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How Does Robotic Process Automation Differ from Intelligent Automation?

Aug 15, 2023 | 4 min read

Whilst Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was the bedrock of automation back in the early 2010’s, its more advanced cousin intelligent automation opened the door even further to what’s possible. We’ve also seen and heard the terms used interchangeably but it’s important to understand the key differences between them as well as how they work together.

As Roboyo’s Intelligent Automation Global Practice Lead, this topic regularly comes up in our quest to take our clients’ technology ecosystem to the next level. Which is why along with my colleague, Intelligent Automation expert Sava Tomov we wanted to take a deep dive into the differences and the power of both.

Both RPA and intelligent automation have the power to supercharge the potential of your workforce by using technology to free people from performing repetitive, manual tasks. In an enterprise where much of the manual work is performed by robots – far faster than humans can manage – employees have the potential to work on higher value tasks. These include strategic thinking and planning, customer innovation, and soft skills that encourage collaboration.

RPA is a programmable technology that allows organizations to build and deploy software robots that emulate and automate repetitive tasks. Whereas intelligent automation is an umbrella term for a number of different but related artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, business process management, and RPA. As RPA does not simulate human intelligence it is treated as a complementary tool to intelligent automation. 

Together, RPA and intelligent automation serve to complement and enhance an organization’s human workforce while delivering improvements in efficiency and accuracy at reduced cost. A hybrid (human+digital) workforce brings together the best technology with all the expertise, skill, and attention to detail your employees possess.  

Understanding RPA  

Common tasks that are ripe for automation using RPA include processing invoices, data entry, software testing, onboarding new employees, IT service desk tasks, and report generation.  

A software robot will carry out the steps to complete a task much faster and more efficiently than a human – and with less chance of errors. In addition, if a task is being completed by a robot, it may not need to follow the same steps a human needs to, leading to greater efficiency. For example, a human might follow a logical sequence such as opening a document, accessing a data source, updating the data, then repeating for a new document. In comparison it may be more efficient for a robot to collect all the data at once, then update all the documents as a separate batch task. 

Rules and structured data are critical for successful automation with RPA. If processes can be mapped and automated – with no surprises – then RPA can run many common business processes at speed and at scale, and at any time of day or night.  

But rules do matter. When rules are broken, there is a risk that RPA can break down – at this point the robot needs to ask for human intervention. To resolve the issue, humans can fix the exception or can amend the rules to handle the variation. However, this is also where intelligent automation can come into play. 

Understanding intelligent automation    

Based on the use case, intelligent automation can use RPA as a foundation and build on that platform using a range of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including:  

Intelligent automation can perform high-functioning tasks and work with more unstructured data inputs. By applying AI technology to an automation solution, it is possible to broaden the scope of both the inputs and what the outcomes will be, leading to less exception calls for humans to fill in the gaps. 

How Does RPA Differ from Intelligent Automation?  

RPA relies on predictable rules and structured data to create a repeatable and logical system for completing tasks. If both rules and data follow the rules of the automation, then robots can complete tasks at greater speeds and with fewer errors than a human could. Automation rules can be easily amended to support a change in the process or to accommodate new data formats or sources.   

Using AI on top of RPA can apply a layer of optimization and analysis to the automation process. Using AI technologies, intelligent automation can “fill the gaps” where data is missing, or rules can’t be followed by RPA without the rules being amended. Intelligent automation can reduce the need for human intervention through analysis, extracting insights, and making predictions about inputs and outcomes. This makes the automation more robust, as it can adapt when rules are not followed, or the input is not structured. 

Comparing RPA and Intelligent Automation 

RPA is perfect for automating repetitive tasks that have entirely predictable steps and outcomes. These kinds of tasks or business processes can be completed quickly and without error. Examples of these kinds of tasks include data entry, where you need to populate a form or spreadsheet with updated data from one or more sources; invoice processing, where data needs to be pulled from invoices to be validated and to populate financial systems; and software test automation, where new software needs to undergo robust testing with data inputs to ensure it can cope with normal usage in a production environment. 

Typically, RPA works at the foundational level, with intelligent automation being gradually built into the solution. Intelligent automation can be thought of as a constant evolution and finessing of automations over time. For example, intelligent automation works well with customer service, where it can respond to variable user inputs to provide automated responses or to support a human agent; it can support intelligent document processing, using natural language processing to extract data from unstructured documents and classify them; in addition, intelligent automation can help HR teams screen new candidates and automate parts of the employee onboarding process. 

There are many more use cases for both RPA and intelligent automation. Any time that humans are being slowed down by manual tasks that hinder their creativity, there’s a good chance that this powerful duo can help.   

Conclusion 

RPA and intelligent automation have the power to revolutionize your organization’s operations, enhancing efficiency, productivity, and speed to market. Rather than replacing humans, their purpose is to cultivate a more effective hybrid workforce that combines human capabilities with digital prowess – a concept we call ‘human+’. This integrated approach not only amplifies human potential within your enterprise but also yields optimal cost savings and time efficiency.

Roboyo can help solve your business challenges with cutting-edge automation solutions. Armed with a comprehensive toolkit encompassing RPA and intelligent automation, we identify the optimal resolution to elevate your organization and unlock the full potential of your workforce.

Contact us for a consultation and take your transformation to the next level! 

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