Robotic Process Automation, also commonly known as RPA, is an evolution of traditional automation systems. Earlier, traditional automation was used only to automate some point activity and was merely looked upon as a tool with limited applicability. If the data volume was large or the application screen layout was complex, creating an automation program could be a challenge. Add to this the fact that traditional automation oftentimes did not have an inadequate log or reporting mechanism to tell the user how many records had been processed and how many failed and what were the failure reasons.
This is where Robotic Process Automation scores over the traditional tools. It has the capability to automate, not just a single activity, but an entire business process with a robust framework to handle complex application screen layouts and a detailed completion reporting mechanism.
Although the term Robotic Process Automation can be traced back to the early 2000s, it had been developing for several years now and have evolved from three key technologies:
- Screen Scraping – the process of collecting screen display data from an application screen
- Workflow Automation – the method in which an entire business process is automated, eliminating the need for manual data entry and increasing record processing rates, efficiency and accuracy
- Artificial Intelligence – the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that normally require human intervention and intelligence
For any RPA tool, there needs to be an orchestrator (or an equivalent) that helps manage bot activity using a management console. The console allows the user to start / stop or schedule bots, highlights issues that the bots encounter, and provides a dashboard for the processes that are managed by RPA.
Common business areas for implementing RPA
There are many business areas where RPA can help companies eliminate unnecessary data entry and increase processing rates and efficiency. Customer service is one of them. RPA can help companies offer better customer service by automating contact center tasks, including verifying e-signatures, uploading scanned documents and verifying information for automatic approvals or rejections. Accounting in another. Organizations can use RPA for general accounting, operational accounting, transnational reporting and budgeting. Financial services have many uses cases for RPA. Companies in the financial services industry can use RPA for foreign exchange payments, automating account openings and closings, managing audit requests and processing insurance claims. Other areas include:
- Healthcare: handling patient records, claims, customer support, account management, billing, reporting and analytics.
- Human resources: automating on-boarding and off-boarding, updating employee information and time sheet submission processes.
- Supply chain management: used for procure to pay, invoicing, automating order processing and payments, monitoring inventory levels and tracking shipments etc.
Benefits of RPA
The benefits of RPA with be far reaching. There are three key benefits that have risen to the top:
- Business exception handling: No matter how well programmed, your bots will run into issues with the diverse data they encounter. RPA can highlight these exceptions, manage them via queues and seamlessly assigned them to personnel to be resolved before they lead to any bottlenecks or delays for customers in your processes.
• Analytics capabilities: Bots working with legacy systems can uncover data that may not be available in other analytics modules. Running advanced analysis and combining different data sources is critical.
• Integration with IoT: There are millions of applications bots can control by using an IoT integration.
Proof of value: Five steps
So how do you start your RPA journey? First you need to scope the transformation. RPA is a transformational tool, not a desktop macro builder. Look for pain points within the organization and identify what needs to change. This isn’t just a cost play; rather, it has to do with mitigating the challenges of growing in a linear fashion by increasing the number of full-time employees. For some, it is about improving speed and quality to differentiate in the market. Others are attracted by the insight and analytics that come from consolidating all transactional data into one database for real-time visibility.”
The second step is to analyze the business and map processes at keystroke level. To do so, use experts in RPA, as it is important to drill into the areas where configuration will be complex. Standard operating procedures, training materials and system manuals will be great inputs, but not enough by themselves. Have the RPA experts sit with the process experts to map what really happens; afterwards, it will be easier to plot costs and service levels to the processes as a baseline.”
With the scope defined and mapped, the third step is to identify processes and parts of processes most suitable for automation. Then calculate the time and cost to implement these, as well as the benefits of doing so. Design a target operating model (TOM), which is a graphical depiction of the business structure and processes affected by the RPA implementation; it should detail everything from stakeholders to the applications/systems used by the automation. It’s important to map not just the RPA portions but also the scope of the business to determine how to redeploy resources to drive greater business value.
The fourth step is to plan and forecast the journey. Consider all that is involved in the transformation and don’t underestimate the time required for change management and benefits realization. Create the implementation plan and financial model by looking at the savings and the cost avoidance that this transformation will bring over an estimated three years. Consider the cost of not only implementing RPA but maintaining the solution and updating it to take on additional tasks as needed.
Last but not least, the fifth and final step is to gain sponsorship. Use the business case, TOM and strategy to get support for prioritizing this transformation.
RPA is still in its infancy, and its evolution could take a lot of twists and turns before it becomes more widely accepted. Learn more about what to expect with RPA in the near future in our recent blog article: “Where Will RPA Be 1 Year From Now?”