RPA Tools Lack AI Aura but Find Role in IoT Inventory Apps
Sensor network monitoring companies such as FourKites, Roambee, SmartSense and others are working with partners to provide RPA hooks to their offerings as well.
If this, then that RPA represents “if-this-then-that programs where sensors in connected devices collect data that is used to perform subsequent actions not necessarily related to that device,” according to Mark van Rijmenam, chief executive officer at big data consultancy Data Floq and author of “The Organisation of Tomorrow” (due from Routledge Press in 2020).
“RPA enables organizations to link multiple, dispersed connected devices to each other. The output of one device is the input of another device,” he said. “This provides enormous benefits for logistics systems or asset tracking systems.”
In such ways, RPA can be a vital part of bringing IoT data into the broader business system, according to Elvira Wallis, who is senior vice president and global head of IoT at SAP. The company purchased RPA specialist Contextor last year, and, she said, has begun to include its technology in delivery-oriented IoT applications.
“Connecting sensor signals is an important thing,” Wallis said, “But the questions are ‘what insights do we get?’ and ‘what does it do for the business process?’”
That is where RPA tools can help in IoT-based supply chain and related systems. Examples Wallis cited for RPA in logistics included tracking perishables and oncology drugs.
“RPA bots can be used to fetch the condition of the materials, proof of status, proof of delivery, and to create reports,” she said.
Max Mancini also sees RPA playing a role in broader IoT processes. Mancini, who is executive vice president for the digital worker ecosystem at RPA player Automation Anywhere pointed to package tracking apps that look for anomalies in operations as an example.
“When a package goes off the tracks, you have to take action. You need monitor alerts, but you also have to take action, such as filing a ticket,” he said. “RPA bots pick up those tickets, and link to other systems, such as ERP systems.”
Mancini noted that RPA systems work best on structured data, and that, when they are connected to AI- and machine learning-based systems that can extract unstructured — or “dark” data — RPA is opened up for far more uses.
Others agree. RPA working with AI in a complementary manner has added benefits in next-generation IoT-enabled supply chains, according to Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at Kofax, a company that built on an early (2013) purchase of enterprise mashup maker Kapow to take on the RPA market.
“RPA is rules-based. It doesn’t think,” he said. Like his Automation Anywhere counterpart Mancini, he said RPA would become part of larger ‘Intelligent Automation’ platforms that combine the two technologies in supply chain and other settings.
Moving into the IoT Field
RPA tooling has helped a worldwide freight and supply chain management firm to handle mundane but important processes that are part of modern logistics operations, according to Emma Curzon, senior business analyst at U.K.-based Davies Turner.