Robots have long since left their quintessential guise of metallic parts welded together to resemble a human. Today’s robots are not tangible anymore, as they cannot be seen, touched, or felt. Case in point: robotic process automation (RPA)—or in other words, one of the many bots that underpin a business’ enterprise application stack. Known for its ability to amplify an organization’s productivity, RPA has witnessed increasing adoption among enterprises as well as SMBs. Touted as the fastest-growing segment in Gartner’s global enterprise software market¹ two years in a row, RPA will soon become the norm. According to Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey 2018², within the course of the next five years, almost every organization would have a fully functioning instance of RPA.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
At its core, RPA is the automation of certain repetitive tasks that are either menial for a knowledge worker or resource-impacting for the business. Before getting into the depth of it, let’s trace back to some of the earliest forms of process automation in the enterprise context. Nobody can forget the wow-factor that macros, scripts, and screen scraping brought for the Gen X crowd, where a trivial UI-related activity could be automated with a small program. RPA is that, and more.
Where scripts can usually access only one application, an RPA bot can traverse across multiple applications and is smarter and nimbler. Take, for instance, an accountant at a large enterprise, who may receive hundreds of invoices every day through e-mail. To open the e-mail, download the invoice, retrieve the necessary information, and enter the details into another application is agreeably a mundane task and waste of manpower. Enter RPA. Upon being invoked, the bot captures the data and inputs the same into the required destination. While scripts are limited to one application, RPA’s scope is broader as it can access anything—client-server applications, web application or any other line of business applications.
The other bot
That said, let’s talk about the other “bot” that is changing the face of customer experience as we know it. The chatbot. With a hockey-stick growth in terms of its evolution, chatbots need no introduction. They are the proactive pop-up windows—sometimes animated and with an avatar—that guides customers through a variety of tasks. However, we shall take a different approach to learn more about chatbots by seeing how different they are from RPA bots.
While a chatbot is built on a complex framework, it is focused predominantly on offering greater communication flexibility to the users. The bot can communicate with a human in natural language while simultaneously learning from the conversation. RPA bots, on the other hand, are rigid by nature and follow a strict chronology of actions to be performed. If obstructed in its course, it needs a programmer’s intervention. A chatbot, being transactional by nature, an observational learner, and equipped with natural language processing capabilities, could give the user a workaround or even move the transition to a human smoother. Let’s not forget how Google’s Duplex circumvented an anomaly and impressed the crowds by asking, “How long is the wait usually to be seated?” in response to the restaurant owner saying that they accept reservations only for groups of five or more.
While chatbots have a transformational impact, RPA leans more toward automation. In a way, they complement each other, and this is where the future of B2B automation and transformation are headed.
Best of both worlds
What happens when you combine the frontend experience quotient of a chatbot system supported by a conversational AI platform and the backend automation capabilities of RPA?
The result is an endless pool of game-changing experiences that a business can endow upon its customers as well as employees. In a time when conversational chatbots have started coming out of their stereotypical customer support personas and are finding applicability in sales, marketing, and employee and concierge services, underpinning them with an RPA layer can translate into more efficiency and a drastic reduction of manual tasks.
More than larger enterprises, SMBs have a lot to gain in this climate of “conversational AI meets RPA.” A restaurant owner can have a system, where the chatbots can respond to customer queries regarding timings and entice customers with a “What’s today’s special?” message. By being able to gather and “remember” information about the customer’s food preferences, the system can proactively push out a text notification to the particular consumer the next time the same item is on the menu and check if they want to schedule a take-away. This is RPA. The guided routine the system performs in initiating and orchestrating the said action is how a process automation bot can improve revenue and patronage.
Let’s see how an RPA-guided conversational AI chatbot fits in an enterprise and plays a role in driving employee-centric experiences.
We can all relate to the times when a meeting must be scheduled and how opening the employee portal to book a conference room can be a procrastination-worthy hassle. While an employee services chatbot can be a simpler alternative to finding out which room is free, that’s as far as it can go. By infusing RPA into the mix, you can empower your employees with virtual assistants. This means they no longer have to open the portal and check for availability. Something as simple as “Book a conference room for 6 members at 4 PM” can perform the necessary background work, and within seconds, the chatbot responds with a “Room Phoenix is booked for you. Here’s the meeting invite e-mail. Who are the recipients?” It can also be programmed to connect with the hospitality team for a more proactive experience.
The future is all about Augmenting Intelligence
This is the future we are headed toward and keeping in mind that building a conversational AI chatbot army is not a herculean task anymore, the day is not too far. Considering the pace at which AI, machine learning, and cognitive science as technologies are growing, the scope for implementing an RPA-guided chatbot paradigm for your business is anything but limited. The benefits are multi-pronged as they help with functions like outbound marketing and lead generation and at the same time optimize your workforce productivity and employee retention strategies. To answer the age-old myth of “are robots taking my job?” the time is right to reiterate Professor Leslie Willcocks’ insights on how automation brings in intellectual stimulation by “taking the robot out of the human”.