What is the difference between Robotic Process Automation and Intelligent Automation?

Date Added 11/06/2019

According to a study by the London School of Economics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) delivers a return on investment of between 30 and 200 percent in the first year. Intelligent Automation (IA) reports claim even better potential returns with a 3 year ROI of 800%. In a rapidly expanding market - with new vendor entrants appearing regularly, how do we decipher overlapping terms and capability statements? What IS the difference between RPA and IA?

One of the most established terms is RPA. According to a global study by Deloitte, 53% percent of organisations surveyed have started their process automation journey with RPA. Another term used to describe this process is Intelligent Automation – is there a difference between the two, and if so, what is it? Different vendors will answer this question in different ways, but one common theme is that of leveraging Artificial Intelligence to augment existing RPA capability. Thoughtonomy who have established themselves as a leader in in this space, take existing RPA capability from one of the largest RPA vendors, Blue Prism, then add increased capability and AI to deliver Intelligent Automation. This theme of augmenting existing RPA capability appears in other vendors propositions as well, so it appears to be a case of evolution rather than difference.

RPA has limitations, creating the need for suppliers who provide additional functionality. It works extremely well with processes and tasks that manipulate structured data using web or GUI based applications, but the challenge comes when processes work with unstructured data, for example PDF documents or variable inputs such as emails, web forms, web chat or even mobile texts. Enter AI in the form of machine learning algorithms and human defined rules. This software can take these different forms of input and data, then normalise the data into a pseudo structured format that can be processed by an RPA managed task or process.

It may be this ability to work interactively that is fuelling the current growth in process automation. AI has become accessible through being applied intelligently by companies such as Thoughtonomy to deliver real world benefits that were previously too expensive and complex to achieve at scale. Organisations can now benefit from AI in a pre-packaged productivity context, without having to plan, configure and manage complex machine learning algorithms. Current research by Deloitte is showing that both organisations and employees are benefiting from this accelerating wave of automation.

 

Examples of the benefits being experienced in the Deloitte survey are:
• Improved Compliance by 92%
• Improved quality/accuracy by 90%
• Improved productivity by 86%
• Cost reduction by 59%

 

We are also seeing reports of increased levels of job satisfaction as staff are released from repetitive tasks to focus on more rewarding and creative activities. The positive impact can reach much further - going beyond business, health and government, into society in general. A new publication from Oxford University shows recent productivity in decline, with very little increase over the last 15 years.

Increasing productivity through automation has the potential to not just make work more fulfilling but to have a much broader economic benefit. The difference between RPA and Intelligent Automation may be the wrong question to ask as the two are almost intrinsically linked. Accelerating innovation and proven benefits coming from companies like Thoughtonomy and their customers, such as the NHS organisation East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), are good examples of this. A more pressing question may be - how do we make this evolution of RPA more accessible to industry and accelerate the adoption journey?

We are seeing an accelerated wave of shared information and templates of process functions that are helping accelerate the RPA and Intelligent Automation journey. LinkedIn Learning has some great courses from Ian Barkin, a recognised practitioner in the RPA market that can provide a solid knowledge foundation for business and technology leaders looking to the benefits of automation. There are also marketplaces from vendors that share existing automated functions making it easier to automate tasks across common applications.

For more information on Intelligent Automation take a look at the Thoughtonomy web site, also worth a look is the case study on how NHS organisation ESNEFT released 500+ hours for better patient care. The team here at PSTG are also available to help and have a wealth of experience that can support your Intelligent Automation journey.

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