Why is artificial intelligence overshadowing RPA?

To some people, artificial intelligence is considered to be the next quantum leap. More businesses than ever before are making it a top priority as it promises to fundamentally revolutionise their industry. But in all this excitement, is there a danger that organisations might be over-looking other value-adding technologies (cough cough RPA)?

According to Dean McGlone, director at the finance automation firm, V1, the answer is yes.

Speaking recently about new research from V1 around this issue, McGlone argued that by getting distracted by the hype around AI, businesses are failing to realise the power of RPA and its ability to mimic human activity and automate mundane tasks.

He argued: “In order for businesses to achieve the greatest time and cost savings, this game-changing technology must move from the shadows of AI.”

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V1 quizzed 1,000 business leaders in the UK and found that although 65% of people would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant less manual processes – therefore increased productivity – RPA was not a spending priority.

Similarly, according to Advanced Annual Trends Survey 2018/2019, RPA was found to have the lowest levels of interest among businesses in the UK. When Advanced asked what technology trends respondents are seeing in their daily working lives, just 11% said RPA – well under half when compared to AI at 26%. When it came to the technology trends businesses leaders want to see, RPA fell short again, appearing near the bottom at only 18% while AI sits joint first with the cloud at over a third (35%), all of this despite Forrester predicting that the RPA market will reach $1.7bn in 2019.

McGlone added: “Clearly there is a knowledge gap when it comes to RPA and the role it can play in the ‘over-work’ crisis that looms in many UK workplaces. By reallocating the mundane tasks to RPA, the productivity and efficiency levels will rise at unprecedented levels – yet it remains low down on the list when it comes to investment.”

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What’s with the hold-up?

According to V1’s research, 59% of respondents think that less than half of the people in their organisation are ready to adopt new technology to change the way they work. This is perhaps due, in part, to the 45% of people who think RPA and other disruptive technologies would increase the risk of a cyber attack on their company.

Dean added: “These statistics are a concern, particularly in those businesses where digital transformation through automation is key. New technologies are only effective if the people using them understand how they work, appreciate their true potential and recognise the value they bring rather than fearing them. Arguably, investing thousands on technologies such as RPA when users simply don’t believe in them is wasted, suggesting a robust upskilling and training programme is necessary to ensure future digital success.

“Rather than buying into the hype around AI, it’s time for businesses to realise the significant benefits of RPA, which is based on the notion of AI but much more accessible. Unlike AI, which demands significant time and financial investment, RPA is easier to access, expand and scale, and will allow businesses to plan and test the software in order to see the impact it has on its operations and staff. This is a great indicator of the benefits large-scale AI deployment could bring in the future, but without the fear of large-scale failure.”

Hazel Copeland, CFO at agricultural buying co-operative Woldmarsh, added: “AI has to have the widespread acceptance before we go ahead with it. We need to work with the people we are buying goods from so if they aren’t up to speed with the technology, there is little point going down this route. RPA, on the other hand, is encouraging more farms to purchase through us because the time and cost savings are immediately visible. We use automation to process over 19,000 invoices on behalf of the farmers each month while the farms get all the data making it easier than ever for them to understand the exact cost of goods against the yield.”

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future