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What is RPA as a service?

There’s an ‘as-a-service’ model to be tapped almost everywhere you work, rest or play. Terms like SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS (software, platform, and infrastructure-as-a-service, respectively) have become as familiar as the fast internet and cloud infrastructure that enable them.

But there are hundreds more – from hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) or identity-as-a-service (IDaaS), to artificial-intelligence-as-a-service (AIaaS), and even story-as-a-service (STaaS)...the list is long (and growing). In fact a report by Fortune Business Insights indicates that the ‘Everything as a Service’ market is set to grow from $699.79 billion in 2023 to $3.22 trillion by 2030.

Such significant growth has been driven by an appetite for greater business agility, lower upfront costs, and the ability to scale resources on demand. All of which the ‘as a service’ subscription model delivers.

Little wonder, then, that an ‘as-a-service’ model has been developed for the deployment of robotic process automation (RPA). The many business benefits enabled by RPA has led to its own sustained period of market growth – from a value of around $4 billion this year, rising to over $14 billion by 2029.

But here’s the thing. Traditional on-premises RPA can seem out of reach for some organizations (too expensive, too resource intensive, or requiring too much technical expertise). And that’s where RPA as a service comes in.

This article will take a closer look at RPA, the RPAaaS model, its benefits, plus some important considerations for organizations looking to pursue this form of RPA solution. We will also explore how an infusion of process mining insights from Celonis can amplify RPAaaS benefits.

What is robotic process automation (RPA)?

RPA is a commonly used automation solution that deploys software ‘robots’ to unburden human colleagues from many of the mundane, high-volume repetitive digital tasks common to business processes.

Typically the tasks at which RPA software is directed are rules-based, data heavy, and prone to human error such as matching purchase orders to invoices, standardized reports, and data extraction. There are, however, myriad RPA use cases and applications. And with RPA technology increasingly being combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, more intelligent automation of larger, more complex processes is achievable.

The speed, volume, and accuracy of the automated work carried out by an RPA bot or bots can deliver major productivity gains and increase business scalability. At the same time it can drive  down operational costs and optimize employee satisfaction and deployment.

What is RPAaaS?

It’s simplest to define RPA-as-a-service by first providing a snapshot of the traditional or on-premise RPA from which it differs.

Traditional RPA deployment takes place within an organization’s own tech infrastructure, behind its own firewalls – hence ‘on-premise’. Organizations purchase RPA software licenses upfront and share responsibilities for RPA bot development, implementation, monitoring, management, maintenance and optimization with the vendor.

This can require investments in server hardware, hosting infrastructure and IT resources to install, configure and maintain the software.

By contrast, robotic process automation as a service adopts a cloud-based model for deploying RPA software. With RPAaaS, no licenses need to be purchased and all of the infrastructure is managed by the RPA vendor. The RPA service runs on the vendor’s own cloud platform, and the robots are developed, tested, and managed in the vendor’s cloud interface.

Similarly, maintenance and optimization of the RPA solution are handled by the provider, including training of key personnel to help them get the most out of their bots and their automations. And with RPA experts on hand with the vendor, there’s no associated resourcing costs for process automation.

Businesses that take the RPAaaS route for their RPA journey aren’t locked into significant long-term investments in hardware or software. Finally, as is common with this type of subscription model, an organization only pays for the RPA service they actually use for the period they choose to use it.

Key benefits of RPA as a service

As the summary of RPAaaS laid out in the previous section suggests, this cloud RPA solution can provide a number of significant benefits. These include:

  • Speed of deployment: RPAaaS can be implemented more quickly than on-premise RPA because the deployment process involves no installation of hardware or software – everything is managed through the vendor’s cloud infrastructure, pre-tested and ready to go. Deployment focuses on configuring bots to workflows and can often be achieved in weeks rather than months.

  • Costs: With no upfront license costs, no significant investments in infrastructure, and no need to hire or train additional IT professionals, RPA as a service avoids a lot of the costs associated with an on-premise deployment. In addition, with the RPAaaS model an organization only pays for the automation services it actually uses, maximizing its RPA return on investment.

  • Agility: RPAaaS is an adaptable model providing a highly flexible RPA capability – providing just as much process automation as an organization requires. Whether it’s a rapid scale-up of RPA activity or reining it back, the RPAaaS approach absorbs these changes without need of further investment or redeployment of internal resources.

  • Instant expertise: The technical expertise required for a successful RPA implementation is considerable. With RPAaaS, technical expertise and best practice comes as part of the package. From planning, to deployment, to management and maintenance, the RPA service provider offers the know-how and support required – avoiding overdependence on (and significant training of) internal IT teams. The organization’s focus can remain on the business benefits of process automation, rather than the technical demands of keeping the bots on track.

