Robotic process automation has the power to revolutionize your identity and access management, cutting costs and saving time. But it won’t replace humans with machines. Instead, it will take the robot out of the human, freeing your talent from repetitive drudgery to focus on more rewarding projects.

Digital transformation continues to build momentum. Organizations in every industry are going digital at a breathtaking pace, and with good reason. The game is changing; if you want to stay in it and remain relevant, your business will have to change along with it. 

But this rapid digitization is putting pressure on traditional identity and access management (IAM) systems. Massive amounts of data are being generated every day and modern businesses are seeing an exponential increase in new user identities, which leads to an endless stream of access requests for key platforms and IT systems. Meanwhile, privacy and cybersecurity have become fundamental concerns, like how can I secure my digital identity? Public opinion now favors privacy-by-design, leading to new rules and regulations like the EU’s GDPR that hold businesses to a greater degree of transparency and digital trust than ever before.

For many organizations, these developments are at odds with the current state of their IAM solutions. Their transformation from legacy systems to modern technologies has been slow and the general lack of application-specific innovations make automated provisioning all but impossible. As a result, traditional IAM often relies on manual provisioning, which is repetitive, time-consuming, inefficient, error-prone and resource-intensive.

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In effect, there is a substantial gap between yesterday’s identity and access management solutions on one end and today’s cornucopia of cutting-edge digital technologies on the other. Robotic process automation will help your organization bridge that gap, enabling you to improve your results, reduce costs and even boost workplace satisfaction in the process. These new capabilities will help you meet your digital identity needs today and tomorrow.

Understanding the Benefits of RPA and Digital Identity

To grasp the full potential of robotic process automation (RPA), you need to understand what it is – and what it isn’t. For many people, the term ‘robotics’ has a strong science-fictional undertone to it. But the futuristic vision it evokes can be misleading, not to mention unnecessarily dystopian. Implementing RPA doesn’t mean you’ll see Atlas from Boston Dynamics show up at the water cooler. And it isn’t a thinly-veiled plot to banish humans from the workplace altogether.

Robotic process automation is all about software, synergy and supporting your talent.

On the contrary, robotic process automation is all about software, synergy and supporting your talent. It mimics the actions your users perform on their machines, interacting with your IAM systems in the same way a human would. These actions can then be repeated at scale, giving you the opportunity to automate business processes – specifically those that are highly repetitive, rule-based and reliant on structured data. What’s more, all of this can be done without complex system integrations.

In short, RPA introduces a virtualized workforce that will take over tedious manual tasks, handling them tirelessly, correctly and with great efficiency. That’s not to say it’s a magic bullet, though: it requires structured data to function properly. But if you can meet that prerequisite, it will allow your human users to channel their time, energy and motivation into more creative tasks and challenges.

Taking a Complementary Approach to RPA and AI

Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI) may seem similar on the surface, but they are not the same and should not be confused with each other. Nor, for that matter, should they be seen as mutually exclusive. The key is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each technology and then leverage them accordingly.

Image: Why the Most Human Approach to Digital Identity Might Not Be What You Expect - Automation & RPA Visual - by Accenture

RPA:  a Workhorse Governed by Rules

RPA is not smart. It cannot learn in and of itself. Instead, it fastidiously follows the instructions it has been given, never deviating from the rules that govern specific tasks. It requires structured data to function and is best suited for rule-based processes where compliance and accuracy are essential. RPA delivers quality and consistency, but it cannot think outside the box.

AI: a Problem-Solver Driven by Intelligence

AI, on the other hand, is intelligent by nature. It learns from the results of past decisions and improves over time. Like RPA, it can be rule-based, but this does not necessarily need to be the case. And unlike RPA, AI can be given the freedom to make its own decisions. This makes it well-suited for handling and refining unstructured data and managing complex tasks in dynamic environments.

