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BusinesDay: Robotic process automation must be used for its intended purpose

By Johan Steyn, 24 October 2022

Automating business processes using software algorithms is something most SA enterprise businesses have either investigated or implemented over the last few years. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology platform that, through a defined set of instructions, can perform the lower-value, repetitive and administrative tasks done by human workers.

The consulting firms selling and implementing these platforms are often driven to sell as many licences as their customers are willing to buy. The result is that businesses invest in robots that are not optimally used or even used at all.

Earlier in 2022 at an automation conference, I delivered a talk where I stated that the era of RPA was coming to an end. Unless business uses this technology for what it was made for — namely repetitive and administrative tasks — and implement it in the right way, more and more will no longer invest in these platforms.

A technology news site reported on my talk under the heading, “Industry expert predicts demise of robotic process automation.” Boy, I got into a lot of trouble because of that! Many RPA providers and even some of the platform vendors contacted me in disgust. Of course, it threatened their business model but I believe it had to be said. We owe the industry the truth.

Thankfully I also received a great deal of positive feedback. Others who work in smart automation have seen the same things. The most welcome feedback came from Juan-Pierré du Toit, Group CEO at Datora, a local technology provider with a global reach.

Established in 2011, Datora is a business that focuses on RPA and automation. Du Toit told me that he believes in the power of RPA platforms, as long as it is being used for what it was made for. It is only one part of the digitisation journey and it will never replace all the work done by humans.

He agreed that the cost to implement the technology is exorbitant and that most organisations spend far too much with little to show for it. Why should clients fork out millions on the technology they may not use? Why should they be tied into long-term licensing agreements upfront, not knowing if they will see the anticipated value?

For this reason, Du Toit and his team developed a consumption-based, pay-as-you-go RPA model. “We also include infrastructure costs and 24/7 monitoring and maintenance in their pricing,” Du Toit told me.

“We provide on-demand capacity, monitoring tools and no volume limit — we can spin up additional bots in an instant if required. We also remove the large upfront investment by invoicing our clients on a monthly basis.”

Datora is a provider that business leaders should take note of. In partnering with them it is possible to make the right decisions around the scope, cost and returns of automation initiatives.

• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and the founder of


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