Robotic Process Automation (RPA): A Move from Factory to Office

Most of us are familiar with industrial automation. Robotic hands and other physical equipment doing the routine tasks, like welding the same spot again and again. Unlike human workers, these robots did the work consistently, hour after hour without getting tired.

RPA moves automation to the routine tasks in the office. Repetitive, rule-based processes, such as credit checks, submitting a government form and activating a mobile connection can be automated. Instead of physical robots, these office robots will be software robots that will do the work following the same sequence as human workers.

These robots take over only repeatable, rules-based tasks that is done exactly the same way every time. Where human elements such as empathetic personal interactions, judgements and interpretation are required, RPA's cannot take over (at least as of now).

While the RPA robots are software tools, they do not need any programming knowledge to use. Instead, users with practical experience of doing the process, such as checking credit, "train" the robot to do the work just as they do it. A major difference is that the robots do not look at the computer screen but access needed data from the system internally.

Benefits of RPA's

Businesses benefit by eliminating human errors and enhancing productivity. The software robots can do the work consistently, quickly and for hours and hours. 

Employees benefit as they get to do more meaningful work, like personally supporting customers by listening carefully to their queries, finding right answers from relevant knowledgebase and helping the customer to solve the problem. This can improve the morale of workers who were doing a repetitive and boring task earlier.

Customers benefit from the "real" support they get, instead of being put on hold at the end of a phone line.

However, there is a general fear that automation will lead to loss of human jobs. All innovations have caused some disruption but generally tended to increase available jobs in other ways and lead to improved prosperity. The higher productivity, better customer service and improved work quality from the use of RPA's are likely to lead to more economic activity and jobs availability.

Range of RPA's

The robots come with different levels of "intelligence:" 
    Scripts and macros can automate simple rule-based tasks, as you might have noticed when working with say, Excel spreadsheets
    First level RPA's can deal with complex rules and replicate human operator activities
    Cognitive RPA's can read text, do "screen scraping," recognize voice and do natural language processing
    "Deep-learning" RPA's can learn processes, generate documentation, make predictions and create priorities
    
It is by integrating RPA's with cognitive and AI platforms that their intelligence is increased.

The Market for RPA's

RPA's are just getting to be adopted by organizations. They are also improving in their capabilities by adding cognitive and AI capabilities. One estimate has it that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the RPA market will be 60% per annum.

Considering the business benefits in such forms as higher productivity, lower costs and improved accuracy generated by RPA's, the estimates cannot be said to be too optimistic. Robotic Process Automation is indeed an excellent IT market to enter.
 

Internet of Things (IoT) Opens two Major Markets

Here is IoT in action: You switch off all electrical appliances (excepting the intruder and smoke alarms) when you go on a month-long vacation. As you are on your way back after the vacation, you switch on the appliances (probably starting with the fridge) in a way that everything will be ready by the time you reach home. During the vacation itself, you would be alerted promptly if any burglars break into your home or a fire happens so that you can call the authorities concerned. What happens here is that you are communicating with your devices over the Internet (which is possible from wherever you are if you are connected to the Net).

Anything that can switched on and off can be controlled remotely in this new world of Internet. What you need are sensors to sense relevant parameters, connectivity to communicate the sensed data to a control center and actuators to adjust operations based on received communications. The layers involved are:

You may not be sure why your coffee pot should talk to your toaster, but precision technology powering an industrial Internet of Things has the potential to reshape the planet. To help clarify, Dr. Timothy Chou has created Precision to introduce us to the basics of the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

  • Sensors that measure the conditions
  • Gateways that collect and transport data between sensors, users and applications
  • Networks that provide the connectivity to distribute the data as needed
  • Storage of all data for monitoring, analysis and management
  • Monitoring, Management and Analysis
  • What we see is a network of things all connected together.

The sensors could be in your farm measuring the moisture level of the soil with the water flow being automatically shut off if the level is adequate. Or they could be in the destination setting of your car sending info to your household equipment like the fridge (to set them on) and microwave (t start cooking the food inside) as soon as you start for home.

