Mixing cloud computing with robotics is a new paradigm where robots and automation systems share data, perform business processes and computation, and provide analytics via cloud computing.
However, before imagining all the possibilities resulting from this powerful combination, one must first understand each component: cloud computing and business robotics.
What is Cloud Computing?
The “cloud” is not a single entity or a single location on the internet. It is not a company, a product, a brand, or a service. Instead, the “cloud” refers to the internet. Cloud computing is a form of computing where networks, databases, software and applications, and tools are enabled, accessed, and delivered via the internet instead of through physical media such as CD-ROMs or local hardware and servers.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as having five fundamental characteristics:
- On-Demand Self-Service: Users can request and be provided service quickly without manual setup and configuration.
- Broad Network Access: Data and applications are accessible via an internet connection anytime and anywhere.
- Resource Pooling: Rather than installing a copy of the application for each user, a single application can be shared among several users.
- Rapid Elasticity or Expansion: An organization can easily scale its usage levels up or down quickly and as needed.
- Measured Service: Cloud usage is generally a pay-as-you-go affair where users pay based on consumption and not a fixed cost.
There are numerous examples of cloud computing, both in our personal lives and in our workspaces.
Most of us use cloud services every day at home and in the office. Each time we stream Netflix or share a document via Google Drive, we are using cloud-based services.
Likewise, every time we collaborate on shared files through Microsoft’s Office 365 or meet virtually through Skype, we are also using cloud-based enterprise services.
The benefits of cloud computing are unmistakable.
Before cloud computing, businesses had to store all their data and software on local hard drives and services. As organizations expanded, more digital space and data storage was necessary. That means an organization could be limited by how fast it could realistically increase its storage capabilities.
Likewise, organizations could also be limited by computing equipment. This is not the case today. Thanks to cloud computing, organizations can now scale quickly (e.g., overnight), reduce operating costs, and increase productivity by removing the need for hardware setup and software patching.
What is Business Robotics?
While fully autonomous humanoid robots may still be more fiction than science, digital business robots are already here and making an enormous impact on the modern world.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA), or also known as software “robotics,” is any technology designed to automate business processes by configuring computer software to emulate human actions within digital systems.
High-volume, rules-based, mundane, repetitive tasks and processes are ideal candidates for automation. RPA tools can process transactions, manipulate data, trigger responses, and communicate with other IT systems, just like a human can. Unlike their fleshy counterparts, a robot doesn’t need to sleep, never gets bored, and doesn’t make clerical errors.
Common examples of real-world RPA’s are spreadsheet macros and formulas.
Spreadsheet macros allow you to record your tasks within a spreadsheet software, such as Excel and automate those repetitive tasks with just a click of a button.
RPA works the same way, except it is not restricted to recording tasks within a spreadsheet. RPA software can be programmed to do functions across applications and systems. Examples include generating an automatic response to an email, filling out forms automatically, organizing large amounts of data, moving files, making calculations, and creating monthly reports, and more.
With RPA, organizations can empower their employees to devote more time to higher-value, more complex work, such as tasks that require creativity, social intelligence, or human insight. RPA can also reduce human errors, streamline operations, and reduce costs.
Cloud + Business Robotics = More Powerful Robots
Like most software, RPA applications can now be deployed entirely through the cloud. All a user needs are devices, such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and an internet connection.
This relatively new paradigm is known as cloud robotics.
Rather than living on local servers and hardware, cloud-based RPA solutions live in the cloud and are deployed on-demand via the internet. Robots connected to the cloud can share data and learn much faster by leveraging the extensive infrastructure of cloud-hosted environments.
Robots become even more powerful when the cloud allows robots to communicate and collaborate with other robots. In fact, with the computing power available today, many RPA’s are now capable of deep learning. In other words, today’s robots can actually collect and parse enormous amounts of data and modify their behavior accordingly to create the best possible results. This can enormously help businesses as cloud-powered software robots can help generate predictive models for everything from consumer behavior to future business cycles.
