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Getting Ahead

The Future Is Here: Robotic Process Automation Will Do Your Most Dreaded Work Tasks

person looking at computer screen
Bloom Productions/Getty Images

Robots are coming for your job—and that’s a good thing.

Well, not physical robots. We’re talking about robotic process automation (RPA). “RPA is software that creates efficiencies for organizations that tend to be process- or task-centric and frees up human labor,” says Frank Casale, the founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence.

Translation: If there’s a task or process that you could depict with a flow chart, it’s the perfect candidate for robotic process automation. For office workers, this means outsourcing annoying and mindless tasks. “These are things people will gladly hand off, and would be delighted if they disappeared,” Casale says.

The idea is to give workers more time to focus on the exciting parts of their jobs—duties that require creativity, problem-solving, strategy, and other skills that software and algorithms don't have. With RPA, “Things that used to take hours are done in milliseconds,” says April Morris, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, who teaches a class on RPA. “When we take those little tasks away, then the skill set that students and employees need are critical thinking skills.”

Here’s just a sample of the tasks you'll be able to outsource soon.

infographic illustrating annoying tasks robotic process automation can perform; complete text below the infographic
Infographic design by Milkwhale

Email Prioritization

Imagine coming in and finding your email already sorted, with the most urgent missives flagged at the top of your inbox.

Competitive Research

In addition to compiling news alerts about your competition, RPA can stay on top of their financial statements and filings, giving you a real-time, detailed analysis.

Data Entry

RPA can pull data from scanned documents, photos, or PDFs, and enter it into a financial system. Or it can synthesize information from a wide range of materials into one report. It can also reconcile data in a wide range of formats—for instance, dates and times written in American versus European styles—and correct it according to preset rules.

Basic Accounting

RPA can help automate simple financial projects, like creating an expense report. It’s also great for jobs like matching up invoices to purchase orders.

New Employee Onboarding

RPA can help with basic repetitive tasks like requesting security access, ordering business cards, processing benefits forms, assigning desk space, and more.

Customer Service

Whether it’s scanning reviews for common complaint keywords, coordinating with chatbots, or updating addresses, RPA can tackle tasks that eat up customer service representatives’ time. And it can even proactively identify frequent complaints like shipping issues or poor packaging before they grow into more significant problems.