AI, RPA and the Human: the Trinity of Automated Business Processes

AI is often more expensive to implement than RPA. This makes it a poor fit for use cases where machine learning isn’t essential to success. That said, combining AI with RPA in specific scenarios can vastly improve the outcome of business process automation. Account data, for example, is often unstructured. Using artificial intelligence to structure that data before moving it into your RPA environment is an excellent way to maximize efficiency without overstretching either technology.

But the ideal scenario is one where your human talent works alongside AI and RPA, with each focusing on the tasks best suited to them. Combining the unique creativity of the human mind with the raw analytical power of artificial intelligence and the rule-driven perfectionism of RPA will allow you to reap the rewards of each while simultaneously hedging the risk.

Taking the Robot out of the Human

To understand exactly how robotic process automation can support your business, it helps to envision a typical use case. In this example, we’ll look at what happens when a new employee requests access to your IT solutions.

Image: Taking the Robot out of the Human with RPA - by Accenture

The Traditional Approach

With traditional IAM systems, new users always need to submit a request to your human (live) agents – whether directly by e-mail, through a service request system like ServiceNow or through a bulk account request.

These requests bounce around between live agents, generating one or more tickets that are passed on to the agents responsible for specific systems and applications. Only after inputting the ticket will they be able to grant access, and your users will often still need to verify the process on their end.

Naturally, all of these requests must be handled precisely. And when you consider that your live agents collectively receive thousands of requests, mistakes are bound to happen. Unfortunately, even a 5 percent error rate will quickly leave large numbers of users locked out of essential systems for hours, days or even weeks. Correcting these errors is a necessary but time-consuming process, which creates a cascade of lost productivity throughout the entire IAM user journey.

Moreover, as the number of systems and applications within your organization grows over time, the provisioning process will become more complicated. Having more systems and more users means more access requests and longer handling times, which will also increase error rates. But without access to the applications, systems and tools they rely on, your employees will be unable to carry out their roles and contribute to your business. These twin realities effectively trap your business between the growing complexity of manual provisioning and the practical needs of your user base.

The Business Value of RPA

Implementing RPA will allow you to automate up to 80 percent of these provisioning scenarios, freeing up your live agents to focus on other, more important tasks.

Image: Why the Most Human Approach to Digital Identity Might Not Be What You Expect - RPA Statistics - by Accenture

In addition to eliminating errors, this will also substantially increase your efficiency.

RPA also provides interesting advantages over application-specific scripting. Many target applications lack standard interfaces, making last-mile integration difficult and expensive. As robotic process automation provides a higher-level solution for IAM, you will not need to make changes to your current systems. This means automation can be supported by your business instead of being driven by your IT department only. It also makes widespread integration with individual applications technically and financially feasible.

Will Robotic Process Automation Work for You?

Humans have a knack for optimization. We’ve been doing it ever since our ancestors got up on two legs. So yes, if the work can be done by robots, it should. Not because we want to eliminate human effort, but because we want to maximize its potential. We are not machines, after all, and we do not thrive in environments that treat us as if we were. Our time and energy are finite, as are our creativity and motivation.

We are not machines, after all, and we do not thrive in environments that treat us as if we were.

Simply put, human insight and inspiration are precious. It’s far better to invest these qualities into creating delightful, innovative customer experiences than it is to lock ourselves into mind-numbing monotony. In that light, it’s worth asking yourself whether your business can benefit from RPA:

  1. Does your IAM process consist of a predefined sequence of steps? And do the exceptions to that standard sequence likewise fit into a predefined scheme?
  2. Does the process avoid interactions that require humans by definition, such as voice inputs?
  3. Are the triggers, inputs and outputs of the process stable and known?
  4. Can the process be carried out without cognitive human decisions?
  5. Is the process executed frequently enough to warrant automation, or do you have sufficient users to reap the rewards of robotization?
  6. Is the process stable and not subject to frequent adjustments that would limit the value of your automation efforts?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is worthwhile to consider robotic process automation to address your digital identity and access management challenges. Pairing RPA with IAM will provide you with a low-risk, low-cost and low-complexity solution that can be integrated with your business quickly and start delivering return on investment in as little as six months.