After agreeing recently to meet with a UK-based company called Blue Prism, I started studying up by visiting the outfit's website, which touts something called robotic automation technology. Imagine my surprise to learn, however, that this really had nothing to do computerized machines, but rather software robots designed to automate repetitive back-office processes in finance, human resources and other areas.
The term software robots is something Blue Prism CEO, Alastair Bathgate, hopes will become increasingly clear to people though, in part through attention Google is bringing to the topic through its swelling investments in robotics of both the hardware and software variety. He points to Google's work in the area of software robots to help with people's use of social media networks, such as by guiding the tone of your posts on LinkedIn vs. Twitter.
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"Google is talking about hardware robots as well as software robots, and if Google is talking about that, it gives me some confidence that we might be on the right track," says Bathgate, a financial industry veteran who is no one-trick pony (read his wine blog here).
Bathgate adds that the buzz around Amazon's investments in delivery drones is further bringing robotics talk to the forefront, and he figures that company is likely to invest in software robots to handle back-end processes as well.
What's more, efforts such as the Institute for Robotic Automation hatched last month by The Outsourcing Institute's Frank Casale could give software robotics an even higher profile. Some industry watchers, such as Horses for Sources, have dubbed a likely move by organizations to software robots as "Robotistan."
The 30-employee Blue Prism has been around since 2001 but over the past few years has been marketing its business process outsourcing tools and methodologies using the term "robotic automation" to describe the offloading of mundane tasks from employees so that they can focus instead on customer service and other processes that benefit from a human touch. "There's a lot of menial work being done by people that shouldn't be," Bathgate says. "There's a lot of work should isn't being done that should be done by human beings." He differentiates the sort of tasks Blue Prism can help to automate from those handled by ERP and CRM tools that need to deal with a lot of case-by-case exceptions that are not easily automated.
The company largely sells to lines of business in retail, financial and other industries, though requires IT buy-in given that its software sits on secure virtual machines in back-end data centers or the cloud.
Blue Prism's technology also holds promise to automate IT-related processes, such as helpdesk requests, and has one partnership in place on that front that it plans to announce next week. "I'm not sure why humans are even involved in service desks, it's pure rules-based response," Bathgate says.
Bathgate, who is making the rounds in the U.S. as Blue Prism seeks to grow its presence beyond its Miami office, positions the $5 million company's technology as an alternative to physical nearshoring and offshoring of tasks and jobs.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.