How AI is redefining RPA
Robotic process automation (RPA) – technology that creates software or bots to perform high-volume, repetitive tasks – is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, says Gartner. The tech and research consulting firm predicts RPA software revenue will reach $1.89 billion in 2021. The segment is also one of the few technologies to gain significant traction during the pandemic, expanding rapidly in 2021.
A key contributor to its rapid growth is its convergence with another powerful technology: Artificial Intelligence (AI). This simple addition has been revolutionary for businesses. The AI element has advanced enterprises to unprecedented productivity levels by enabling RPA to operate at a considerably faster pace, deliver more significant results, and perform more complex tasks.
It is, therefore, not surprising that most organizations around the globe are no longer just using pure RPA tools but a combination of RPA and AI. It is predicted that those will soon replace pure RPA tools with AI functionality and Intelligent Automation, which is the combination of RPA and AI, will eventually become the new normal.
Now, what are the exact AI features that dramatically boost RPA functionality? Why is AI seen as the perfect match for RPA? And how does AI add value to RPA?
Pure Robotic Process Automation
Pure RPA tools can automate strictly ruled-based and repetitive processes that involve structured data, which is well organized and formatted so that it fits tidily into spreadsheets or databases. For an RPA bot to sufficiently automate, the task in question must involve simple and predictive steps with a clear direction. A pure RPA can, among many things, do the following:
- Copy & paste
- Scrape data
- Access emails and open attachments
- Extract and process structured data
Automation of any of the above processes alone is impressive and has proved to be highly useful for organizations. After all, these mundane and repetitive tasks could be assigned to bots that can operate 24/7 while employees can focus on more meaningful areas.
Adding AI to RPA
Pure RPA tools, however, can no longer satisfy the needs of many businesses in an increasingly digital environment where processes are becoming more complex with various steps and rules. One crucial element is needed to automate many of the business tasks today: adaptability. And this is how AI enters the picture. Artificial Intelligence provides RPA bots the ability to learn and adapt to data in real-time.
AI has many traits which make it perfect for RPA, including:
- Optical Character Recognition (OCR): Likened to the “eyes of a robot,” OCR allows the bot to electronically extract text from visual stimuli such as images and documents. This can be extremely convenient in areas such as finance, insurance, or any other heavily document-oriented industry.
- Natural Language Processing (NLP): This refers to the ability to read the language to analyze data, whether structured, semi-structured, or unstructured, and process it further. This can be used to, for example, extract the necessary text from one source to correctly fill the information in a form, or correct errors in a document, or analyze a phone transcript to update relevant customer details in the organization database.
- Machine learning (ML): This allows the RPA bot to learn from past data and infer meaning. An AI-powered RPA bot can become "intelligent" enough to understand and draw conclusions from both structured and unstructured data through pattern generation. As a result, the RPA bot can become more adaptable, reducing the level of human intervention needed.
The combination of RPA and AI enables the bot to perform sophisticated tasks including, but not limited to:
- Data search: RPA + AI robots can swiftly access both internal and external networks to search for data based on keywords and extract the necessary information. Moreover, an AI-powered RPA can go beyond searching keywords and identify any related patterns that provide the meaning of words in context. To provide useful information, they can look for any text whether it's a relevant word, phrase, or even an entire paragraph.
- Predictive analysis: Besides merely searching, RPA + AI bots can use machine learning models to generate new data to predict future market behavior and assess potential outcomes. This can be useful for sales and marketing departments, evaluating the data to plan strategically and generate more leads.
- Contract analysis: Contracts often involve vital sections that cannot be skipped at any cost. Unlike the human eye (prone to tiredness and distractibility), an RPA + AI bot can use NLP and OCR technology to review and analyze multiple contracts at a pace unmatched by humans. RPA + AI bots can help organizations remain compliant through speedy yet accurate reading and extraction of relevant information to be inputted into the appropriate forms, allowing the subsequent generation of reports.
- Invoice processing: It is common for organizations to receive invoices in various formats: fax, pdf, image, or even a paper copy. This often leads to staff having to manually extract and input the data into the financial database software used by the company. An RPA + AI bot can utilize its OCR functionality to process all types of invoices, irrespective of the format, and automatically transfer the organization's invoices into the financial database without requiring human intervention.
The Power of Intelligent Automation
The fusion of RPA and AI has massively boosted RPA capabilities, allowing what was once only possible in science fiction to now be reality. By leveraging RPA and AI capabilities, businesses can now reach new heights by assigning many extremely sophisticated tasks to RPA bots and focusing on strategy development and business growth instead. AI is no longer just a 'premium function' of RPA bots but rather an essential part that facilitates a fully end-to-end automation service, bringing businesses closer to their full potential.
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