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What marketers need to know about robotic process automation

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It is the dream of many marketers to free their staff from boring, repetitive and low-skill tasks. Because despite the promises of providers of seamless integrations and data flows, manual data management is a must-have when implementing new digital tools and processes.

However, these findings aren’t limited to marketing, with similar stories being told across finance, IT, human resources, and other important business functions.

It was the pain felt by professionals in these functions that first led to the emergence of a set of tools called robotic process automation, or RPA (not to be confused with reality TV series linked to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital).

Forrester Senior Analyst Leslie Joseph describes RPA at its most basic level as the ability to use software bots that understand UI elements on websites and applications to integrate them into a flow. of work, effectively mimicking what a human operator would do. Hence, RPA bots are often referred to as digital workers.

“The typical RPA handy fruit has been all sorts of repetitive tasks that humans have to do,” explains Joseph. Marketing director. “Things like moving data from ‘location a’ to ‘location b’ or creating a case from a Salesforce ticket. In that sense, it is a very versatile tool, as it is a UI centric screen scraping.

This versatility has made it possible to see RPA applied in a wide range of applications. The most effective and obvious starting points were the back-office funding or procurement processes, where the application sets themselves were inherited, explains Joseph.

“From a CFO’s perspective, it made sense to give a ‘digital worker’ input and access to this kind of workflow, because otherwise they would have to modernize the system, which would take the expense out of business. investment in other things they needed to do more. urgently, ”he said.

But while RPA-based digital workers may now be commonplace in financial and IT workflows, Joseph has so far said their application in marketing is minimal, mainly because most modern marketing platforms include strong API-based integration capabilities that minimize the need to use RPA. process. However, several recent announcements indicate an increase in the use of RPA in marketing.

RPA and marketing use cases

In August, Salesforce announced that it had purchased German RPA company, Servicetrace, to integrate it with existing API-based integration capabilities it acquired when purchasing MuleSoft in 2018. That same month, another vendor, MoEngage, has raised $ 32.5 million to help develop its RPA technology to optimize customer engagement.

These events are just the latest in a series of increases, mergers and acquisitions for RPA vendors, which have included multiple acquisitions by Microsoft, SAP, IBM and ServiceNow, as well as the specialist’s public list. RPA, UiPath. The value of the latter has now exceeded 35 billion US dollars.

With so much money spent, it was only a matter of time before marketer issues started to interest RPA providers, especially issues associated with the flow of data in customer engagement.

“We certainly see opportunities for any business with an online community where users share information to solve problems,” says Jennie Subratha, marketing manager for A / NZ at RPA Blue Prism. “Digital workers improve the user experience and minimize the workload on the marketing team.

Blue Prism itself uses digital workers for community management tasks.

“When a Blue Prism community becomes inactive for six weeks, our digital worker, Albert, places it in a dormant queue and emails community leaders inviting them to post,” says Subratha. “If nothing happens for two weeks, Albert closes the community and merges the content.

“We also explored the use of digital workers for the keyword directory, which helps identify when a thread is in the wrong community and move them accordingly. It can also help remove spam from the system. ”

Joseph also sees strong applications for RPA in customer management by bringing together data from systems that otherwise would not integrate easily.

“If I wanted to connect a customer journey to a different dataset that provides insight into customer attrition or something like that, there’s no easy way to do that using cross-app integration. », Explains Joseph. “This is usually where RPA really works.”

He also sees the potential of RPA in improving the effectiveness of marketing spend.

“If you are considering streamlining the processes related to digital advertising, you can actually consider using a digital workforce and applying it in those situations, so it’s not humans spending hours. and hours of creating those optimizations or running those workflows, ”Joseph says. “It’s even easier to put an RPA bot in there and have it run a whole bunch of processes and data and just produce an output. ”

A third possibility for the introduction of RPA exists in lead automation.

“A lot of that lends itself to RPA because it’s in that area where you have applications that can do some of these things in an automated fashion, but you still need external data to be moved from place to place. in a place b, or you need qualitative information which can come from e-mails or elsewhere, ”explains Joseph. “So RPA is a great tool for mechanically moving and merging data. ”

Finally, another marketing task well suited to RPA is providing information to chatbots. “A chatbot on a website is usually there to provide you with information,” explains Joseph.

“But what if the chatbot actually takes information from the customer and then passes it on to a downstream RPA bot that can do things on behalf of the customer, like resolve a ticket or create a ticket? ”

The evolution of RPA

RPA technology is evolving rapidly, in part thanks to advances in machine learning, which increase the complexity of the tasks that digital workers can undertake. UiPath and Alteryx, for example, have teamed up to create a codeless data manipulation tool that allows you to use complex data from different systems and apply ML techniques before pushing it down to an RPA bot. . Joseph says this leads to the emergence of a concept known as intelligent automation.

“The RPA bot can now integrate ML components that can examine an email interaction or scan a document and extract unstructured information and convert it into structured data that can then be used downstream for customer sentiment or customer feedback. prospect’s intention, ”he said.

RPA also comes with a number of different options that markets can use to bring systems and data together. Along with native integration capabilities into martech tools, the vendor, ServiceNow, provides a cloud-based platform that allows users to replace unstructured work models with intelligent, automated workflows. There are also a number of Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) vendors, including Boomi and Jitterbit, which offer an alternate method for building and managing digital workflows.

“Over the past few years, there has been this convergence between RPA and IPaaS,” explains Joseph. “What happens over time is that all of these different automation opportunities and techniques converge into an automation ‘power grid’ that sits between the application and the people who use it. This is where all the workflow and all the intelligence takes place now. ”

But while the opportunities for RPA in marketing are great, Joseph says marketers have generally had more than enough opportunities to just use the tools they already have. At the same time, most RPA vendors did not put too much emphasis on engaging with CMOs, as there were already such significant opportunities in serving other business functions.

However, the success of RPA also means that many of the easy opportunities in finance, IT and elsewhere have been met.

“We’re getting to a point where the large organizations that pioneered RPA and process automation three or four years ago have reached a point where their most basic processes have been automated,” says Joseph. “Now they look to the next set, and invariably the next set of processes to automate, due to their complexity, are not just back office processes. These are typically processes that affect the front-end and the customer experience in one way or another.

While RPA tools ultimately lead to the creation of digital workers, there is still a significant skill set needed for their creation and integration, and Joseph suggests that this could be another barrier to introducing RPA into marketing. short term.

“In marketing, the skills to invest in learning this technology and finding the places where it makes sense to apply RPA has not traditionally been great,” said Joseph. “But getting back to the fact that the tool is so versatile, assuming a marketer has these skills within their organization, there are a lot of interesting things that could be done.

“For people who want to create non-standard methods of analyzing or optimizing certain workflows that are still quite manual, RPA is a really interesting technology. ”

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