RPA and AI – What’s the Difference, and Where’s the Opportunity?

Worried that robots may someday take over the world? Watch enough movies like Terminator or RoboCop, and it’s easy to see why.  Artificial intelligence has been a pop-culture fascination since the movie Metropolis first prominently featured robots in 1927.

However, no matter how cool you find Star Wars’ BB-8 or Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, neither cute nor evil robots on that level are likely to be in our near future. However, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is growing in sophistication, and those changes can bring value to your organization.

While AI and RPA are often used interchangeably, it is important not to confuse the two terms. AI is the simulation of human intelligence by machines; RPA is software that mimics human actions. Today, RPA is becoming more prevalent among businesses of all sizes, automating rules-based processes in both the back and front office. Thanks to continuing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML), RPA is helping businesses automate routine and perform mundane tasks, such as accounting and IT.

But despite the value they can bring to your company, it is unlikely that machines will take over the world, or even cost humans their jobs. To start, someone needs to develop these machines. Those without that training, or workers with lower-level skills, will be able to use those machines to boost their productivity. Instead of seeing AI or RPA as negatives, smart businesses realize they can be the catalyst for new hiring, higher wages and happier employees. Automation can make people’s everyday mundane, rote jobs easier, freeing creative and innovative human beings to do the jobs that software can’t do.

And RPA will only continue to grow. In fact, global RPA market size is expected to reach more than $3 billion by 2025, according to a study by Grand View Research. And with good reason — robots and AI solutions have enabled organizations to tackle market challenges, while at the same time, meeting demanding consumer expectations. While automation does eliminate the need for some jobs, it increases the need for others. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 noted that that “by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms.”

The value of RPA comes in the automation of expensive, error-prone manual tasks, and helps organizations increase productivity by 35% to 50 %percent, cut processing times by 30% to 50%, eliminate costly errors and deliver 100% data accuracy. And it allows the humans to leverage their knowledge and skills for more critical tasks or exceptions, resulting in better customer service and a more personalized experience.

Over the last decade, many companies have automated their workflow in the following areas:

Document and Records Management

Document capture is one area that can be easily automated. Scanning documents one by one and filing them into electronic file folders by hand is almost as unproductive as keeping paper-based filing cabinets — different workflow, same tedious chore. But once a document is captured, it can be automatically sorted, have relevant data extracted, appropriately routed, and saved — all without manual effort from employees.

Whether bringing a paper backfile into a paperless office system or completing day-to-day scanning, the right software can help turn unstructured data into fully indexed, searchable digital files that include document scanning and indexing, electronic document importation and email integration.


Manual invoice processing is time-consuming and expensive. The right software tools can help companies save money and improve productivity by eliminating tedious manual tasks, as well as improve the audit process, reduce the cost of processing an invoice and save significant money in the long run, eliminate or greatly reduce the issue of lost invoices, increase the overall productivity of accounts payable staff by eliminating or greatly reducing manual data entry, and reduce the amount of time staff spends processing invoices.

Human Resources

Hiring a new employee involves mountains of time-consuming paperwork, processes and management. This can be both repetitive and inefficient for both the HR department and the new hire. But RPA can perform some of the rules-based, routine processes that require little or no human judgment. Automating your HR department can help lower the overall costs associated with the hiring process, allow simple and secure access to all employee files in one central location, and ensure your company complies with regulations to prevent loss or theft of important documents. This frees HR staff to focus on enhancing company culture and personalizing the onboarding experience, instead of spending hours on data entry and paperwork

While automation benefits companies of any size, small and medium businesses that face limitations in terms of both financial and human resources allocation can benefit most from the implementation of RPA, as a more automated workflow will help keep operations as lean as possible.

And that allows us time to visit the time-traveling robots on the big screen.