By Angus Loten
Companies plan to leverage software robots in the months ahead,
as many grapple with strained resources and uncertain markets.
Known as robotic process automation, or bots, the software is
typically designed to handle a range of routine office tasks, such
as processing payroll data or expense reports, and fielding
call-center queries. More advanced bots can review more complex
paperwork, including legal documents and contracts.
Companies typically outsource development of bots to third-party
software firms. There are also RPA platforms designed to enable
businesses to make their own custom-made bots.
Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. plans to accelerate its use of RPA
over the next several months, said Mike Maresca, the drugstore
chain's global chief technology officer. The aim, he said, is to
make operations more resilient to the economic impact of the
coronavirus pandemic, while adapting to changing customer needs,
among other goals.
Mr. Maresca said the company has already deployed bots in
several business areas, including finance, human resources, supply
chain and information technology, using an RPA platform developed
by Automation Anywhere Inc.
The bots have helped streamline time-intensive processes,
enabling the company to handle a growing volume of online orders
and customer queries about Covid-19, he said.
Throughout the pandemic, he added, bots helped increase employee
productivity and morale by reducing workload.
Junaid Ahmed, corporate vice president of finance at Applied
Materials Inc., said the company last year began using bots to
automate areas of financial accounting, aiming to free up staff
from thousands of hours of repetitive number crunching.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which makes gear for
semiconductors, has experienced strong growth, but "key support
functions have been stretched" during the pandemic, Mr. Ahmed said.
To bolster productivity, he added, the company is aiming to have
255 bots in place for a range of workplace processes by the end of
February. They are making them in-house using a bot-making platform
created by UiPath Inc.
Nearly 80% of some 440 global corporate executives surveyed by
Deloitte LLP in mid 2020 said they had implemented some form of
robotic process automation in the past year. Roughly 15% said they
plan to in the next three years. The survey included chief
information officers, heads of automation, IT directors and other
Fred Havemeyer, a senior software analyst at Macquarie Group,
said the pandemic has acted like a business-resiliency test for
many companies, accelerating the adoption of digital technologies,
and especially smart automation.
He expects robotic process automation to be "an enterprise
priority within the wave of cloud software spend we see
Gartner Inc., an information-technology research and consulting
firm, expects worldwide spending on enterprise IT to grow 6.2% this
year, to $3.9 trillion, compared with 2020. Spending declined last
year, dropping by 3.2%, as companies redirected spending to
mission-critical technology and services during the pandemic, the
firm said in a report Monday.
Spending will be led by enterprise software, which is projected
to grow 8.8% to roughly $505 billion -- much of it focused on RPA
and other forms of automation, the report said.
"The use of RPA increases our ability to react quickly to
changes in market conditions," said Michael Roseman, senior vice
president of customer operations at IT services management company
OneSource Virtual Inc.
In March, the company was able to quickly build number-crunching
bots designed to help corporate customers process new tax deferrals
and credits set out in federal Covid-19 relief measures under the
Cares Act, Mr. Roseman said. "The changes were announced on Friday
and we moved our solution into production on Monday," he said.
Max Cheprasov, chief automation officer at global ad agency
Dentsu Inc., said his goal is to provide a virtual assistant for
every employee within the next five years.
To do that, he said, the company plans to use a simplified
computer-code platform, developed by RPA maker UiPath, that enables
workers to build their own custom-made bots with only basic
"We see that between 30% and 60% of what people currently do
manually in the front office can be fully automated," Mr. Cheprasov
"Putting these kinds of tools in the hands of employees
directly, instead of the software engineers or IT teams, removes
the unnecessary bureaucracy and technical roadblocks," he
Write to Angus Loten at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 25, 2021 18:13 ET (23:13 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.