The increasing focus that RPA has been getting as of late is not without justification. It is a very versatile technology and can be leveraged in literally any field to streamline organizational processes and minimize expenditure. From automated payment facilitation to client onboarding, and producing mass emails and data entry, RPA is a something of a jack of all trades.
Enterprises are beginning to realize the possibilities conferred by robotic process automation. According to Forrester, the RPA market will expand considerably from a mere quarter of a billion half a decade ago, to nearly 3 billion sometime this year.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a software-driven technology leveraging software robots to mimic human operation of a business process. This implies that it executes the activity on a computer, leverages the same interface a human employee would, clicks, types, initiates applications, leverages keyboard shortcuts and a lot more.
It is primarily leveraged in the automation of business processes and activities, having the outcome of reduced expenditure and providing enterprises big and small with the competitive advantage.
How exactly does RPA function? How is it creating such disruption? There are three primary advantages:
Automated work – One of the primary draws of robotic process automation is that it facilitates automated work, relieving human employees from monotonous activities that typically consume a major portion of their work days. Activities like data manipulation and data entry are very tedious and are apt for being automated and being outsourced to robots, who can often execute it at a higher level of efficiency and with reduced levels of error. RPA allows staff members to concentrate on more dynamic, creatively-oriented, and value adding activities that propel a business forward.
Minimization of human error and expenditure – As mentioned before, human employees become prone to increased levels of errors when executing tedious activities on a daily basis as their concentration tends to wane. Exacerbated by tiredness and boredom, human staff members do not demonstrate the same level of efficiency as robots do at such tasks. Outsourcing of these tedious activities to robots has the outcome of output that is more precise, timely, and consistent, making sure that time and resources are not wasted in rectifying old work or developing duplicates.
It functions on current IT infrastructure and is non-invasive – RPA functions with current IT infrastructure, it just requires to receive training on how to leverage it. This is a huge advantage for enterprises leveraging legacy systems. Robotic process automation works with front-end infrastructure and leverages the same graphic user interface (GUI) that human employees would leverage to complete an activity, making sure that the IT landscape doesn’t have to be altered to make room for robotic process automation – retaining expenditure to a minimum.
In summary, robotic process automation is the application of software as a digital workforce. It is managed by established rules and business logics put forth by the RPA developers. It can execute complicated tasks just as a human employee would, mimicking interaction within a GUI, providing developers the opportunity to develop a workforce that emulates the same manual path a human employee would take at a considerably reduced cost.
What’s different between RPA and other automation technologies?
Robotic process automation is a considerably nascent technology. There is still no standardized definition for it and the primary differentiators between several automation technologies in the market. However, a lot of experts will concur that the primary aspect of RPA is the element of robotic employees. Conventional automation intends to automate enterprise processes and workflow, however, it usually accomplishes this in the backend. Software that is leveraged in the automation of enterprise processes is not always unanimously classified under the umbrella of robotic process automation. The following are a few differences between the two:
- As robotic process automation mimics a human employee, it doesn’t intervene with the back-end, therefore making it simpler to go about implementing and managing it.
- Robotic process automation executes all of its functionalities through a graphical user interface, implying that it can be easy to integrate into differing systems as it does not need application integration.
- Robotic process automation is non-invasive and scalable. It is an additional layer over your present technology stack. It will not alter core systems.
- To allocate an activity to a software bot, robotic process automation products mostly leverage a drag-and-drop interface, and visual workflows in opposition to code, making robotic process automation relatively simple to use.
- Dependent on task complexity, robotic process automation can be deployed quickly.
While RPA carries several benefits over conventional automation, it doesn’t mean that conventional automation is redundant. Conventional automation is far superior at shifting huge amounts of data as it isn’t restricted by the speed of the GUI – as would be the scenario for a robotic process automation product.
The technology is here for the long haul and we will probably see an increasing number of organizations integrating robotic process automation into their operational processes. In the years to follow, robotic process automation will be a vital aspect of the organizational toolkit. The advantages conferred by RPA are manifold, with speed, precision, efficiency, and reliability and cost savings being just some of the few.
How do RPA robots function?
Automation technologies have been a go-to for enterprises over the previous decade, but recently, RPA technology has achieved an impressive degree of sophistication while remaining simple to use. Robotic process automation is no more a utility that is just used to enable the automation of simplistic and monotonous tasks. RPA is reaching maturity, and with the confluence of other technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) we are starting to explore new horizons.
Unlike other variants of automation, robotic process automation has the sense to determine if a process should happen. It can undertake analysis data presented to it and render decisions on the basis of logic parameters established by the creator. Compared to other variants of automation, robotic process automation does not require systems integration.
Robotic process automation is a wide field with wider scope, and there are a plethora of technologies in the market that vastly differ from each other. However, a majority of robotic process automation products will consist of RPA dev tools, a controller, and the robot.
The following are core RPA tools:
- RPA developer tools: RPA dev tools provide you with the capability to develop and execute automated activities. Dev tools can differ from product to product, and typically come in the shape of simple to use drag-and-drop interfaces in opposition to conventional code-driven environments. As such, RPA is apt for non-developers.