That means hackers can get into all those things and cause undesirable events to occur. In turn, this means that as IoT proliferates in the market, the network security market would also be growing to meet emerging new challenges.

Let us now have a glimpse at IoT applications by looking at the smart city of the future.


The Smart City Supported by IoT

Some major applications:

  • Environmental Monitoring: Air pollution, water quality, radiation and electromagnetic levels can all be monitored across the city and possible actions taken automatically to improve conditions or warn affected groups. Fires, radiation levels, approaching storms and much more can be spotted promptly and precautionary actions initiated in time.
  • Infrastructure: Smart roads that can not only monitor the condition of the roads but also generate electricity from the movement of vehicles and even people, improve the operation of self-driving cars and adjust street lighting levels. Smart waste bins measure and report their levels (which themselves can be controlled using solar compactors) and waste collection trucks sense these and collect only full or nearly full bin contents. Smart devices can also monitor railway tracks and bridges to report any emergencies.
  • Others: Smart grids connect energy consuming devices to the supply management systems helping the utility companies to balance loads and optimize energy usage. It will also enable consumers to remotely control their devices so that power bills are reduced. IoT systems can also sense water leakages and shut off supply, monitor traffic congestion and direct traffic to less congested roads, and help drivers find the best available parking spots instead of driving all over the place looking for parking spaces.

All of these applications create major benefits and create innumerable business opportunities. However, when everything is connected, hackers can make life intolerable by hacking into things and controlling them in undesirable ways. This is the major threat foreseen for Internet of Things and opens up the area of Security as another great business opportunity.

IoT in other Areas

IoT can not only create smart cities but also smarten up many other things. Businesses can benefit from lower cost and higher quality manufacturing, and automatically adjust production volumes depending on market feedback and procurement of supplies to these volumes. Healthcare can benefit from remote sensing of health conditions and emergencies, and even take over several nursing tasks such as helping patients get out of the bed.

The possibilities are innumerable. No wonder Internet of Things is considered a major growth area.

THE CLOUD COMPUTING PHENOMENON

Back in the good old days of the PC, you got your computer. And loaded it with accounting, word processing, email and all other novelty stuff. And worked happily ever after doing wonderful things...

Frustrations were not long in appearing. The accounting software didn't meet your requirements. The email did not work when you travelled to another country. And the PC often worked too slow for your expectations.

Soon you began to see some great changes. Your email software was up on the Internet (the CLOUD) and you could receive and send mails from anywhere in the world. More applications moved to the cloud and your staff could work with these even while travelling all over.

You began to hear new words like SaaS, Software as a Service, that you could access from anywhere any time. Not only that, now you did not have to upgrade the software every time a new version appeared. Instead, the newest features were automatically available to you.

COMPUTING ON THE INTERNET

As things moved further, you could even hire computing facilities on the Net. Instead of spending a fortune on creating in-house capacities with expensive hardware and high paid personnel to operate and maintain these, you could enter into a contract with a cloud supplier who had the latest in everything and pay only for what you used.

PaaS, Platform as a Service, allowed you to develop applications with the latest tools paying only for what you used. IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service, provided the latest in hardware, Operating Systems and Security. Backup was automatic so you didn't have to worry about losing your irreplaceable data even if your staff forgot the boring task.

In essence, Cloud Computing involves:

  • Moving to the Internet instead of doing everything in-house with your own computers, software and maintenance staff
  • Paying only for what you needed instead of creating a high-cost computing infrastructure that might remain idle most of the time
  • Focusing on your business instead of worrying about your computers, operating systems, software needs, data backups and security needs
  • If you are worried about storing your sensitive data on systems owned by a third party and located in some mysterious corner of the world, you can go for a private cloud. After all, a cloud is just the Internet. So long as you can access your data and applications over the Internet, from any device from anywhere, it is cloud computing. 

So you can get a high capacity system that is connected to the Net (and properly secured). Store all your applications and data in it and keep it safe at your home while you work with smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops from wherever you are. Just connect to the home system over the Internet and all the stuff is available to you.

Check the Four Terabyte Cloud Attached disk from Amazon to get an idea of what you can do with a personal cloud of your own!

Contact Us to explore cloud business options.