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The Interplay of RPA and AI

Authored By : Pooja Jain, Sub Editor, Enteprise IT World

Robotics has been a game changer for the last decade or so. But with Artificial Intelligence in the picture, the revolution intensifies.

According to a report by International Federation of Robotics released earlier this year, the sales of Industrial Robots in India has reached the new record of 3,412 new units installed in 2017. This recorded a significant increase of 30 percent compared to the 2,627 new units installed in 2016. These statistics demonstrate the growth of the Robotics market in India, wherein manufacturers, logistics, healthcare, are just some of the sectors that stand to gain from the upcoming automated revolution. 

Indian enterprises are slowly but surely jumping onto the bandwagon of RPA. While new startups have been quick to adopt it, legacy companies are also opening themselves for implementing RPA systems. In terms of preparation, I feel that the market needs more maturity, handholding, infusion of patient capital, exposure to global practices, openness, forward thinking management, setting up of data collection and storage infrastructure and trust. ”

Rahul Singh Thakur, CTO and Co-founder, Enrich AI.

Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence 

RPA is a Digital Transformational strategy that allows a business to automate its most basic, repetitive tasks so that it can be robotized, and the human workforce used where their discretion is more valuable. This arrangement accrues the usual benefits for the business, in terms of cost-efficiency, error-free work, and significantly faster deliverability. This frees up the manual workforce from being stuck in repetitive, mundane tasks. They can instead be used in other strategic assignments that require a higher degree of knowledge-based, creatively and innovatively inclined decisions to be made hands on.

Automation itself has been in the industry for the longest time. The journey that started in 1961, when the Unimate 1900 Series became the first mass produced Robotic Arm for Factory Automation, has evolved to the point in 2019 when the robot is not just able to do what it has been instructed to do. Artificial Intelligence infused with Robotics gives the system the data and internal processes it requires to contextualize and assess the problem. This cognitive ability significantly enhances the potential of the automation industry.

Adopt and quickly advance to cognitive solutions across the enterprise to automate every aspect of the enterprise. Look for RPA solutions only if your applications (in this fast paced agile, DevOps, next gen app development world) are not changing in next 18 months.”

Renjeev Kolanchery, Senior Vice President, Head Automation, Mphasis.

“RPA forms the foundation layer for other cognitive technologies like AI, ML, Edge Computing, Computer Vision among others. All these technologies need vast amounts of structured as well as unstructured data to churn accurate results. RPA would help in the collection of these data points and when combined with these technologies result in creation of significant long-term value for all stakeholders in the business ecosystem,” Rahul Singh Thakur, CTO and Co-founder, Enrich AI. 

The thing about Technology is that it does not exist in vacuum. The different new age technologies are not compartmentalized into separate sections wherein each is operating in its own limited sphere. Instead, all these technologies from Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to Internet of Things and Edge Commuting, works on the fundamentals of the other. Their operability is intertwined to the extent that it becomes virtually impossible to deploy one without the other(s). 

With respect to Robotics, the key trend in the market is the adoption of Artificial Intelligence in the automation processes. 

4.0 industrial revolution is the key driver for market growth which is a new connectivity that combines and networks all of the advancements like intelligent machines, the Internet of Things (IOT), data analytics and cloud computing etc. to enable the digital labor.”

Jayakrishnan T, IEEE Member and CEO, Asimov Robotics

“The convergence of RPA with AI and Machine Learning is paving the way for cognitive automation. With this, software robots would mimic human behaviour and handle complex use cases, which was not possible earlier, without human intervention,” said Raghu Subramanian, President and CEO, India, UiPath.

Today, CIOs want to adopt the automation-first approach. However, they should first ask what can be automated. Thinking automation first would enable them to dominate the competition by moving faster, resulting in improved productivity and efficiency. Additionally, CIOs should understand the ROI of automation which makes budget allocations for RPA projects easier.”

Raghu Subramanian, President and CEO, India, UiPath.