- Recording tools: Over drag-and-drop workflows, several RPA products provide the capability for human staff members to document a process which can be converted into a workflow for the software bot to adhere to.
- Control room: A majority of RPA products contain an administrative control room. Via the control room interface, you can determine the status of all of your bots, observe what activity they are presently performing, what activity is next, and so on.
- Analytics: Several RPA products come bundled with a suite of analytics tools to identify the performance levels of you bot labor force.
- The robot: The abilities of software bots differ with each product, but several of them leverage aspects connected with horizontal or converging technologies like optical character recognition (OCR), intelligent character recognition (ICR), screen scraping, and artificial intelligence (AI).
- OCR: Optical character recognition provides software bots the capability to detect the type of document, categorize it, identify characters within the document, and execute behaviors on the basis of the data. OCR is usually leveraged for structured documents that have discernible templates, like banking statements and invoices.
- ICR: Intelligent character recognition is much like OCR, but it carries out interpretation of handmade and printer characters so they can be identified by the system. This is critical for any document that is handwritten, like address recognition.
- Screen scraping: Screen scraping is the extraction of data from webpages. It consists of the process of the HTML coding on a website and translating it into another format. This facilitates an RPA application to comprehend the contents of pages, and in turn, interact it.
- Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence or cognitive intelligence is a typical feature of RPA products. This can mean machine learning that assists a software bot to enhance its decision making over the passage of time.
What are the various types of RPA?
RPA is versatile and adaptable enough to be leveraged in enterprises both large and small. The following are the various types of RPA available in the market.
- Programmable bots: A programmable bot is dictated by established rules and instructions. Parameters require to be defined by developers prior to the bot starting operations. Ultimately, this consists of mapping out a process, step-wise, which can be really time intensive for more complicated activities.
- Smart bots: Bots featuring artificial intelligence can undertake analysis of data, both historical and current, to understand how staff members execute a process. The bot will learn your clicks, mouse movements and actions. After a duration of time when adequate data has been evaluated, the bot will know enough to finish processes autonomously. Smart, self-learning bots are apt to execute processes consisting of unstructured data and processes that consist of fluctuating parameters.
What are the advantages of RPA?
RPA isn’t just good for substituting humans in monotonous, tedious activities and data manipulation, there is a plethora of advantages that your business can leverage to attain the strategic edge.
- Flexibility: RPA is relevant across all domains and businesses, from private enterprises to small-sized startups. It is scalable – and can take up any activity that a rules-based element and can be defined by repeated activity.
- Affordable: RPA will reduce an organization’s time and financial expenditure. With RPA strategies, an organization will be able to minimize the time and money expended in executing inefficient operational processes. Not just that, RPA also costs considerably less than human labor. According to some research, RPA can minimize operational costs by as much as half.
- Simple to use: When deployed in an intelligent and correct fashion, RPA can have the outcome of considerable productivity enhancement. RPA products typically come with a drag and drop GUI implying that staff members do not require extra training in coding or other complicated domains. Also, organizations often discover that they are able to train a software bot to execute a process quicker than a new human employee.
- Efficient and reliable: Bots don’t need off days and they can operate 24×7, 365. Work that can take human employees a lot of time to finish can be completed by a bot within the span of minutes, like data entry. RPA has the benefits of speed and precision when contrasted with human labor.
As an outcome of integrating RPA with business processes, enterprises often discover that the processes are streamlined. This happens due to the way RPA functions, it is dictated by overt rules and procedure, and as a side effect of RPA, you might identify ways of minimizing inefficiencies by doing away with pointless processes or providing clarity to current processes.
- Precise: It doesn’t make a difference how tedious a process is, a bot will adhere to rules, without breaking a sweat, making sure that you obtain 100% precise and reliable results. RPA can provide enhanced levels of reliability and accuracy when contrasted with human staff members. RPA is particularly good for roles that are susceptible to human error or roles that are tough, monotonous, and long. A bot will be capable of executing data entry at any hour of the day, and given that there are no coding errors, the bot will not be prone to the errors that human employees make.
- Enhance human productivity levels: RPA can be the pathway to enhanced employee efficiency. It accomplishes this by enabling the employee to concentrate on value-adding activities that need complicated human thought and propel the organization forward.
- Stricter cyber security: Regardless of enhancements in cyber security awareness over the previous few years, human error is still a weakness in organizational cyber defenses. Bots will not become the victim of cyber-related abuses like phishing, and social engineering.
What challenges does RPA face?
Although RPA is becoming one of the critical enterprise technologies, there are some aspects to ponder about that warrants discourse with regards to the future of the technology.
How will RPA influence jobs?
One of the primary discourses in the technological world at present is how human jobs will be influenced by RPA. Detractors argue that widespread automation of jobs will happen and that work environments will be turned upside down.
It’s obvious that some functions will be supplanted by RPA, the most probable candidates being data entry positions. But this would be overlooking the broader picture as there are a plethora of new job positions that may be created as the outcome of RPA. Typically, new technologies have always led to the creation of new jobs in the labor force, and the widespread implementation of RPA will not be the exception to the rule. For instance, RPA engineering and RPA developers are roles that wouldn’t have existed without the proliferation of the nascent technology.
