Many may not be familiar with robotic process automation (RPA), but if you run a business, you soon will be. RPA is a software system design that emulates the actions of a human interacting with a digital system to execute a business process – basically, it’s business automation.
The key is that unlike code that directs a computer to perform a task based on inputs, in RPA, the system “watches” what a user does and then emulates it throughout the graphical user interface. It is similar to artificial intelligence (AI) with the primary difference being that RPA mimics human actions while AI simulates human intelligence. Think doing versus thinking.
“Robotic process automation is part of an overall AI product,” explained Matt Motsick, CEO of RPA Labs. The secret sauce is we are combining machine learning, natural language processing and document OCR [optical character recognition] … and we’re combining all three of them into robotic process automation.”
The growth of RPA is leading to the founding of companies in the space to take advantage of the opportunity it presents. RPA Labs is the latest. Emerging this week from stealth mode, RPA Labs is focused on how RPA can help speed data entry, documentation, customer interactions, and other repetitive work for logistics and transportation companies.
“We’re really more into the business processes as far as helping companies [move faster],” Motsick told FreightWaves. “There are some AI players in the market that really focus on just one thing, like documents. We want to take a holistic approach where we look at your whole business.”
Based in San Jose, California, RPA Labs was founded by Motsick and Suraj Menon, the company’s chief product and technology officer. “He’s the brains behind this,” Motsick said. “He was one of the original developers at PayPal and he has logistics technology experience at [other] companies.”
“Robotic process automation has already taken root in other industries like financial services. It’s a perfect time for RPA to disrupt the logistics industry, given the amount of paperwork, documentation and around-the-clock customer interaction that global transportation requires.”Mike Motsick CEO of RPA Labs
RPA Labs’ solution can be integrated with a transportation company’s existing ERP, CMS or accounting software and can perform such tasks as data input, providing quotes, responding to emails, and handling common customer requests.
Motsick said the solution leverages AI and machine learning bots to free employees from back-office workflow processes that can be automated.
“Robotic process automation has already taken root in other industries like financial services,” Motsick said. “It’s a perfect time for RPA to disrupt the logistics industry, given the amount of paperwork, documentation and around-the-clock customer interaction that global transportation requires.”
In a press release announcing the company’s launch, Menon said the bots will quickly master a company’s software and workflow processes, often within just days.
“We’re not another software platform that takes time and resources to implement,” Menon said. “We just need system specs, and the artificial intelligence can go in and capture the information. It’s a quick set-up and easy integration with any legacy system.”
Unlike many tech startups in the transportation space, RPA Labs was founded by people with transportation experience. Motsick previously co-founded Catapult International, a freight management software company based in Lenexa, Kansas. Catapult grew from three employees to more than 150 with more than 25,000 software users before being sold to global software provider Mercator in 2015.
Menon is a veteran engineering leader with more than 16 years of experience developing and designing software for Silicon Valley companies like PayPal, PayClip and Allcargo Logistics.
Motsick noted that real savings can be had in the back office of logistics companies, which is where RPA Labs is focused. One question is how RPA differs from artificial intelligence? The answer, Motsick said, lies in the ability of RPA to “read” a document and discern where information belongs in the database. With traditional AI, the document must be in the proper format so the software knows where to look for the information, not so for an RPA solution.
“If you receive a bill of lading or a document from another carrier – there are so many different formats – we have the intelligence to read [that document],” he said. “If you think about API or EDI, they are automatically matched from field to field.”
UiPath is currently the largest RPA firm in the market, but Motsick is confident RPA Labs will have the ultimate advantage.
UiPath is probably the unicorn of RPA,” he said. “What we’re doing specifically is we’re attaching our logistics library of terms – because we’ve both been in the logistics industry – so we can apply our logistics terminology. UiPath provides a framework. What we do is not only provide the framework, but we provide a baked-in solution that is already developed for companies.”
Motsick said that the product, which is still in development, is being tested by an unnamed company. The goal is to automate time-consuming processes for logistics companies.
As an example, Motsick pointed to the task of providing a quote. An email, text or other request may come into a carrier’s system for a shipping quote. The problem comes when that request doesn’t have all the necessary information – where is the load going? When does it need to be there? An RPA-based system will see that crucial information is missing and immediately respond asking for more details. It is the same process a human undertakes currently but eliminates hours or even days from the overall process.
RPA Labs is self-funded for now, although it may seek investment in the future. Until that point in time, Motsick said the team is focused on perfecting the product to get it market-ready.
“We’re focused on back office processes, the documentation processes, the conversation processes (like operations and customer service); that’s where a lot of savings can take place,” Motsick summed up.