This convergence of RPA and AI results in, what is often termed as ‘Intelligent Automation’, ‘Cognitive Automation’ or most popularly ‘Cognitive Robotic Automation Process’. It not just serves to create massive growth potential for the businesses, but also offers highly cost-effective solutions. RPA and AI come together to provide an innovative, holistic approach to Workflow Management. 

According to a NASSCOM research report titled, ‘Cognitive RPA – The Future of Automation’, “RPA adoption is driven by factors such as cost reduction, high accuracy, 24/7 availability, and revenue enhancement.” AI Technologies have the potential to extend RPA’s reach. These technologies are Natural Language Processing, Recommendation Engines, Machine Learning, Speech Recognition, Image Analysis, Computer Vision, Deep Learning and Predictive Analytics. Equipping robots with Cognitive Technologies would qualify them to work within complex scenarios that would otherwise require human intervention.

What are the challenges? 

Speaking about his experience with the adoption of Robotics in his organization, Renjeev Kolanchery, Senior Vice President, Head Automation, Mphasis, said “The initial journey, from about three years ago, was filled with learnings- having the right infrastructure, the right ROI, post bot deployment Bot lifecycle, enterprise change management were the key learnings. We have grown and advanced in leaps and bounds from then on. Now the organization’s focus is in developing talent for AI based solutions.”

The biggest obstacle that is faced when it comes to the implementation of Robotic Process Automation is the resistance from employees. Their concern that the robots will ultimately put them out of circulation, is not an illegitimate concern. It is true that a lot of jobs, albeit repetitive and unspecialized in nature, are slowly being taken over by the bots and are rendering a large chunk of the workforce obsolete, unless they upgrade their skills to something that has not (yet) been robotized. It will lead to a cycle of reskilling that will change the very nature of the specialized skill market. This will change the nature of the jobs available in the market and drive it towards a more specialized and skilled workforce.  

Commenting on the challenges faced by the industry, Gyan Prakash, Vice PresidentEnterprise IT, SCADA Geoinformatics Pvt. Ltd.  said “Despite strong interest in using Robotics by organizations, there is still perceived resistance holding back widespread adoption. Inevitability, much of the resistance is tied to cost, access to skills and a lack of understanding of how to produce attractive returns on investments; both up-front and ongoing through maintenance and programming of new tasks.”

Besides that, Jayakrishnan T, IEEE Member and CEO, Asimov Robotics says that “The major challenges faced by the industry are the lead time to deployment, increased cost and high expectation of the customer.” Most of present-day requirements in robotizations are comprehensive solutions that involve various components as explained in the industry 4.0 revolution. Since these solutions have to be developed from scratch, the lead time to development is too high, he elaborates. With respect to the high cost, as these solutions are developed for the first time, the expenses include the both hardware cost as well as development expenses which often affects the affordability of the solution. Finally, unlike enterprise solution, B2C robotic products at present finds it very difficult to meet the expectations of the customer. Hence it is highly important to educate the customer on the usability and limitations when it comes to a practical application.

New generation of industrial robots are intelligent and autonomous robots whose improvements will be in the direction of : identifying specific objects, manipulation, knowledge, increase computing performance, numerically controlled remotely, working with miniature and complex products that require adjustment in the assembly, reliability and precision which exceeds human ability with the help of AI/ML & Edge Computing.”

Gyan Prakash, Vice President – Enterprise IT, SCADA Geoinformatics Pvt. Ltd.

Commenting on the state of the Robotics Market in India, Jayakrishnan T, IEEE Member and CEO, Asimov Robotics, said “Indian markets are not yet matured to include robotics as unavoidable part of the work force due to high initial cost and delay in identifying possibilities due to lack of knowledge. In fact, these two aspects are related since only volume can bring down the cost. Additionally, labour in India is not as expensive as in well-developed countries. Hence ROI of robotisation takes long time.” 

Finally… 

The Robotic revolution though slow, is picking up pace in the Indian market. With assistance from the technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation can evolve exponentially. Though the lack of regulation and standardization complicates the matter. With technologies like AI and Robotics, there is no way of knowing when or where to stop. If we are not careful, we might just find ourselves in an apocalyptic Scifi movie.   

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