What is RPA

What is RPA?

Last updated on 06th Oct 2020, Artciles, Blog

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Robotic process automation is the use of specialized computer programs, known as software robots, to automate and standardize repeatable business processes. Imagine a robot sitting in front of a computer looking at the same applications and performing the same keystrokes as a person would. While robotic process automation does not involve any form of physical robots, software robots mimic human activities by interacting with applications in the same way that a person does.

Working as a virtual business assistant, bots complete tedious tasks, freeing up time for employees to concentrate on more engaging, revenue-generating tasks. Part of the beauty of robotic process automation technology is that it offers even non-technical employees the tools to configure their own software robots to solve automation challenges.

The basics of robotic process automation (RPA)

Robotic process automation enables business professionals to easily configure software robots to automate repetitive, routine work between multiple systems, filling in automation gaps to improve business processes. These “bots” work directly across application user interfaces, mimicking the actions a person would perform, including logging in and out of applications, copying and pasting data, opening emails and attachments, and filling out forms.

While this may sound similar to screen-scraping and macros software technology, RPA has evolved beyond these solutions. For example, while macros use fixed, linear commands, bots have the flexibility to intuitively respond to stimuli and changes in business processes—increasing their intelligence over time. Also, in cases where you need multiple tools to run scripts that perform across multiple applications, RPA can simplify the way users automate tasks by interacting with multiple applications at once.

The dynamic nature of RPA sets it apart from previously developed automation solutions, making it an important automation tool that drives digital transformation and the future of work.

What are the benefits of RPA?

As a user-friendly and cost-effective tool, robotic process automation provides a number of advantages that are drawing interest from organizations across many industries.

The business benefits of RPA include:

  • Low technical barriers: Programming skills are not necessary to configure a software robot. As a primarily code-free technology, any non-technical staff can use a drag and drop process designer to set up a bot—or even record their own steps to automate a process through a process recorder feature.
  • Increased accuracy: Bots are extremely accurate and consistent – they are much less prone to making mistakes or typos than a human worker. This can apply to common processes such as provisioning or de-provisioning user accounts, copying information from one system to another, onboarding and off-boarding employees or populating a form based on information from another system.
  • Meet regulatory compliance standards: Bots only follow the instructions they have been configured to follow and provide an audit trail history for each step. Bots can also play back their past actions in case parts of a process need review. The controlled nature of bot work makes them suited to meeting even the strictest compliance standards.
  • No interruption of work: Operations can be performed 24/7 as software bots can work tirelessly and autonomously without requiring staff to manually trigger bots to initiate business processes.
  • Existing systems remain in place: Unlike traditional automation initiatives that may require extensive developer resources to integrate across multiple applications, RPA involves no disruption to underlying systems. Robots work across the presentation layer of existing applications just as a person does. This is especially useful for legacy systems, where APIs may not be immediately available, or in situations where organizations do not have the resources to develop a deep level of integration with existing applications.
  • Improved employee morale and employee experience: Employees will have more time to invest their talents in more engaging and strategic work. Bots enable workers to offload manual tasks like filling out forms, data entry and looking up information from websites, so workers can focus on strategic, revenue-producing activities.
  • Increased productivity: Process cycle times are more efficient and can be completed at a faster speed compared to manual processes.

RPA has advanced significantly, and future generations of the technology will only bring additional value. Advanced cognitive capabilities such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are allowing bots to more intelligently interpret the interfaces they work across, better handle errors, and manipulate unstructured data.

Machine learning allows bots to recognize patterns over time. This means that when a process requires human intervention, a bot can learn and act autonomously when these situations arise again.

What processes are relevant to RPA?

RPA is a versatile, scalable technology that can apply to many different departments and industry processes. RPA technology is particularly applicable to processes that typically are:

  • Consistent and routine
  • High volume
  • Prone to human error
  • Limited in requiring a person to make a decision
  • Manual data entry or “swivel chair” work

In many cases, RPA can bring immediate value to core business processes including:

  • Payroll
  • Employee status changes
  • New hire recruitment and onboarding
  • Accounts receivable and accounts payable
  • Invoice processing
  • Inventory management
  • Report creation
  • Updating CRM data
  • Software installations
  • Data migration
  • Vendor onboarding

For example, if a wealth management firm needs to update CRM data with contact details from a spreadsheet, RPA can record the actions that need to be replicated, map fields between the two interfaces and automate this repeatable task—saving hours of valuable staff time.

A virtual business assistant

We may think of RPA in the context of organization-wide processes, but it can be applied as a personal productivity tool as well. Employees will be able to identify many opportunities in their daily work where a personal bot assistant can help.

With RPA, employees have access to a self-serve automation tool that will empower them to reduce their own tedious work, no matter what their field or technical background may be. Requiring a low technical learning curve, RPA can benefit a wide range of employees and does not need to necessarily involve a resource-intensive, enterprise-wide deployment effort.

Furthermore, since all bots can be monitored and audited over a centralized server, IT would still be able to maintain central control over bots in use, while promoting flexibility in the organization for employees to deploy their own custom solutions.

Having a virtual business assistant can help alleviate time-consuming and non-engaging tasks so employees can focus on what is most important. As companies increasingly look to automation for handling routine, manual tasks, employees will be empowered to do more productive—and less robotic—work.

Bridging integration gaps with RPA

One of the immediate benefits of RPA is its ability to fill in missing elements of business processes across system integrations. Enterprises that rely on legacy systems or third-party, external sites for everyday operations but currently do not have a way to integrate them can deploy bots to work between applications seamlessly, syncing data and processes without human intervention. Bots fill in integration gaps to enable organizations to have more complete, end-to-end solutions.

RPA as part of the Digital Transformation Journey

RPA can be an important tool in solving automation challenges and pushing organizations to grow into digital workplaces. However, it is just one part of an organization’s digital transformation toolkit.

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