One of the most recent automation technologies to emerge is robotic process automation, or RPA. RPA is a category of software tools that enable complex digital processes to be automated by performing them in the same way a human user might perform them, using the user interface and following a set of predefined rules. What sets RPA apart from other automation technologies is that its ability to imitate a human user of one or more information systems reduces development time and extends the range of functions that can be automated across a much wider range of business activities. It is frequently used to automate financial processes, such as comparing invoices with shipment notices, or transfering data from email and call center speech-to-text systems into transactional systems of record. Many organizations have adopted it for automating back- and middle-office processes, and many have achieved rapid returns on their investments.
I recently attended an event with more than 1,300 delegates from mostly asset-intensive industries and when they were asked how many were involved in digital transformation projects, more than 80% of the room raised their hands. Digital transformation is a key strategic initiative for many organizations, as this Gartner survey highlights. Executives at these organizations realize that digitalization is not an option, but the way to survive and thrive in the years to come. The same Gartner survey explains, "CIOs across most industries are struggling to move from experimentation to scaling their digital business initiatives." I often find that business leaders I talk to are confused about the difference between digitizing and transforming business and processes.
Sensors and their data are now ubiquitous in the industrial setting, providing real-time information on processes, efficiency and safety. Yet too few organizations are able to fully capture, manage and analyze those torrents of data -- let alone translate that information into real insights or bottom-line business value. To prosper in the emerging digital economy, industrial firms must embrace and master the internet of things (IoT). But what exactly is IoT? Ask a dozen manufacturing or industrial specialists to describe it, and you will likely get at least a dozen definitions.
Although corporate adoption of automation technology is becoming more widespread, success remains elusive. Three-quarters of respondents in a 2018 McKinsey global survey say their companies have begun to automate some business processes or plan to do so within the next year. Yet many find total returns have fallen short of their expected target. Our client work indicates there are two main reasons for this. First, too many organizations fail to consider how automating certain steps in a business or customer-facing process will affect upstream or downstream handoffs and connections, which can introduce new inefficiencies, capping the value delivered by automation.