The Role of Robotic Process Automation in a Data-Driven World

If data is the new currency, use Robotic Process Automation or RPA to help your organisation mine as much information as possible, and turn them into actionable business insights.


Big Data is simply, well, mind-bogging.

According to IDC forecasts, the digital universe of data will grow to 163 zettabytes by 2025 (one zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes). And that’s ten times the 16.1 zettabytes of data generated in 2016.

There’s so much data out there (much of it being, frankly, noise) that many experts are calling out the risks of information overload.

Yet, at the same time, many forward-looking organisations are looking to tap on Big Data to derive valuable customer insights, and to generate a competitive edge. So much so that some are even hailing data as the new currency.

Regardless of your views towards data, there is no doubting that data has fundamentally changed the way businesses operate in this new Digital Age.

A new operating paradigm

For companies to survive and thrive in this new digital landscape that’s increasingly dominated by digital natives, business as usual simply does not cut it.

Much has been said about the need for innovation and digital transformation. Indeed, many companies are now leveraging various emerging technologies to transform their business model from one that is labour-intensive, to one that is technology-centric.

In today’s global marketplaces that are increasingly “winner-takes-all”, digital technologies can provide both the scalability and mass customization that seems at odds in an analogue world.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Gone too are the days when managers make business decisions based on experience or gut instincts.

Instead, there is a palpable pivot towards Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM). According to WhatIs.com, DDDM is “an approach to business governance that values decisions that can be backed up with verifiable data. The success of the data-driven approach is reliant upon the quality of the data gathered and the effectiveness of its analysis and interpretation.”

Intuitively, DDDM makes sense. We are seeing shorter and shorter economic cycles, and the adage “past performance is not an indicator of future outcomes” is never truer. Our actions should be guided by what the markets are telling us, rather than what we think (or wish) the markets want.

If we can agree on the above, then the question that comes to mind next is how do we find the data we need to perform the required analysis?

And here’s where Robotic Process Automation or RPA can help.

Travel agent for a day

Let’s take a hypothetical example.

Assume we have started a new travel agency in Singapore, and our business is to organize local sightseeing tours for inbound tourists. Now, how should we go about planning for the travel itinerary in Singapore, that is, our company’s main product?

One approach might be to do some market research — go to the popular tourist attractions that we know of, and survey the tourists we find there on their likes and dislikes. Based on these feedback, build a travel itinerary and market it to our target audience.

Fine, but is this approach really the best in this digital-first age? Firstly, our sample size is limited by the places we visit and the number of tourists we survey. Our findings might not be representative of our entire target audience.

More importantly, how can we be sure that our customers’ preferences do not change with time? New attractions might open, or existing ones become irrelevant. How do we stay in touch with the trends of today, and more importantly, tomorrow?

There must be a better way.

RPA saves the day

An alternative approach is to design the travel itinerary based on quantifiable data. In our case, since we are a newly established travel agency, we unfortunately do not have any existing customer data that we can tap into for insights.

However, all is not lost. Most of us would have heard of this popular travel website called TripAdvisor. This website provides a list of recommended things to do in Singapore, and perhaps more importantly, traveller ratings and reviews. We can find out which are the most popular attractions in Singapore based on TripAdvisor reviews, and then create a product based on these findings.

Now, TripAdvisor is the self-proclaimed world’s largest travel site with more than 500 million traveller reviews. It would be near impossible for us to manually sift through all these data.

And here’s where Robotic Process Automation or RPA comes into play. Rather than us going through the tedious and repetitive process of clicking on each attraction, and extracting the ratings and other relevant metrics, we can actually train the RPA bot to do this mundane task for us. Every day, and on-demand.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gamFalZNJhc

And with this treasure trove of data generated, we can then feed it into a Business Intelligence (BI) tool like Qlik Sense, or to a Machine Learning (ML) algorithm, to generate and discover insights we never even thought of (the unknown unknowns).

(You might also be interested in our previous post The Difference between Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence on the interplay between RPA and AI.)

But we are not done yet.

With RPA, we can also extract useful details about the travellers posting on TripAdvisors — the traveller type (families, couples, solo, etc.), the time of the year (Mar-May, Jun-Aug, etc.) and the languages (English, Indonesia, German, etc.).

Why is this important?

Because it offers us an opportunity to understand our potential target audience, and helps us identify which segment of the market we should be focusing on. As an example, perhaps we find that many German families travel to Singapore in the Jun-Aug period, and they like to visit Chinatown. We could then design a special itinerary around that, and market specifically to this customer segment.

This is of course a simplification of the actual work that we need to do. There is obviously more than one travel review website, and we should extract the data from as many sources as possible to form a complete picture. But I think you get the picture now.

“In God we trust, all others must bring data.”

In summary, valuable data is all around us. We can choose to ignore it, or we can choose to exploit it to generate real competitive advantage.

If you belong to the latter camp, Robotic Process Automation can be an extremely useful tool to extract and collect the data, which can then be used for generating valuable business insights using Business Intelligence tools or Machine Learning algorithms.

We have given a simple example of how a newly established travel agency can leverage on RPA to inform their decision making process, but the idea is easily extensible to other industries and use cases as well.

Good automating!

This article originally appeared on our Robotic Process Automation blog series.


Do you have any examples of how you are using Robotic Process Automation for your Data-Driven Decision Making process? Please share them in the comments below.