  • Maintenance and innovation: The responsibility for the smooth operation of RPA technology resides firmly with the RPAaaS vendor – everything is hosted and operated on their platforms. This means there’s no IT dependency to address service outages, or to install software patches, or even to ensure that everyone in the organization is using the same version of the RPA tool – it’s all managed off-site. At the same time, RPAaaS customers benefit from vendors’ investment in research and development. The vendors’ model requires them to stay current with the latest technologies, concepts or approaches, else their customers will simply take their business across the street. In this way, with RPAaaS, an organization’s automated processes are always evolving.

  • Low risk intro to RPA: Withfast deployment, low upfront costs, no staff or infrastructure investments,and practical short-term options,RPAaaS offers businesses a low risk opportunity to test the water with RPA. It enables them to assess the efficacy and impact of robotic process automation on the individual dynamics of their organization before any commitment to an on-premise solution.

Considerations and challenges using RPAaaS

So there’s a lot to like about RPA as a service, but there are good reasons why many organizations prefer an on-premise model. RPAaaS also presents some challenges to keep in mind.

  • Long-term costs: Common to many subscription model operations, in the longer term RPAaaS costs can end up being higher than those of on-premise solutions. RPAaaS may hold the advantage in terms of short-term cash flow, but ongoing cloud subscription fees add up over time. Whereas the cost/benefit equation of upfront RPA investments improves the longer the automation is in place.

  • Data privacy: Rightly or wrongly, some organizations might also have data privacy reservations about RPAaaS. With business process outsourcing of this nature, businesses are compelled to expose aspects of their customer, business and employee data with the RPA vendor. Enabling third-party suppliers to access or even edit this data – in the legitimate provision of RPA services – is a tough sell for some. Cloud-based operators everywhere would point to the many security protocols in place to de-risk this type of arrangement, but data privacy remains a red-line issue for many businesses.

  • Choice: Right now there are simply more on-premise RPA vendors than RPAaaS. The greater the potential supplier base, the greater the likelihood an organization is to find a close match for their exact RPA needs. With a more limited field of RPAaaS options, organizations may have to adjust their automation ambitions according to vendor capability.

  • Control: In passing technical responsibilities for RPA deployment to the RPAaaS vendor, an organization also cedes a lot of control to them. Where on-premise implementation can ensure security, infrastructure and access policies stick to in-house protocols, with RPAaaS this is all inherited from the vendor. Similarly, outsourcing RPA system maintenance to the supplier means competing with every other one of their customers for service response.

  • Standardized service vs customized service: No RPAaaS solution can deliver an RPA service as closely tailored to an organization’s precise requirements as an on-site implementation built by, with and for that organization. RPAaaS vendors offer a more standardized product to deliver broad value to multiple businesses. This means the RPA as a service route offers fewer options for customization to infrastructure setup, standardized reporting, more limited options to integrate with other third party solutions, and reduced access to backend logs.

Both RPAaaS and RPA on-premise offer excellent means to automate business processes. Deciding which way to jump will ultimately come down to budgets, immediate business priorities, technical capabilities, and how far along their RPA journey an organization is.

Maximize RPA impact with Celonis

Whether RPA is delivered as a service or on-premise, the positive impact of process automation will be amplified by insights from Celonis.

Using an array of process mining techniques, including object-centric process mining (OCPM) and the Process Intelligence Graph, Celonis enables businesses to visualize complete end-to-end business process performance in real time. By analyzing data from all IT systems in an organization’s tech stack (including all third-party applications), the platform maps how every process works and how they interact with each other. This provides an objective, data-informed, and hyper accurate picture of how the business actually runs.

This process intelligence is gold-dust for robotic process automation. Firstly, this insight means an organization knows precisely which processes have the greatest value to unlock in response to RPA – providing quantitative data on the likely business benefits. With this information ROI-maximizing RPA deployment becomes possible.

With this living, breathing digital twin of an organization’s processes, the Celonis system can measure the impact of process automation solutions against agreed success metrics. It also offers a situational awareness of business processes, detecting anomalies and even triggering RPA bots to address the issue.

Being entirely technology agnostic, such insight-inspired RPA orchestration and activation is equally available and effective for on-premise implementations or robotic process automation delivered as a service.

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Bill Detwiler
Senior Communications Strategist and Editor Celonis Blog

Bill Detwiler is Senior Communications Strategist and Editor of the Celonis blog. He is the former Editor in Chief of TechRepublic, where he hosted the Dynamic Developer podcast and Cracking Open, CNET’s popular online show. Bill is an award-winning journalist, who’s covered the tech industry for more than two decades. Prior his career in the software industry and tech media, he was an IT professional in the social research and energy industries.

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