Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is a software technology that trains bots to imitate human actions, interact with digital systems and carry out rule-based, recurring, high-volume business processes.
In its essence, RPA technology is automation of repetitive tasks, where the bot can perform a sequence of keystrokes, submit or extract data from IT applications, open files, connect and work with APIs and so on.
Among the many benefits of RPA that organizations realize, accuracy, speed and virtually non-stop working stand out the most. What’s more, RPA implementation is easy and very quick.
Here are two pieces of statistics that will establish why this technology is so important:
- An IBM report says over 90% C-level executives in organizations using automation believe their organization is better responding to changing business trends.
- Forrester expects the RPA services market to touch $12BN by 2023.
How RPA works
While how RPA bots work depends on what you’re trying to automate and what tool you’re using, their setting up is swift, easy and requires no coding knowledge on your part.
Just like any process automation, RPA lets you define the exact series of tasks to be carried out, with each task accompanied by instructions. You can set rules and define exceptions too, telling the software bot what to do in case of each exception.
Because they will completely mimic your interaction with the IT application, bots will trace the same patch each time, follow every instruction and make no mistakes even while performing the same process a thousandth time or a millionth time.
Consider a payroll database, for instance. You can train your RPA tool to log into your system, copy individual sales data from a spreadsheet and paste it in the right place. You can also teach the bot what to do if, say, an employee’s Social Security Number appears to be incomplete or if sales are reported from outside the employee’s allotted territory.
When carrying out the same tasks over and over again, your human worker could experience boredom, fatigue or reduced concentration – all of which could lead to errors, data gaps or loss of productivity. RPA will face no such issues and continue working at peak accuracy and efficiency.
What processes are suitable for RPA
Before anything, it’s important to identify processes suitable for RPA.
At a broad level, we’ve agreed that high-volume processes that are rule-based and repetitive are most suited to RPA automation. Here are seven criteria to decide if a process is suitable for RPA implementation:
- The process has rule-based decisions: A process with clearly defined decisions (like that on a decision-tree) that do not involve subjective judgements is a good fit.
- The process is high-volume: There are no material benefits of fitting RPA into processes that are seldom used. Volume is key to deriving full benefits of RPA.
- The process is repetitive: A process that runs in steps all of which can be documented in unambiguous terms is appropriate.
- The process is digital-centric: Avoid considering RPA for processes that involve non-digital elements, like analysing subtleties of human language, for instance.
- The process has no open-ended elements: Everything in the process must be specific, without any loose outcomes. If there are multiple possibilities of the process ending on an ambiguous note, this process isn’t suitable for a bot.
- The process works with structured data: Processes that use stable data are most suited for RPA.
- The process is going to be around for some time: If you expect no significant changes in the entire process in the near future, it is a green signal.
Benefits of robotic process automation
The business benefits of RPA automation are visible right from the start. Interestingly, these benefits expand as time passes – for example, cost savings builds competitive advantage or reassigned staff strengthens customer service.
Below, we’ve listed the top 11 benefits of RPA:
- It is auditable and hence delivers better governance: It means you can closely examine every automation step that the bot follows, verify if the sequence is right and correct it even after implementation. The end result is stronger and more transparent accountability and governance.
- It is free from errors: A great productivity booster, your RPA bot will continue working with the highest accuracy. Adoption of RPA will leave no room for errors, exceptions or mis-steps.
- It cuts down operational risks: The direct derivative benefit of high accuracy is the elimination of operational risk. That means fewer mix-ups, fewer complaints, and better quality control.
- It is scalable: Unlike some technologies, RPA technology is fully scalable. You can make the bot perform 1,000 tasks in a single day without any loss of accuracy,or speed.
- It doesn’t need any specialised RPA architecture: You can begin using RPA bots without any specialised equipment. The solution will fit right into your existing systems.
- It doesn’t require you to change your workflow: One of the top benefits of RPA is that you don’t need to change your systems. That way, it’s a great non-invasive, non-disruptive solution.
- It frees up employee time for more productive work and improves morale: Your employees no longer have to do mind-numbing, repetitive tasks. This enables them to work on more creative tasks that boosts their morale and adds to organizational productivity.
- It improves compliance: The solution drastically cuts down cycle time and hugely improves your accuracy. As a result, your organization can respond more swiftly and reliably to compliance requirements.
