RPA vs cognitive automation

You have to feel sympathy for business leaders who have arrived late to the automation party. These are the people who have spent years holding off on embracing one of the greatest technology revolutions to sweep the business world, only to realise that it is indeed the game-changer everyone said it was. Having finally parked their hesitancy and decided to go all-in, they are now confronted with yet another dilemma – Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Cognitive Automation?
RPA vs cognitive automation | Probe CX

That’s right – it’s not as simple as just signing up. Further choices need to be made, one of the first being which type of automation would best suit their company’s needs. Questions abound – how do RPA and cognitive automation differ? What functions do they serve? What are the benefits of each? And arguably the most important of all – which one will deliver the best return on investment?

To help make that decision easier, here is a handy breakdown of the two most common forms of automation and the role they are playing in helping businesses improve efficiencies, reduce costs and stay ahead of their competitors in the digital age.

What is RPA and Cognitive Automation?

RPA encompasses software that can be easily programmed to perform basic tasks across applications and thus help eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks completed by humans. Best thought of as a ‘software worker’, it has been designed to perform tasks that can be controlled with rules and schedules such as inputting multiple data entries, copying and pasting, retrieving customer profiles and re-entering retrieved data. 

Alternatively, Cognitive Automation uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to mimic human thought and actions to help solve more complex problems and gain key insights from data. By leveraging different algorithms and technological approaches, it can manage and analyse large volumes of information with far greater speed, accuracy and consistency than humans and even provide input to workers to add to analytical insights.

Put simply, RPA involves automating menial and repetitive tasks; cognitive automation adds an all-important extra layer of AI and machine learning.

Key Benefits – RPA

Having emerged about 20 years ago, RPA is a cost-effective solution for businesses wanting to pursue innovation without having to pay heavily to test new ideas. It can also be implemented more quickly than traditional automation systems, freeing up time for employees to tackle an increased number of cognitive and complex tasks. Its ability to address tedious jobs for long durations helps increase staff productivity, reduce costs and lessen employer attrition.

RPA is a huge boon for the likes of the contact centre industry, with their focus on large volumes of repetitive and monotonous tasks that do not require decision-making. By automating data capture and integrating workflows to identify customers, agents can access supporting details on one screen and avoid the need to tap into multiple systems to gather contextual information. And what does this ultimately mean for contact centres? The promise of shorter call durations and an improved experience for customers and agents alike.

Key Benefits – Cognitive Automation

Pre-trained to automate specific business processes, cognitive automation needs access to less data before making an impact. By performing complex analytics on the data, it can complete tasks such as finding the root cause of an issue and autonomously resolving it or even learning ways to fix it. While more complex than RPA, it can still be rolled out in just a few weeks and as additional data is added to the system, it is able to form connections and learn and adjust to the new landscape.

Imagine a technology that can help a business better understand, predict and impact the needs and wants of its customers. Well, that technology is cognitive automation because the added layer of AI and machine learning allows it to extend the boundaries of what is possible with traditional RPA.

Food for Thought – RPA

The most obvious shortfall of RPA compared to cognitive automation is it cannot learn from the data it collects. While it requires less upfront training, it can also hit hurdles if the boundaries that it operates within change. RPA involves robots that operate on rules and schedules, meaning businesses may need to reconfigure them if internal processes change. Traditional RPA can also pose challenges with scaling.

Food for Thought – Cognitive Automation

Cognitive Automation has a lot going for it but those benefits can come at a cost, the first of which is an additional financial investment. It also requires more training at the outset and at times that training is in-depth or technical. While the technology is powerful and ever-evolving, it is also worth noting the algorithms for recognising hand-writing are not always perfect and time and resources may be required to make machines ‘read’ hand-written documents.

RPA vs Cognitive Automation

The Decision

While it is necessary to compare RPA and cognitive automation, businesses should not make the mistake of thinking they need to choose one or the other. While each software is distinct, they actually complement each other and can form an ideal team for augmenting human workers. It has been estimated RPA can be applied to 60% of an enterprise’s activities, with the remaining 40% of tasks requiring human cognitive capabilities such as decision-making, understanding complex relationships and ongoing learning. As you have just learned, this is where cognitive automation comes into play.

You must start somewhere though and most organisations tend to do so at the more basic end. RPA allows businesses to manage volume quickly and cost-effectively before stepping up to cognitive automation once they are ready to handle volume and complexity. It’s all about getting the right mix for your needs and partnering with a quality vendor for guidance on your automation journey is highly recommended. At the end of the day, embracing RPA and cognitive automation is all about putting oneself in the best position to empower employees and improve customer experience.

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