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Robotic Process Automation or RPA is pegged to be one of the next ‘big things’ in tech. However, the rate of innovation and change in the tech world is unlike any other industry. New buzz words like RPA appear every other week and it can be hard to distinguish the difference between hype and reality. A number of insiders from the industry say that RPA is not only the future of controllership, but it is fast becoming the present. To understand the future of RPA, we must first consider what RPA is, the main players pushing RPA and the venture capital behind it. RPA is the application of technology that enables one to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. RPA is essentially a software robot that mimics human actions. It is often conflated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) but there is a clear distinction between the two. At the most basic level, RPA is associated with ‘doing’ whereas AI and ML are concerned with ‘think and learning’. A simple example of RPAs applicability is automating the grunt work of retrieving emails. Retrieval is based on the email’s subject, downloading the attachments (e.g. invoices) into a defined folder, and then inputting the bills into accounting software (typically through copy and paste actions). RPA is highly process driven, it is simply automating repetitive, rule-based processes that typically require interaction with multiple, disparate IT systems. This is the key difference between RPA and AI, AI is concerned with high quality data. AI is required to intelligently “read” the invoices, and extract the pertinent information such as invoice number, supplier name, invoice due date, product description, amounts due, and many more. Since every activity in RPA needs to be explicitly programmed or scripted, it is practically impossible to teach the bot exactly where to extract the relevant information for each invoice received. Hence the need for AI to intelligently decipher the invoice just as a human would. RPA tech is hot. Industry experts have valued the industry at €2 billion with forecasts indicating this figure will rise to nearly €4 billion by 2022. These valuations are supported by venture capital investments into RPA companies. In 2018, RPA specialists Automation Anywhere secured €270 million from SoftBank, Kryon secured €35 million, Softomotive secured €22 million, and Automation Hero secured €12.5 million. The dominant force in the RPA sphere is UiPath, a New York based company founded in 2005. In 2018, UiPath received a sizeable €500 million investment in a series D round of funding led by hedge fund Coatue Management. This brought the company’s total funding figure to €1 billion with the company now being valued around the €7 billion mark, not so bad for ‘hype’. The big players like UiPath’s core selling point is that it brings automation to enterprise processes through “intelligent software robots” that help businesses carry out laborious, repetitive tasks using computer vision and rule-based processes. UiPath state that their software streamlines work processes by eliminating the laborious elements of a job, freeing up valuable time for employees to work on other things. As with all automation software, the impact on human jobs is a real concern. To date, the impact has yet to be assessed and the main players in the RPA industry are downplaying the potential negative impact of their software on jobs. Like many others in the automation world, they argue that RPA removes laborious elements of jobs rather than removing the job itself. Only the future will tell the impact technologies like RPA will have on the workforce. Regardless, it’s safe to say that all indications seem to convey that RPA is not just a fad or the future, it is fast becoming the present.