- It has organization-wide applications: The beauty of using RPA is that it is not confined to a particular function of your organization. Any department – HR, finance, sales – that has repetitive, high-volume processes is a good use case for RPA.
- It is code-free: In its most basic format, training RPA bots is little different from using a device to record your activities. Your teams that are training the bots do not require any coding knowledge – once your teams walk the bots through the entire process, the bot is ready to deliver.
Developing a strategy for RPA
First the good news: Modern bots are designed keeping in mind processes that are automated the most. That means you will hit the ground running when you use RPA for many of your processes.
That said, introducing RPA software will still need a carefully thought-out strategy. A strategy will help you clearly define goals, set up benchmarks, establish timelines, allocate resources and decide performance indicators.
Let us take a detailed look to build your RPA strategy:
Step 1: Get the buy-in
It’s important to communicate to your teams that the new technology is directed at improving productivity and helping them move to more fulfilling activities in their job. In absence of clear communication, your teams might view automation as a technology that will make their jobs redundant.
Additionally, you want teams and project leaders to understand what is and what is not possible with RPA. That’s largely because the next step – identifying processes suitable for RPA – will be hugely influenced by this understanding.
Step 2: Identify the processes
Arguably, this is the most important step, because choosing the wrong processes or ignoring appropriate processes can skew your ROI (and your organization’s opinion) on RPA.
We’ve already listed out the kind of processes suitable for RPA, so just add the following questions to understand if the process should be automated with RPA:
- How much total human-time is consumed by the process?
- What are the likely impediments in automating and digitizing the process?
- Can you sketch out a comprehensive list of rules and exceptions for the process?
- How critical is the process to the overall organizational goals?
Step 3: Shortlist the RPA vendor and have them create Proof of Concept
Selecting a vendor for RPA is another important step. While you shortlist them, look at their experience in handling similar tasks, technical competence and ability to deliver within time and budget.
Once you’ve shortlisted the vendor, you want them to create a Proof of Concept (PoC) to validate implementation.
While most automation tasks appear similar at a broader level, you want your vendor to pay attention to the unique nature of your industry, your organization and a host of other factors that make your project unique. Evaluate their documentation to see the level of detailing.
Step 4: Agree upon outcomes and measurements
In a sense, this step is a part of the earlier one. However, we mention it separately because of its importance.
The first thing you want to measure is setting KPIs. Because RPA is meant to improve organizational productivity, make sure you’re measuring it right.
Will there be a clear and substantial drop in errors? Will process times reduce? What amount of time will your teams have to spend checking in to see if things are doing fine? By what percentage will your costs go down? What criteria will you use to measure critical aspects like productivity and customer satisfaction?
Step 5: Establish RPA center of excellence to roll out deployment
The last stage is where you will finalize where and how to begin RPA deployment. That begins by integrating your vendor’s expertise with your teams’, to set up a Center of Excellence that will get things moving.
Map out the processes and stages of implementation. Your journey will be smoother when you’ve clearly defined the role for your bots who are your digital workforce. Plan for the test run, clearly lay down what will fall under errors and specify the corrective measures you intend to take for every anomaly.
Is RPA the same as AI?
It’d be worthwhile to add that while both use automation to free up your human teams, RPA and artificial intelligence aren’t the same.
RPA involves software bots that imitate human action and carry out rule-based tasks. That means RPA is more about handling repetitive tasks. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, goes further because it not only mimics human action but also ‘thinks’ and ‘learns’. So the two technologies are different in nearly all aspects, from adoption times and applications to costs and implementations.
Of course, there are use cases where RPA can use some AI skills to improve the performance of bots. For instance, you can configure your bots to use machine learning for decision making processes and create more opportunities.
Most experts agree that the adoption of Robotic Process Automation will be nearly universal by the 5 years. That means that any process that is a good fit for RPA will likely be automated by that time.
Any organization that misses this will be at a severe disadvantage in terms of lower productivity, sub-standard accuracy and higher costs. As a result, the time to begin exploring RPA opportunities is now. A powerful enabler in automation, RPA leads your organization’s drive to build competitive advantage through digital transformation, and will help you usher in more complex, more transformative solutions like artificial intelligence over time.
Our insightful expertise, combined with our passion for building solutions that deliver more than what is obvious, has helped our clients achieve tangible strategic advantage. We’d love to help you explore more of how your organization can leverage RPA technology. Why not drop us a line and have us get back to you?
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