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Industry expert predicts demise of robotic process automation

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Johan Steyn, chairman of the AI special interest group at IITPSA.
Johan Steyn, chairman of the AI special interest group at IITPSA.

The use of robotic process automation (RPA) technology is coming to an end, as its effectiveness to digitise businesses is limited.

This is according to professor Johan Steyn, chairman of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), who gave a keynote address at the ITWeb BPM & Automation Summit in Sandton today.

The summit explored how organisations are adopting the application of automation technologies, such as RPA, process mining, artificial intelligence and machine learning, among other emerging technologies, to gain competitive advantage.

Steyn shared his views on RPA with delegates, saying the “technology is fundamentally limited” and he predicts its use will come to vanish.

RPA is software technology that makes it easy to build, deploy and manage software robots that emulate human actions interacting with digital systems and software.

The caveat by Steyn comes as several organisations − including those in financial services, telecoms, healthcare and manufacturing − are leveraging the benefits of RPA to transform their operations.

In his address, Steyn said it is predicted that current automation technologies will scale from mere “task automation to augmentation to being autonomous”.

However, he noted that 80% of businesses globally say their automation and digitisation efforts have not given the returns they expected.

Detailing his prediction on the future use of RPA, Steyn said: “There are things that it [RPA] is really good at – but to really bring in a transformation on how business operates, obtain efficiencies and effectiveness that result in great savings, great market share increases, the technology is limited.

“The challenge is that we have been trying to use the technology to do all the stuff that it can’t do.

“We should use RPA for what it’s good at and it should be part of a cocktail of other technologies, like edge computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the like. The technology is limited and we should use it on what it can do, and not try and digitise our businesses by using RPA, which is what most businesses have been trying to do.”

He continued: “What I tried to get out today is that there are certain technologies that have failed us, like RPA. We have been automating tasks not value streams. We have not focused on the numbers or impact on our bottom line, but rather on how many tasks we can automate. So, efficiency gains, effectiveness gains should be our focus, not how many bots or how many tasks we automate.”

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15 Aug
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