The idea of robotic process automation (RPA) dates back to the turn of the century, with UK vendor Blue Prism being credited as pioneers in the space, but the technology only got its name in 2012. Since then it has been maturing into enterprise readiness. There is now a set of major vendors starting to carve out a space for themselves and a clutch of early adopters showing some real results.

Where more traditional workflow automation software would require a high degree of coding and scripting to get the desired response, RPA differs in its ability to leverage machine learning to adapt on the fly, in much the same was as a human employee would when something doesn’t go to plan. Even if this means the software simply escalates a case to a human, it promises to drastically cut down on the amount of human work required to perform mundane or repetitive processes. 

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Naturally, RPA tends to bring with it questions regarding displacing human roles with software bots, but its ability to automate mundane tasks has certainly caught the attention of industries that have traditionally outsourced this work or who have overworked back offices. That means RPA software poses a major threat, but predominantly to the traditional business process outsourcing industry, which would employ armies of low‑skilled workers to complete repeatable tasks.

Here we run through what RPA software is, who the major vendors are and some real world case studies of RPA software in action, from the NHS to oil and gas.

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