Short-term Gain, Long-term Pain: RPA’s Rising Popularity

RPA is a hot topic. And why would it not be? The promise of instant automation, time savings and error reduction, not to mention significant cost savings.

Global companies like Deutsche Telekom have introduced and automated 2,500 individual bots, resulting in savings of more than 100 million Euros. Meanwhile NatWest Group has achieved “eight figure savings” from using RPA in the last few years.

So why then, are these and other industry leaders peppering their success stories with caution? In fact, Paul Jones, Business Automation Services at NatWest classifies RPA as technical debt.

Let’s take a closer look at RPA, what it delivers and why you should approach with caution.

What do we mean when we talk about RPA?

The RPA market is vast. You can find everything from vendors promoting low-code solutions to code-heavy approaches, all marketed under the RPA banner. It’s important to differentiate RPA from workflow engines. Camunda and RPA products are not substitutional, but they are complementary, and integrating Camunda with products like UIPath is straight-forward and can add significant value.

The sweet spot, where RPA really comes into its own, is the automated control of existing user interfaces (UI), where applications don’t offer an API. And this is important, because a lot of enterprises are struggling with legacy technology. Perhaps they introduced off-the-shelf software that never provided proper APIs. Maybe they built custom architecture solutions where the UI was the primary or only interface. These companies recognize the necessity of modernization. But without provision for APIs, how do you easily introduce new technologies?

What does RPA deliver?

As well as providing proven cost savings, RPA is a useful short-term solution to selectively automate the work of individual components in legacy systems, and help automate processes without a significant time investment.

Speaking at CamundaCon LIVE 2020.1, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and NatWest Group also agreed that RPA has improved data quality, especially when compared to manual data entry completed by employees. Equally, introducing RPA frees employees from manual data entry, allowing them to concentrate on more valuable activities, like customer engagement and process optimization. 

So why the caution?

If RPA sounds too good to be true — it is. All of our conversations with leading enterprises who are using, or have used RPA, lead to the same conclusion: Use RPA wisely as part of your wider digital transformation.

RPA is a highly maintenance-intensive technology. Thanks to its brittle nature, if your front end changes, your RPA bot doesn’t work anymore. Marco Einacker, VP IT Services at Deutsche Telekom, gave a good example of this brittleness: “Bots work like human workers, so their passwords have to change every 90 days. That one factor leads to breakages, and lots of maintenance issues with the bots.”

In addition, finding developers with the right skills to implement RPA can also be tricky. There’s a war for talent raging, and no skilled developer wants to invest time in either learning low-code technology or maintaining one.

RPA can be a very useful part of your digital transformation tool kit, but it does not solve the underlying issues with your tech stack. It’s a tactical solution to automate individual tasks but should not be used to automate core business processes, but as part of your strategic journey towards a modern IT infrastructure with sound APIs and other integration points.

If you’d like to learn more about how leading enterprises are skillfully blending RPA and workflow automation, as part of their digital transformation, join Marco Einacker, VP IT Services, Deutsche Telekom, free at CamundaCon LIVE 2020.2 this October 8th, where he’ll be presenting his company’s RPA strategy: Bots and process improvements at the same time – is that possible?