Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Just Marketing Speak?
We recently came across the term “robotic process automation” or RPA and were quite intrigued at first. Robotics is one of the most promising emerging technologies that we cover. We’ve talked about robots that perform assisted surgeries, robots that flip burgers, robots that build biological nanobots, and all kinds of other fun applications for robotics. We were excited to hear of yet another application for robotics, and it all began with an email we received from a public relations (PR) agency about a request to speak with a company that does robotic process automation.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with how media works, an email conversation with a PR agency usually goes something like this:
- PR Person: We have X,Y,Z person who we want you to interview so they can use your platform to pontificate to your readers about their startup/technology/ideas for free publicity
- Us: We have a huge queue of topics to write about. If you’re willing to pay us to move to the front of the queue, we’ll consider it. We need to support ourselves like everyone else and we know you charge your clients up to $1,000 dollars an hour for publicity.
- PR Person: How dare you suggest pay for play. We’re so not like that.
- Us: Okay then. We’ll add you to our queue then and maybe get back to you in a few years’ time
Ahem. So anyways, we were asked to interview a company that works in “robotic process automation” called Redwood Software and that offers up “software robots” that (here it comes) can “free up your overworked employees so they can focus on more value-added tasks“. The proposal was for us to interview their subject matter expert in an attempt to debunk the myth that the rise of robots will eliminate a whole lot of jobs.
I’m sure we’d have all kinds of fun debunking myths with Redwood, but that pretty much says all we need to know. Redwood is using all the hype lately about robotics in an attempt to appeal to the media in hopes to get more coverage for their company and it worked! We’re genuinely intrigued, but also smell a rat here. This concept has always been around for a while and it’s called software automation. All we’re doing here is using software automation more cleverly and then referring to the software as “software robots”. Are there any old school coders who remember Rational Robot?
It was this tool we used to use back in the late 90s to replace software testing humans with “software robots”. It was exactly that. A software robot that used the marketing tagline “be liberated” over 16 years ago. We’re not falling for any clever rebranding tricks. Oh sure, you’re looking at things more holistically and maybe you’re attempting to use artificial intelligence (AI) here and there but essentially it’s still just software automation. Here’s a look at the slow decline of “software automation” and the rapid adoption of “robotic process automation”:
What’s really happening here is this. Corporates first started by taking all the white-collar jobs they could and moving them to “emerging market centers” (EMCs) like Mumbai and Manila. What they then realized was that you get what you pay for and although you could hire 5 EMC employees for the price of one developed market employee, you actually needed to make the work “recipe-driven”. Come on now, you know what we’re talking about. You remember back when you called your banking customer support line and some guy named Darrell with an Indian accent started reading through a script? Now when you call your bank it’s a friendly lady name Maria with lovely manners who won’t tell you she’s based out of the Philippines?
Maria still uses that same script Darrell did except now companies are starting to think that if all these functions are so scripted now, why don’t we just automate them with software? Then let’s get a whole bunch of robot pictures to splash all over our homepage and rebrand what has already been going on now for decades as “enterprise process robotics” or “robotic process automation” or any other combination of the words “enterprise/process/robotics/robots” and then lose any reference to “software automation”:
That’s what we think is happening in a nutshell but we’re going to have to explore this a bit more in a future article. We may even have to get Redwood in here to wax poetic with us about the great future for robotic process automation that “frees up staff from the manual, repetitive tasks that take up so much time, allowing them to focus on innovative, strategic tasks to really move the business forward“. Moving things forward. Yes, we like the sound of that. Robotics Process Automation deserves a closer look but until we find some “there” there, we’re going to be skeptics.
And to all the PR agencies out there who continue to write us daily, we always love to hear from you and hope that you continue to expose us to some of the most interesting people and technologies. We know it’s not easy cold calling media to try and get interviews for clients, but any ideas on how we can collaborate and share your wealth? While we are honored that you would allow us to speak to your clients for free, we’re going to have to work on the value proposition a bit more.
UPDATE 11/19/2016: We were contacted by the PR agency who sent us the email asking that we remove the verbatim contents of their email to us that we had published in this article. We have no relationship with this company and nothing requires us to do that, but as a favor, we removed their verbatim email content.
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