Currently, I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I am exposed daily to the latest and greatest that technology has got to offer. Particularly, technologies that form part of the 4th industrial revolution. As such, I get to hypothesise scenarios for my clients where they can utilise a combination of these technologies to create value added business solutions that either save costs or offer a better customer experience.
First things first, IoT or internet of things, for everyone that has not been keeping up to date with latest technology trends, is the term given for a network of physical objects. Callum McClelland gives the best non-technical explanation in his article, "What Is IoT? – A Simple Explanation of the Internet of Things" and simply states that, "The Internet of Things is actually a pretty simple concept, it means taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet." IoT is not a new concept with sensor and monitors being utilised for the last 20 years in multiple industries, however, it has gained increased popularity as it intersects with several other key trends in the tech world, from open source and big data to cyber security and software-defined networking. As such, this has caused IoT to become one of the fastest growing market trends with Bain & Co. stating that the IoT market will grow from $235B in 2017 to $520B in 2021. The exciting part of this technology, besides that all C-suite executives can get real time access to exactly what is going on within their organisation, is what can be pro-actively done by having access to this information. This is where RPA can prove useful.
“RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is a form of business process automation that allows anyone to define a set of instructions for a robot or ‘bot’ to perform,” says Aaron Bultman, director of product at Nintex. “RPA bots are capable of mimicking most human-computer interactions to carry out a ton of error-free tasks, at high volume and speed.” The issue I have found after conducting many a sales pitch regarding RPA is that the term "BOT" receives negative connotations. Images of movies such as Terminator or iRobot start flashing through people's minds increasing the negative stigma attached to this useful tool. However, RPA is not that at all, but rather pieces of software that does exactly what you tell it to do and nothing more. However, besides this, RPA is gaining traction at a furious rate with Gartner expecting RPA revenue to reach $1.3B in 2019 up by 63.1% of $846M in 2018 making it the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market. Further yet, Deloitte predicts that by 2023 nearly every single organisation will be utilising RPA in some way or other.
So you should already start putting two and two together with regards to how these two technologies can combine to elevate an organisations operational efficiencies. With IoT providing raw data and RPA having the ability to conduct operational tasks by having access to this data. Across industries and business units, IoT integration is still residing in POC stage with the business having to prove value before enterprise wide implementation, however, combining IoT integration with RPA can drastically increase the value business receives. PwC states in an article regarding IoT integration that: "RPA makes it easier to inject IoT-generated data (from sensors and objects) into the firm's various systems, or even third party systems. This combo with process automation can thus be achieved without changing the systems or developing a specific connector. As an added benefit, IoT use-cases and prototypes can be tested much more easily, comprehensively, promptly, and without significant added costs (system development) that can be hard to justify so long as the benefits of the use cases are not demonstrated."
However, the best way to describe this relationship is through a few industry examples...
IoT is nothing new in the Manufacturing environment with Industrial Automation and specifically PLCs being available since the 1970's. However, IoT together with RPA has improved the supply chain of a glass facade manufacturer as follows:
All raw material including aluminium lengths, boxes of screws, glass, etc has a passive RFID tracker installed on it. This is simply a smart device that gets stuck onto the incoming material. The raw material then gets stored which gets communicated with the ERP system through a gateway that is installed at the entrance of the storage area.When the material is used, a gateway sensor, installed at the entrance of the assembly line, notifies the ERP system that the raw material has moved from storage to Work in Progress (WIP).Once the raw material reaches a critical level, stipulated by business rules, the RPA bot is triggered. The Bot then automatically orders additional material from the relevant client through an email. When the quote is received, the bot raises a purchase order and sends an email to procurement to proceed with payment.
This is a very simple yet highly beneficial value add to this specific manufacturing organisation. They have found after implementation, that shrinkage has decreased and operational efficiencies have been increased.
According to an article by Ana Bera, Transportation or Logistics is to account for 4.1% of the IoT market (read the rest of the article).
As such, sensors and monitors is nothing new to this industry with GPS sensors and driver monitoring being implemented for a number of years. However, regarding RPA and IoT integration, an international airline is using the two technologies as follows:
Sensors are used to monitor the quantity of luggage in the incoming baggage areaThis information is communicated with the bot that notifies the operator of thisThe operator then decides the amount of cargo that they can take on the flight
Again, a simple process that gets optimised through combining the two technologies, thereby making the implementation of the sensors even more beneficial to the airline operator.
I now ask you to make use of your imagination and evaluate your own internal operations as to where one or both technologies could drastically improve operational efficiencies. There are many use cases available across industries and business units that promote the use of both technologies.
IoT and RPA are here to stay, and a quick look at adoption stats indicate that using a sooner rather than later adoption strategy could prove vital to your organisations survival in today's market place.