Some CIOs at FTSE listed companies don’t know what robotic process automation is

With all the articles being published about robots taking over repetitive tasks and transforming the operations in businesses across sectors I find it hard believe that any IT leader is unaware of the robotic process automation (RPA) technology, yet it seems to be the case.

I was having a conversation with Paul Taplin, managing director at Voyager Solutions, which is a specialist in supporting the adoption of RPA in business and he told me: “There is a lot of confusion in the market and a lot of CIOs I am meeting don’t really understand what RPA is.”

To add to my surprise, he told me these are CIOs at FTSE 100 to FTSE 350 companies so not small businesses.

And it goes beyond a lack of understanding to CIOs actually admitting that they have never seen the technology. “I have had some meetings with FTSE 350’s and the CIOs haven’t seen RPA and don’t know what it is,” Taplin told me.

I first met Paul in earlier this year when I interviewed some apprentices at the company who were being trained up on RPA.

I am surprised some CIOs aren’t aware of it because companies in sectors with large back-office operations are flocking to technologies that can automate repetitive tasks.

For example, a report from financial services management consultancy Opimas predicted that in 2017 – discounting acquisitions of startups – finance firms in the investment sector would spend $1.5bn on RPA, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive analytics, increasing by 75% to $2.8bn in 2021.

I am even more surprised because It’s not new. Back in March 2012 I wrote about how mobile operator O2 was saving millions of pounds and reducing its reliance on offshore staff through automation software. I must admit at the time it was only just arriving on my radar. So over 5 years later I would have thought anyone in a senior IT role would know all about the technology.

Part of the problem is that RPA is being sold to businesses as part of their digital transformation rather than separate projects to automate business processes. As a result people see it as a pillar of a digital transformation strategy rather than a stand alone project. “I think with RPA some of the messages are being lost because you can use RPA more tactically. People think RPA has to be a massive thing because it’s being sold as part of a digital strategy when actually some companies are only paying £100,000 a year for it and getting loads of benefit.”

“RPA doesn’t have to be part of a massive project. You can get a small number of software robots to replace headcount on a small scale.”

Taplin reckons about 40% of the IT people he is meeting are likely to still have fundamental questions about what RPA is.

There is a big opportunity for automation at most companies. Taplin told me wherever something is outsourced it probably means RPA could be introduced as it has similar characteristics. “High volume, transactional and rules based.”

He said many of the big outsourcing service providers have probably been using RPA for quite a while now.