As might be expected, there’s plenty of blame to go around for frustration over RPA’s failure to deliver on promised improvements in productivity and cost savings. Industry insiders point to everything from a lack of proper RPA governance to organizations selecting the wrong processes to automate. Casting perhaps the largest shadow, however, is the absence of an industry-wide RPA framework that provides a standard way for describing what each process to be automated does in a way that all automation tools can understand.
At present, RPA programs have little choice but to make do with the different ways process automations are described and detailed, with every RPA platform and the complementary tools that occupy different points along the automation value chain speaking a different language.
A clear example is the inability of RPA users to open, read, and act on automation files in any RPA platform. Each major RPA vendor has its own proprietary way to detail process automations, which is limited exclusively to those vendor platforms. Without a common design standard for automation that is universally understood by all RPA tools, automation users that might want to switch RPA vendors are left with two choices: start from scratch (which is so costly and time-consuming that it’s usually regarded as a non-starter) or stick with their current vendor, even if they are dissatisfied or have identified an appealing alternative platform.
The absence of RPA design standards is also a bottleneck of automation pipelines. Let’s look, for example, at process discovery tools, a key component of any automation toolchain. Without RPA standards that would assure compatibility and interoperability, process discovery tools detail discovered processes in different ways. This leaves RPA users with little choice but to transcribe processes manually before they can ever start to be developed and deployed in target automation platforms. As a result, automation stalls, more money has to be spent, and more time is wasted.
Growing awareness of these standardization issues, coupled with the inability of RPA to scale or deliver on anticipated ROI, is causing many companies to rethink additional automation investments. This eventually might lead to a drop-off in market growth. That’s why improvements to RPA technology will advance at a significantly slower pace without the type of collaboration afforded by industry standards.
RPA design standards could have the same kind of transformative effect on the automation market as when the Portable Document Format (PDF) was released as an open standard by Adobe. The ability not only to save a PDF in any word processor but also to open it in another tool suddenly unlocked a level of portability that previously had been impossible to attain. This, in turn, fueled the transition to the paperless office and digital transformations in businesses worldwide. Therefore establishing a set of universal design standards holds the potential to take the RPA market to the next level. It would make portability, compatibility, and interoperability a part of every RPA deployment, and ultimately generate the kind of sea change that will enable RPA to be truly transformative.