4 Ways to Use Synergies Between RPA and IoT
Organizations are starting to see returns on their investments in Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives. But using intelligent automation in the form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) can drive even faster and higher returns for organizations that recognize the synergies between the two technologies.
The IoT is coming into its own
The global IoT market is expected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2021 to $40.2 billion by 2026, at a rather astounding compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 73%. The IoT is the global network of physical objects—that is, "things"—that are embedded with sensors, primarily to communicate and exchange data with other devices or systems over the Internet.
At the end of 2018, 22 billion IoT devices were already being used globally. Today, as most electronic devices are being designed with connectivity capabilities precisely so they can communicate digitally, the number of IoT devices is skyrocketing. By 2030, approximately 50 billion of these IoT devices will be deployed.
Businesses investing in IoT are beginning to see a payoff. Of all the organizations that responded to a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, almost six in 10 (57%) agreed “somewhat” or “strongly” that the IoT has more than delivered on their expectations.
And, interestingly, agreement increases as these IoT initiatives mature; 32% of businesses that have reached “extensive” deployments “strongly” agree, compared with just 19% who are just in the early stages of engagement.
The data is the thing
More than two-thirds of organizations that responded to the Economist survey said that it was the value of data that makes the business case for the IoT strong. That’s because the chief goal of an IoT device is not to simply connect to the Internet, but to transmit and somehow leverage the data produced by the device in a real business process.
Why else would you install sensors on a network server or in a conference room lighting fixture, but to do something as a result of the data they produce? If the goal is to identify movement in the room, the presence or absence of light or heat, a problem, or even an outright failure, you need the data, but also a way to make actionable use of it. RPA is the perfect complementary technology to help with that.
One of the challenges of getting the most out of the IoT is the sheer volume of data that its devices produce. RPA can help with this. Software robots (“bots”) can make sure this data gets into the right processes in the right enterprise systems and trigger actions that manifest in the physical world.
In other words, RPA can sit at the interface between the data from IoT devices and various enterprise business processes.
RPA feeds the IoT data streams into processes to trigger workflows. For example, an IoT device could control the temperature in a conference room by manipulating the window blinds against the sun. When a too-high temperature threshold is reached, a bot triggers a digital alarm that in turn flips a mechanical switch that lowers the blinds in the window facing the sun. It can complete this from end-to-end, with an unattended bot. Or it can pause and alert a human worker for input or help, in the case of an attended bot. Either way, the digital data stream is converted into action in the physical world.
Four use cases for IoT and RPA
Here are four ways that the IoT and RPA are already creating value in the business world.
- Sending automated alerts: Rather than having to keep an eye on the tens of thousands of devices in a factory, for example, bots could act in the place of human foremen or forewomen. If an IoT sensor notes that a manufacturing line producing widgets has slowed considerably in the last hour, a bot can trigger an alarm for a factory worker to perform triage to determine what the problem might be, and fix it before an important customer order deadline is missed. More sophisticated AI systems might even be able to analyze the problem and fix it without human interference.
- Performing predictive maintenance: IoT sensors can pick up on key performance indicators for, say, jet engines, and note when a particular set of data is out of bounds. By catching problems before they occur, two positive benefits accrue: business continuity improves—you don’t have to ground an aircraft or ground it for quite as long—and you save money by only doing repairs when needed by a component, as opposed to doing it on a generic schedule.
- Improving operations. Sensors allow you to collect data on inventory stock (its quantity, weight, temperature, etc.) and bots can feed that data into enterprise systems that perform real-time analysis and correlation to data related to real-time customer demand. This in turn allows you to do proactive replenishment of inventory—either raw goods or finished products—so you never run out, and you never have too much of it.
- Ensuring compliance: By monitoring conditions in real-time, compliance with federal, state, or industry regulations that have been established for your type of business is never an issue. Compliance in such cases is critical, as you can be charged significant fines and penalties if you fail to meet sanitary conditions for, say, food or pharmaceutical manufacturing activities.
With RPA, the value of the IoT is real
The IoT has the capability to make your business smarter because of the data it generates and communicates 24/7. But unless you leverage this data and feed it into your business processes, you will not get full value from it. Intelligent automation coupled with the IoT allows you to make this connection from the physical to the digital, and back again if desired. In short, RPA makes the data from the IoT actionable. The innovations made possible by this partnering of the two technologies offer tremendous benefits and significant competitive advantages to firms across a broad range of industries today.