Ghost in the Machine: Robotic Process Automation and the Digital Workforce Revolution


The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a digital renaissance, broadly known as Industry 4.0. In this age of advanced machinery and computers, companies have become increasingly reliant on automation technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence.

Just as physical robots revolutionized the factory floor, digitization and automation are now playing a significant role in transforming back-end business processes. This digital shift is referred to as robotic process automation (RPA).

The Nuts and Bolts of RPA
RPA does not actually involve physical robots, but rather utilizes intelligent “software robots” that are designed to mimic human thinking. According to a research report compiled by the consulting firm Deloitte, RPA is generally defined as having three essential components: developer tools, a robot controller, and the software robots themselves.

The developer tools are used to specify task parameters and establish instructions for the software robots to learn and execute. Typically designed for users who don’t have a computer coding background, these tools tend to feature easy-to-use functions such as drag-and-drop interfaces and straightforward configuration wizards.

The robot controller acts as a digital intermediary between the developer tools and the software robots. It manages communication between the tools and the robots, maintains an archive of recurring assignments and instructions, assigns jobs to the software robots, and monitors all internal activity.

Once software robots receive their assignments and learn the instructions, the robots connect directly to the business application and execute the commands.

RPA is extremely useful for handling monotonous back-office tasks that don’t require human judgment. When equipped with detailed instructions, this digital workforce can easily automate high-volume, rule-based, repetitive operations such as database management and order processing. For this reason, RPA is finding a home in a wide range of business areas, including finance, procurement, supply chain, customer service, and human resources.

A harbinger of lean industrial practices, RPA’s approach to addressing and decluttering the complexities of various business processes allows companies to enhance their business metrics.

To Err is Human, to Excel is RPA
Automating menial processes allows for a range of benefits, the foremost being reduced human error. While even the most disciplined, meticulous person is bound to make the occasional mistake, RPA can perform the same tasks error-free. Moreover, jobs that would take a human several minutes or more to complete can be accomplished by software robots in a matter of seconds.

Additionally, since RPA is a computerized process and not an organic being, it doesn’t get tired and doesn’t require daily rest; a digital workforce can work around the clock 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And because the robots are designed to learn and operate exclusively within the framework of the provided instructions, minimal supervision is required.

RPA also offers a higher degree of quality control. For example, jobs that were once outsourced can now be brought back in-house, diminishing the risks often associated with external contracting. This level of control makes RPA a powerful asset for compliance regulation, security, and traceability requirements.

Highly flexible and easily scalable, RPA nimbly adapts to the constant fluctuations of the business world and can be tailored for both short- and long-term goals.

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