Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Myriad of possibilities with Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Ian Herbert and Aravindhan Dhayalan, Centre for Global Sourcing and Services at the School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University. | Oct. 28, 2016
Instead of 'mundane' low-level jobs that are being targeted for robotics, it may be more cognitively demanding, middle-level jobs that are reconfigured for robotics.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.


Predicting the future in any detail is difficult. For example, it has been assumed traditionally that low level, repetitive jobs will be automated and unemployment will start from the bottom of the labour market. Instead of 'mundane' low level jobs that are being targeted for robotics, it may be more cognitively demanding, middle-level jobs that are reconfigured for robotics. 

Once the domain of science fiction and then advanced manufacturing, robotic process automation (RPA) is rapidly becoming 'business as usual' in a wide range of service sectors from health care to transport and logistics. Not surprisingly there is a lot of hype, both in terms of our relationship with 'humanoid' machines and the likely extent of job losses. The main assumption being that it will be the low-level jobs that will disappear first.

Differentiation between Automation and Robotics

There is a considerable overlap between the concepts of automation and robotics. One way of distinguishing between the two is to see automation as a largely technical capability, focused on replacing human mechanical actions. On the other hand, robots can tackle relatively cognitive tasks which require the capability to sense the surrounding environment and react flexibly towards an overall outcome.

Both automation and robotics consists a combination of software and hardware. Satellite navigation is principally about the processing of data from four sources; the motorist, the preloaded map data, the satellite positioning system and the environment ahead of the journey. By contrast, the type of 'robots' typical in car factories are principally hardware devices that have been programmed to carry out a relatively limited series of operations on a certain model or model(s) of vehicle. We tend to call these mechanical arms 'robots' because we can see them and they tend to very hugely expensive, but they are more akin to advanced automation, whereas in-car navigation systems, whilst cheap and portable, are more accurately robotic as they can make sense of a dynamic environment and interact with humans as appropriate.

RPA needs to be seen as a part of longer term journey towards lights-out processing, which is first enabled by total digitalisation, sensible self-service systems and appropriate standardisation - all of which may create the possibilities for automation to: eliminate manual operations, enhance present operations, augment information flows and management decision making capability, and/or provide further options for robotic management and decision making. The key here is 'augmentation' not 'replacement' of human labour.

The future is now

Automation systems through big data and analytics tools are already in position to aid the middle managers with ad-hoc report generation. While this activity would be done traditionally by experienced managers, in a digital world driven by internet self-service, most of these decisions is now performed by robotic software that learns from past experience and interacts with wider information sources on a 24/7/365 basis. 


1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.