Most of the organizations today are going through some form of digital automation to improve business processes, customer experience and operational efficiency. In recent years, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has created a significant excitement with its success in many verticals across the world. It has been at the forefront of every CIO’s agenda to accelerate their automation journey. However, many customers that we spoke to, while aware of RPA and wanted to explore its implementation in their organizations, they also had some fundamental questions about RPA. Why do we need RPA? How does it work? Is it different than BPM? What use cases is it best suited for?
Read on if you are also looking for simple answers to these basic questions about RPA.
Where did RPA come from?
We live in the work of insanely routine, mundane and repetitive tasks. Take the example of Invoice Processing in any organization. You can see armies of people reading emails, downloading supplier invoices attached to them, reading them, entering them into ERP systems, matching underlying receipts, maintaining them in excel sheets for tracking purposes, uploading those files into SharePoint, etc. Most of these activities hardly need human judgement, knowledge and experience. Except for approvals, majority of these tasks are very routine and mundane in nature. Following are the challenges with these tasks:
- Because of routine and mundane nature, boredom sets in for people executing such tasks day-in and day-out and results in lower productivity
- Large volume of these mundane activities leads to fatigue
- Human errors are inevitable primarily because of the nature of these activities
- Humans need breaks. They can only work 8 hours a day. This means the activities must wait and have longer cycle times
Robotic Process Automation came into being to address the above challenges.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
With Robotic Process Automation, you can easily automate such repetitive tasks in a given business process. Referring to the example of Invoice Processing, RPA can read emails, download and read PDF’s, maintain data in Excel sheets, update backend ERP systems, while approvals and quality checks remain manual as they need specialized skills, judgement and knowledge. This helps the business process in two ways:
- Execute the mundane tasks with greater efficiency
- Allow organizations to utilize the human work force for higher value, non-mundane tasks
How does RPA work?
RPA involves software bots that are programed and trained to replicate the actions of humans interacting with a software application via a user interface or through an API. Once trained, these bots perform simple tasks exactly like humans. For example, the bots can be trained to perform all mundane tasks in the Invoice Processing example referred earlier. As opposed to Integration technologies that may use Web Services and other Application Programing Interfaces (API) to enter data into systems, RPA bots perform the data entry exactly the way human would do – open the application, login, click on a menu/sub-menu, enter data into fields and submit.
All RPA tools provide out-of-the-box library of pre-trained activities that a bot can perform. RPA developers just need to drag-drop them in their process design and automate the tasks. RPA also provides recorders so that the bot can watch a human perform certain activity (e.g. entering data into a ERP system) and record it so that it can execute it when asked.
Features like these make RPA solution development extremely fast, as often there is no coding involved.
What are the advantages of RPA?
Some of the key benefits that can be derived from RPA include the following:
- Derive better value from Humans workforce
- Increase throughput
- Reduce human error
- Accelerate time to value: Create, test and deliver new automations in days or weeks.
- Decrease development costs: Develop automations quickly with simple record/playback functions
What are the use cases for RPA?
While RPA has great potential, it is not a magic wand that can solve every automation problem under the sun. RPA makes more sense in the following scenarios.
- Large number of repetitive tasks that do not need human judgement
- High Volume of tasks
- Manual data entry into systems
- Multiple legacy applications that are not integrated and hence require swivel chair integration
- High number of FTE’s – large number of human workforce performing similar tasks
If your processes are more knowledge driven, need a lot of human judgement, are ad-hoc in nature, RPA may not be the best option for you. However, if you have large number of routine tasks in large volume that is burning your human workforce off, RPA may be the solution.