing a process that the robot could help them complete more effectively? Consider that Kryon Process Discovery™, which was released earlier this year, can automatically identify work processes by analyzing actions performed by employees on their computers. That involves using computer vision to “see” what the user does and using machine learning to find patterns and discover processes – capabilities that could be leveraged to predict what the user wants to do next.
How could the robot “know” how to automatically perform a process like entering new employees’ details into all of the relevant HR systems? Consider that Kryon’s one-touch process-recording capability already creates fully functional automation workflows by tracking and analyzing every step of a given process as the user performs it. That involves using computer vision to “see” the steps performed by the user and machine learning to extract the logic behind them, allowing the robot to perform the same action even if the visual layout changes. Those capabilities could be leveraged to enable the robot to “learn” how to perform an action in real time by simply analyzing the user’s actions.
How could the robot “know” which insurance policies a customer service representative should recommend for the best chance at optimizing customer experience and maximizing profit? Consider that today’s performance management systems not only track both the (micro) performance of individual employees and the (macro) performance of groups of employees, but also use artificial intelligence to recommend ways to achieve optimal outcomes. By adding this same kind of analysis to an attended robot’s capabilities, we could enable the robot to perform tasks and make recommendations based on strategic business reasoning – not only on straightforward rules.
The Big Picture
Looking at the RPA trends I expect to see in 2019, it is remarkable both how drastically this space is likely to change and how achievable these changes now look. I predict that some RPA solutions will become far more accessible to many more people, will start to make decisions based on business strategy and not only on clear-cut rules, and will become far more influential and decentralized within companies. Yet these changes seem more realistic when we remember that we have already seen the technologies that will drive these changes – technologies that are now on full display in places such as virtual assistants, one-touch process-recording functionality, performance management systems, and Kryon Process Discovery.
A major part of moving RPA forward will now be a matter of combining these technologies. I hope you’re as excited as I am to see how that process unfolds and how much it empowers individuals to get more out of their work time.
This is the first in a series of periodic posts from our Chief Technology Officer, in which he will share his insights into the technological challenges of RPA, the ways Kryon addresses these hurdles, the future of automation, and how companies across industries can make the most of our innovative technologies.
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