The Relationship Between Robotic Process Automation and Workload Automation

by December 19, 2017

How does the advent of RPA fit within the broader automation landscape?

Robotic process automation (RPA), a concept that has emerged over recent years, is still in a state of rapid evolution, existing without a clearly defined end-state or direction. As such, vendors are experimenting and pushing their products into uncharted waters – successfully or otherwise. Nonetheless, we can be sure that artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to develop and impact on automation solutions as whole, even if at the moment these capabilities do not frequently exist within the RPA space.

Indeed, it is worth noting the ‘robotic’ tag is something of a misnomer and refers primarily to the tool’s ability to carry out repeatable executable tasks, not a form of AI. RPA is in fact most commonly used to emulate keystrokes; it runs through the application interface and its processes are defined using demonstrable steps – one of its selling points is that these rules do not require code and can be taught by a non-technical end-user. To put it simply, RPA manipulates existing software applications by imitating human behavior through rule-based tasks. Gartner elucidates this point by describing RPA as a “virtual worker,” suggesting it is most suitable in situations where organizations wish to assist or even replace manual workers.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Robotic Process Automation

The main benefits of implementing an RPA solution are a significant cost reduction and the faster speed with which manual activities can be completed. According to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation, these benefits can be realized by, “Any company that uses labor on a large scale for general knowledge process work, where people are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions.”

Clearly RPA is best suited to specific high-volume workloads that require no decision-making process. However, as a single strategy this becomes an Achilles heel: RPA’s return on investment is based on the amount of users’ time saved and increases in accuracy, and this means you need to have scale of the activity to be able to pay for the “bot”. Ironically, outside of extensive HR processes, the necessary scale doesn’t typically exist in activities possessing high manual interaction.

Moreover, in situations where it’s necessary to create and deploy a vast array of “bots” to run our applications, we create manifold islands of execution – some of which are well hidden and invisible to the wider business. It subsequently becomes difficult to know if the “bot” is working, if it had anything to do, or how to begin the next action.

With or Without Workload Automation

Despite its strengths (the ability to reduce costs, users not requiring a technical skillset, etc.), there are clearly severe limitations to adopting an RPA solution in isolation. Ultimately it only delivers value on tight-requirements, and therefore must form part of a broader automation strategy for any meaningful benefit to the modern enterprise.

Implementing an overarching workload automation (WLA) solution provides more scope to benefit the business. An organization lives and dies by its business processes, and these are larger than heavy lifting user activities at individual points in the process. WLA involves the user modelling activity so that it can check the business outcome of activities and integrate with all facets of a process, beyond simply completing the grunt work of keyboard activity. And even though end users will not create a “bot” when using workload automation, you can include replaying scenarios through existing interfaces as part of broader automation policies.

With technical advancements and exploration, RPA vendors are looking to add capabilities to reach core business applications, but they still miss the ability to determine the true business outcome of a process. And in environments where it makes sense to install a RPA on a wide scale, it becomes essential to coordinate through a wider platform, so that we can gain visibility and become proactive in managing the delivery of results to the business.