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When Senior Executive Editor Linda Tucci set out to write this month's cover story about robotic process automation, she knew she had a complex task in front of her. Robotic process automation -- which Tucci describes elementally as "software that automates other software" -- has the potential to make business processes more efficient, boost productivity and save lots of money by enabling "virtual workers" to take on repetitive work that up until now has been done by humans. That can all be done without the odious work typical of big enterprise-level applications. But automation of knowledge work is an emerging area, categories and tools are still taking shape and IT departments are just starting to grasp the differences between them. Her challenges were similar to those tech journalists faced when cloud computing became a buzzword in the 2007-2008 time frame, when there was no agreement within the tech community about what the term meant.
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If Tucci faced this problem when reporting on the technology, consider the enormous challenge faced by CIOs hoping to evaluate robotic process automation (RPA) and possibly gain business value from it. Besides the conditions described above, there's also vendor hype to wade through -- a potentially confusing and frustrating process. And matching RPA to the right process is "still an art form," Forrester analyst Craig Le Clair tells Tucci. Because the technology is so new, Le Clair says, businesses risk implementing a system without the safety net that underlies mature technology implementations: change management practices, compliance risk assessment and user support, for instance.
And then there's the concern that business units will implement automation of knowledge work without involvement from IT. That would be a big mistake, Tucci says. "IT needs to monitor the bots, provision the servers, help with security and make sure the solutions are designed well," she writes.
Read on for advice around establishing IT's role in RPA projects and hear from two execs who have been down the RPA implementation path.
Elsewhere in this issue, we examine how Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority upgraded its obsolete on-premises infrastructure. And Nationwide Mutual Insurance's Guru Vasudeva explains his IT department's lean management system and how he measures its value.
How digital labor is shaking up outsourcing
Finding the right target for RPA
Cognitive RPA and its impact on the knowledge worker market