Though not the hottest AI technology, RPA tools are finding a home in asset tracking and other showcase IoT efforts.
Shiny new AI and machine learning technologies get greater attention, but less glossy Robotic Process Automation methods are finding a home in IoT workflows as well.
Without much fanfare, RPA tools are beginning to appear in key IoT areas such as asset tracking and fleet management, and increasing customer demands for real-time monitoring of inventory and just-in-time deliveries point to further growth.
RPA’s goal is to take on human tasks associated with modern digital transformations. As such, RPA tools are far less ambitious than AI systems meant to predict business trends and make complex business decisions in real time.
Its narrow objectives have made RPA something of a sleeper among the host of innovative technologies contributing to IoT application inroads. But, ultimately, RPA’s role may well be overshadowed by larger AI efforts, according to one analyst.
“In a sense, RPA is low-hanging fruit for organizations that are working to automate processes,” said Pierfrancesco Manenti, research vice president for Gartner’s supply chain team, and co-author of Gartner’s 2019 “The Path to the Lights-Off Supply Chain” report. But, AI is coming.
AI will be a more disruptive factor in future, highly automated supply chains, he said.
“It’s the intent of the technology to replicate human intelligence,” Manenti said. “It’s cooler.”
Cooler, but not here quite yet.
By Gartner’s estimates, 55% of supply chain work will be partially automated, with humans handling the orchestration of exceptions, through to 2025, according to Gartner’s research presented in “The Path to the Lights-Off Supply Chain: The Rise of AI to Automate Supply Chains of the Future.”
Low-Hanging RPA Fruit with Roots
While full automation and AI are works in progress, “low-hanging” RPA may be a bit more here and now. RPA, which is an amalgam of integration techniques with deep roots in rules-based business process management and web services is a mature technology.
For its part, analyst group IDC defines RPA as “software code that automates and assigns standardized, rules-based, repetitive and high-volume processes involving several interoperable systems — which were traditionally executed by humans — to a robot.” Since these programs may be relatively simple, the term ‘bot’ has arisen to describe semi-autonomous RPA apps.
RPA does seem to be on the upswing. By IDC’s estimate, the RPA software market will have expanded 49.3% (compound annual growth rate) over the five years running up to 2022, when it will comprise $3.7 billion. That figure is not quite up there with spending on cognitive and AI systems, envisaged at $77.6 billion in 2022, but it is still a hefty sum. It’s not surprising that the RPA market continues to gain vendor attention.
Among RPA integration vendors are Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, UIPath and others that have found success in backroom financial apps and have been edging their way into logistics and IoT-oriented supply chain applications.
Meanwhile, IT mainstays such as IBM, Kofax, Oracle, Pegasystems, SAP, SoftwareAG and others have created, purchased or partnered to offer RPA to supply chain customers, increasingly with an IoT twist.