The COVID-19 pandemic has become a much-heard phrase in the recent times. In addition to the millions of lives the deadly virus took, it affected every aspect of our environment. From shutting down factories, business firms, schools and tourist destinations, to degrading the global economy, we witnessed it all in the past year. We saw major change in industries around the world, when they switched to remote workforces to protect their employees. While the transition brought with it several challenges, it also offered some unique opportunities. Many businesses took stock of their workflows and realized that the time was best to incorporate robotic process automation to optimize their processes. Even 2021 has been witnessing a sharp increase in RPA investments worldwide. As this trend seems to be rising in the graph, it is important for us to understand what is RPA?
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Working on a computer isn’t new to us. We all are aware of the commonly used copy-paste buttons. Let us assume that you hate using these repeated clicks, and you wish for a genie to come and do it for you. Well, RPA is a software that does exactly the same for you with a little drag & drop programming.
In simple words, Robotic process automation occurs when basic tasks are automated through software or hardware systems that function across a variety of applications, just as human workers do. The software or robot can be taught a workflow with multiple steps and applications, such as taking received forms, sending a receipt message, checking the form for completeness, filing the form in a folder, and updating a spreadsheet with the name of the form, the date filed, and so on. It is basically an application of technology which uses business logic and structured inputs that aim at automating business processes.
While the use of robots isn’t new in factories and manufacturing units, but its use in IT and other similar sectors is new, and it can help companies in producing high-volume business. To explore RPA more, we should know that it is divided into two categories.
1. Unattended automation
Unattended automation doesn’t require someone to be at their computer. Instead, unattended bots do the work by themselves recording and playing back actions. Because they can use triggers and schedule automated events, they’re ideal for accelerating the automation of high-volume tasks across your organization.
2. Attended automation
Attended automation allows you to focus on more high-value work across your organization. It does this by automating repetitive, manual, front-office activities and mimics actions you perform on your desktop or browser, like mouse clicks, by recording and playing back these actions in real time.
With advantages including an increased productivity, accuracy and higher performance RPA has a high demand. Apart from this, bots too, make it simple for organisations to scale up or down, so seasonal workflows or surges across business units, locations, from desktop to cloud can be easily be accommodated.
During the pre-covid times, the use of RPA was limited to a few industries only. Banking and finance, insurance, healthcare and retail being on top, and accounting for 66% of the RPA spend. In 2018, the RPA Market size stood at USD 597.5 million. But all this has taken a drastic change since the pandemic. It has provided a new traction for the robotics and automation industry by forcing businesses to operate in new and innovative ways. Let us understand how the past year has brought a significant change in the use of Robotics.
While many robots are designed with specific applications in mind, the year of 2020 unleashed a chance for innovations. For instance, many large and small companies pivoted operations to develop disinfecting robotics to address the pandemic and keep people safe.
2020 had also revealed that many robotics applications have the potential to quickly adapt to serve in different scenarios and help us navigate unexpected circumstances. As we are now returning to a new normal, different robotics innovations are likely to be introduced as the technology keeps advancing.
Change in Consumer Demands
The pandemic swiftly changed consumer purchasing behaviors through a shift from in-store purchases to online shopping and services. The COVID-19 drove consumers to spend $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up 44.0 percent from $598.02 billion in 2019. In addition, online grocery shopping grew from two to ten percent of total sales in 2020.
A survey report showed that most people are likely to continue with remote purchasing even after the pandemic ends, therefore such drastic change in purchasing behavior is ought to put a lot of pressure on the warehousing and logistics industry. The use of robotics has been increasing significantly over the years, but still, the overhaul adding which these robots require, has slowed down the pace of its development. Hence, with new innovations likely to take place, and the increase in use of RPA, significant changes could light a fire underneath potential buyers and drive tremendous growth.
Moreover, as warehouses scramble to adopt technology that can help them to become more efficient, there is no shortage of the type of robotics applications that can help with these logistical challenges. In addition to automated warehouse robots, which move inventory from warehouse shelves to pack out areas, many warehouses are also adopting newer innovations including human-like robotic arms and mobile applications to pick and store inventory across the warehouses more efficiently.
The pandemic brought to light, the fact that robotics applications are meant to serve to collaborate and improve efficiencies for humans, not to replace them. Along with the context of warehouses, the pandemic has driven the use of collaborative arms allowing for simpler automation and better distancing on assembly lines and other tight areas. While these arms were implemented on a larger scale over the past year, the collaboration is being done keeping in mind the concept of social distancing, while remaining efficient at the same time.
As post covid times is likely to witness remote working as a new normal, businesses will introduce telepresence robots to maintain an efficient environment in the business firms. Through such systems, a remote operator will easily be able to navigate a workplace and collaborate with those physically present through video conferencing capabilities.
Despite the massive disruption we all faced from COVID-19, robotics helped us not only adapt to unforeseen circumstances, but become resilient for continued change. Even though they were already on a rise before covid struck, their growth is expected to increase positively in 2021 and the years to come. Surely, the transition from lab to real world will provide with necessary challenges, but with trials and errors, and a proper learning curve, companies will be able to fully reap the benefits of robotics.
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