By Dan Shimmerman, Blueprint Software Systems
Robotic process automation (RPA) is no stranger to the retail sector. Driven by a desire to provide optimal customer experiences and a recognition that automation could transform supply chain activities – particularly in the face of disruptions such as those caused by the pandemic – retailers have been among the leading adopters of RPA to transform the workplace, reduce costs, and boost productivity.
With online sales in the U.S. alone expected to account for a quarter of the overall retail sector by 2023, there is no reason to think that retailers will slow their commitment to RPA anytime soon. Many retailers, after all, are already using robots as co-workers in their factories and warehouses. RPA is also being employed to automate human resources, IT services, and accounting processes.
A recent report on the state of process discovery conducted by Blueprint Software Systems confirms that retailers believe the biggest issue they currently are facing is prioritizing and identifying in which areas of their business they should use process discovery.
Given that, the bigger issue for the retail sector may be how to expand the use of RPA to other segments of the business to increase productivity and competitiveness, particularly in the face of a host of new challenges, from increased labor shortages and technology disruptions to spiraling inflation and shifting customer demands.
To address that issue, it makes sense to first examine what changes within the RPA market retailers are likely to encounter in the year ahead. Perhaps the greatest change to impact the retail industry will be how RPA platforms are simplifying the development and implementation of automated processes, making RPA more accessible to small- and medium-sized retailers.
Microsoft is leading the way in this regard, including its Power Automate platform free as part of Windows 10. Because Power Automate boasts an intuitive user interface with a user-friendly, drag-and-drop experience, it enables users to quickly build attended bots. It also provides a myriad of supported connectors that accelerate a retailer’s ability to build simple automation with an RPA and artificial intelligence (AI) workflow solution.
Since Microsoft products such as Office 365 and SharePoint are already being used by retailers, Power Automate has the upper hand for smaller retailers looking to make automation more seamless. It is hardly the only option, though, as a new wave of AI-based RPA vendors are challenging established companies and enterprise application cloud providers like Salesforce are including RPA in their toolkits.
All of this is leading to increased vendor competition which, in turn, is likely to spur smaller retailers to consider migrating their digital workers to more suitable, cost-effective RPA platforms. It will also prompt retailers that are already employing RPA to move beyond low-level, repetitive tasks to automate more complex, end-to-end processes.
This could significantly advance intelligent automation which combines RPA, AI, machine learning, and other technologies to identify, vet, and automate as many processes as possible in the retail sector. Some larger retailers are already scaling with intelligent automation in support areas and realizing significant improvements in hiring, payroll, training, safety, and operations. Finance departments, meanwhile, are seeing improvements in compliance, business performance reporting, cash flow, and receivables.
In 2022 and beyond, look for RPA and eventually intelligent automation to expand to other areas of the retail industry. According to UiPath, these are likely to include:
- Sales Analytics – Comprehensive analysis of large amounts of sales data demands that an intensive effort by employees be undertaken as fast as possible. Automated analytics provides rapid access to reports providing real-time insights that can help with the analysis to maximize sales opportunities.
- New Product Introductions – RPA improves collaboration between R&D, manufacturing, and marketing by automating processes related to alerts and monitoring client opinions in real-time. It also allows retailers to adjust pricing, production, or inventory faster.
- In-Store Planning – RPA brings the ability to make use of data to anticipate customer expectations and create store-specific merchandise disposal, optimally fit with consumer demographics and preferences.
- Order and Returns Processing – By employing RPA to process orders and returns, retailers can achieve a faster turnaround by avoiding delays in the processing of these activities, resulting in more time and bandwidth to handle exceptions.
Clearly, RPA and intelligent automation hold the key to implementing significant improvements across all retail operations. In fact, according to sales and business development expert Alastair Roriston, the only thing inhibiting retailers from more fully leveraging the benefits of RPA may be a lack of workers skilled in the automation arena.
About The Author
As President and Chief Executive Officer at Blueprint Software Systems, Dan Shimmerman is responsible for establishing Blueprint’s Enterprise Automation Suite as the world's most powerful digital process capture, design, and management solution. With a passion for helping organizations to more efficiently design and build digital solutions that drive their digital transformation and the achievement of business goals, Dan has a proven track record of success in delivering strategic vision, execution, and value for all stakeholders. Prior to joining Blueprint, he was the President and CEO of Varicent Software, a global provider of sales performance management solutions that was acquired by IBM in 2012. For more information, visit https://www.blueprintsys.com/