RPA won’t just provide new jobs. It additionally has the capability to improve present jobs, by providing human employees with the required tools to concentrate on high value activities.
Does RPA cost a lot?
RPA is often inexpensive to implement in comparison to conventional automation owing to its capability to function alongside existing IT infrastructure that is already implemented. With RPA, organizational leaders will not have to endure worry contemplating about the expenditure of infrastructure remodeling, outsourcing, or offshore/onshore manual process.
Does RPA pose cyber security risks?
We previously looked at some of the advantages that RPA can confer upon cyber security, but what of the risks? Like several new technologies, the possible downsides often get ignored compared to the furore produced by the advantages. Like several technologies, the abuse of data, the type of sensitive data software bots are privy to is a dominating security concern. Problems may come in the shape of rogue developers who coded software bots with malicious intent, such as malware and trojans.
Wary organizations will integrate extra cyber security measures, which may consist of encrypting data and role-based access to confidential information.
How to leverage RPA for your business?
Enterprises can utilize RPA is a plethora of differing ways. Simple to implement, and providing a great degree of flexibility, some organizations may discover that they leverage it in a way that is specific to their business. Deciding what processes should undergo automation is a key point of consideration.
While RPA is amazing at influencing operational excellence, some processes are more apt for automation over others. It is always best practice to roll out RPA gradually to reduce teething issues that typically come with technological implementation. The processes that are apt for automation are typically processes that are simplistic, repetitive, and simple to define. These processes will probably be rule-based and consist of easily defined structured data.
Questions to ask prior to automation of a process
- Can staff time be better used somewhere else? If the process is majorly dependent on staff involvement and is based around standardized data that is very definable and consistent – and typically influenced only by quantity, it can be an apt candidate for RPA providing staff members more freedom to work on more dynamic activities.
- Are processes experiencing delays by opening and closing times? If you consistently discover that your organization has outstanding processes by the end of the business day that aren’t executed until the next day, an RPA solution might be the need of the hour. Bots can work 24×7, 365, making them ideal for high volume, monotonous, and time intensive activities.
- Is the process being outsourced? If a tedious and monotonous task is being outsourced, it can most definitely be automated, often with a significant cost reduction.
- Is the process prone to error, rules-based, monotonous, or time-bound? Process that are encompassed in this classification are typically not important enough to integrate automation through core systems – a practice that can be expensive in implementation. RPA tools provide a fast and inexpensive alternative, providing enterprise leadership the opportunity to promote efficiency without alteration of any core systems.
- RPA certification: Think about RPA training for your business. There are a broad array of organizations that provide online and offline training from specialists in the domain, providing your organization increased insight into RPA implementation especially for your organization.
The most typical RPA use cases in differing sectors:
RPA can be leveraged in a variety of differing business processes. From banking to manufacturing, the following are some instances of how differing industries are leveraging RPA to enhance their efficiency.
- Data entry: This is the most typical use case for RPA. It can reduce processing times for monotonous clerical tasks by completing it in a much quicker time than human staff and is able to provide outputs that are much more reliable.
- RPA extractor: RPA can leverage optical recognition technology to scan and comprehend information in any format and obtain relevant information into another system. For instance, it has the capability to extract information from a PDF, and input the relevant information into another format.
- Automation of activities that involve minimal decision tasks: A business process may consist of several steps that do not require complicated human thought. RPA can undertake automation of these processes to save valuable time. Production of mass emails – RPA can be leveraged to produce mass emails through available information from several systems.
- Card processing: The banking domain is always on the lookout for expenditure reduction strategies. One primary way that banks are leveraging RPA is card processing. Historically, it would take the human employee weeks to gather documentation, execute credit checks, carry out a background check and eventually make a decision. RPA has streamlined such processes and it now only takes a fraction of the time.
- Investment portfolios: RPA can be leverage to handle investment portfolios. Currently software bots are providing clients real time intelligence and advise about prevailing market conditions.
- Payroll consists of huge sums of information, is very tedious and needs to be delivered in a punctual fashion, making it apt for RPA.
- Claims process: Claims processing is at the core of insurance and needs speed and precision. From incorrect inputs to disparate input media, a lot of factors can reduce the speed of claims processing. This makes it a perfect candidate for RPA which can engage in conversion of files, abide by regulations, and input data flawlessly.
- Updating a CRM: Updating CRMs can exert a lot of time and financial resources. This is particularly negative in the sales domain where time is of the essence.
- Bills of material generation: A critical document for production, but a typical cause for concern. RPA eradicates the necessity to endlessly input data into excel sheets which are susceptible to human error. This has the outcome of more robust supply chains and efficient production processes.
The outlook for RPA
An increasing number of companies are looking to make major investments in RPA. As it becomes more commonplace the use cases for RPA will demonstrate increased variance as well. In the future, we are already observing indicators that RPA will be leveraged beyond data input. It can be leveraged for other time-intensive processes like email recognition and file conversion RPA will integrate ML and cognitive algorithms to influence increasingly precise judgments and learn how to execute processes at a quicker pace.