RPA is a pretty hot topic in the world of task automation, but the term is often misunderstood – mostly thanks to the vendor’s marketing teams. The image of a workforce of capable robots is an appealing one, but the reality is that the term robotic refers to the type of work being automated (the repetitive, mundane work that has an employee feeling like they are going through the motions robotically) not the automation itself. Most RPA solutions are much more like an Excel macro than a highly intelligent and dynamic workforce ready to jump on any task you give it.
Don’t get me wrong, RPA has a place in some organisations for sure, particularly where there is short term demand for automation to fill process holes, or to speed you to market before end to end automation is in place. I have used it myself to scale a product with a new advertising campaign when the manual invoicing and payment processes were a bottleneck to meeting the predicted demand.
Where RPA really doesn’t yet have an answer is in the area of judgement, particularly where the inputs are unstructured text (for example email). That’s where new NLP technologies come in. Enhancing RPA capabilities with the ability to interpret unstructured text and make a judgement (determine intent, extract important entities with context) really opens up the possibilities for process automation that RPA by itself don’t address.