RPA and AI: Understanding the difference; reaping the rewards

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Robotic Process Automation is an exciting and nascent industry that is evolving thanks to advances in Artificial Intelligence. You may have heard the terms used interchangeably but are not the same thing. To achieve maximum benefit from these technologies, understanding the difference is essential.

Terminology 101

Before clearing up the confusion between RPA and AI, let’s take a look at the official terminology.

In 2017, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) published a guide to smooth out inconsistencies and promote clarity in using these terms. RPA is the use of preprogrammed software cases that apply business rules and predetermined activity choreography to fulfill the independent execution of an amalgamation of activities, processes, tasks, and transactions in one or more distinct software systems to produce a service or result without human management.

AI is a mixture of machine learning (ML), reasoning, cognitive automation, the generation of analysis and hypothesis, the processing of natural language, and the intended alteration of algorithms to produce analytics and insights at or above human ability.

In a nutshell, RPA is a rules-based software robot that mimics human actions, thereby automating repetitive tasks to streamline business processes, yet it has no intelligence. AI, on the other hand, is the imitation of human intelligence by machines – it is a computer’s ability to mimic rational thinking, such as judgment-based decisions, cognition, and reasoning.

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Hand in glove

If these technologies are not the same thing, why are they so often confused? The reason is that they are connected. AI is an umbrella term that describes several technologies, including, but not only, RPA. Other AI technologies, such as Natural Learning Process (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML). Though all these technologies are stirring up much enthusiasm about business process automation, each diversely achieves this.

With RPA, rules are programmed, and the software bots – or digital workers, can extract organized input from applications, like Excel, and enter them into SAP software. The software then works on the user interface as a person would, effortlessly integrating with CRM and ERP systems. Ultimately, RPA eliminates human error, speeds up processes, and frees employees from mundane tasks enabling them to spend more time on social interaction and creative thinking.

It is important to note that simple RPA does not automate end-to-end processes, a misconception that led some customers to buy into the process only to regret their decision later. However, with AI algorithms becoming ever more sophisticated, RPA bots evolve from automating specific processes into entirely cognitive business assistants.

Bottom line

There is a connection between RPA and AI, although some maintain that RPA does not qualify as AI. As one industry expert puts it, the two technologies work hand in glove, just as traditional ‘blue-collar’ service-based employees and ‘white-collar’ knowledge-based employees, to boost a company’s productivity. Choosing the right RPA and AI systems can make businesses processes more efficient and smarter than ever before!

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