There are five potential advantages when combining cloud computing with robotics:
- Knocks down barriers to entry. It doesn’t take much to imagine the transformative power of RPAs. However, traditional RPA models have significant barriers to entry. RPA deployment requires local power, memory, and software. RPA software may also require constant management and maintenance over their lifetimes. In a cloud environment, however, RPA vendors can deliver services without spending the time and cost to install and develop local infrastructure. This dramatically reduces the costs and technical skills necessary to own and operate RPA’s. As a result, cloud technology allows businesses to adopt new means and methods of automation rapidly. Level the playing field by combining cloud computing with business robotics.
- Scalability and Flexibility. Organizations do not need to waste time managing local software licenses for RPA’s or acquiring more as their business grows. Thanks to the cloud, RPA licenses can now be “pushed” to whichever user needs access at any particular time.Once a user has completed his or her task, the RPA license can be “returned” and made available for the next user. No frustrating installation or easy-to-lose physical media required. Better yet, cloud-based robotic automation solutions are often flexibly priced with pay-as-you-go models.
- RPA is always up-to-date. With cloud-based delivery, there is no need to perform manual updates on all your company’s devices. RPA’s connected to the cloud will always be up-to-date with little or no involvement of your business’s own IT resources.
- Ease of access for users anytime, anywhere. Users can automate any part of a job with a single click or drag-and-drop motion as long as they have internet access. Users will also be able to access a library of shared resources and ready-made automation templates without a deep understanding of coding languages.
- More powerful robots. With virtually unlimited storage and computational power, robots connected to the cloud are much more powerful than any local computer. Tasks can be performed at a speed and scale previously thought impossible. Your personal workstation was the ultimate limit on the computing power you had available to work with in the past.Today, however, the convergence of remote infrastructure, robotic business processes, and real-time cloud delivery systems can not put the power of an entire data center in your hands – and all for a much lower price.
From banking to customer service, many businesses are already reaping the benefits of mixing cloud computing and business robotics. Automating repetitive tasks through cloud-based RPA’s can drive a new wave of productivity and efficiency gains.
Precautions to Take Before Utilizing Robotic Devices in Cloud
It’s indisputable that cloud computing is democratizing robotic automation. Companies without a team of dedicated IT experts or Managed Service Providers can now have instant access to powerful RPA tools. However, it doesn’t mean IT shouldn’t be involved at all. On the contrary, IT’s involvement from the very beginning is critical for success. While the data stored in the cloud is probably safer than data on hard drives, companies should still be hyper-vigilant and aware of potential cybersecurity threats.
Some precautions to take before utilizing robotic devices in a cloud environment include, but not limited to, the following:
- Define new security policies and procedures. Update current policies and procedures so that they address cloud infrastructure.
- Determine appropriate access and verification routines. Determine who should be allowed access and what they are allowed to do (i.e., read-only, read and write access, etc.). Make sure there are appropriate verification techniques to ensure users are whom they say they are.
- Encryption is key. Data and transaction information should be secured using encryption tools.
- Scan and monitor the cloud environment. Identify relevant controls to ensure compliance with policy and procedures, including scanning and monitoring, to ensure there aren’t any breaches and anomalies.
- Outsource your cloud computing and business robotics to a knowledgeable third party. IT-managed services are ideal for a company transitioning to a cloud environment. It is a cost-effective way to benefit from IT’s expertise without a massive footprint. Wright Business Technologies can support your organization’s adoption of cloud computing and RPA tools with a full strategy and roadmap while ensuring your organization’s data is secured at all times.
Cloud Robotics – Sow the Seeds Today to Harvest Tomorrow
Automation technology cannot be ignored.
Adopting cloud computing and RPA tools can give businesses a competitive edge. Companies that choose cloud robotic tools and strategies can focus more on innovation and business growth and less on mundane tasks.
That competitive edge is more critical than ever during a global pandemic. The gap between the businesses that adapt and embrace technology and those that do not will continue to widen.
When both consumers and employees are staying home, all organizations are forced to face the reality of taking more of their business online.
Cloud-connected RPA tools are removing barriers to automation for organizations of all sizes. MIxing cloud computing with business robotics addresses many of the concerns previously associated with RPA tools, such as the high cost of automation, lack of technical skill, and risk of cybersecurity threats.
About the author: Stephen Wright is the founder and CEO of Wright Technologies. He is responsible for the overall success of the company, clients, employees, and vendor partners who support the business. Stephen graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in business management and established Wright Business Technologies in 1992. He later earned his MBA, also from Texas Tech University.