The fourth industrial revolution represents the current period of a drastic increase in technology and an interconnected world. Therefore, understanding where specific technologies are now and where they could be in a few years is essential since advancements in technology will likely never end.In particular, Robotic Process Automation’s relevance globally is a business discipline that’s become increasingly difficult to ignore. With essentially every industry looking for the next best tool to cut costs and improve efficiency by automating its processes, RPAs changed the way organizations operate. Many may perceive Robotic Process Automation as a physical robot running around an office completing tasks in record time, but that’s not the case. Instead, while RPA is a robot, it operates from already established software.
What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a software tool used to complete structured, repetitive tasks without human intervention. Many companies use RPA to replace the need for humans to perform mundane and repetitive tasks like data transferring. The use of RPA or “bots” to mimic business-focused tasks positively affects a businesses’ efficiency, productivity, and work environment. For example, with successful RPA implementation, humans no longer need to collate payroll data, allowing them to use their capabilities for something of more importance.
A Bit of History on RPA’s Evolution
The idea of using automated technology to increase process efficiency is nothing new, as it dates back to the industrial age of trying to improve manufacturing productivity. However, attempts at using bots to improve processes started, almost synonymously, with the world’s introduction to the World Wide Web in 1989, with screen scraping. Screen scraping is the process of finding, extracting, and copying data from the internet for another purpose. Back then, if a business wanted to implement screen scraping, it required extensive programming knowledge, and automation technology was human-dependent.
The lack of access to automated technology encouraged the development of more innovative and adaptable process management software to improve customer relations, operational costs, and workflow management. The 90s era of re-engineering automation software resulted in companies needing better, faster process management technologies against a hyper-competitive market. With upheaval in companies’ implementing automated technology in their processes, perspectives on process management systems changed. Moving forward to the 2000s, companies sought maximum effectiveness over efficiency, i.e., accurate computing and reliability in handling information.
The emergence of RPA starts here; the world’s entry into the 21st century. Robotic Process Automation draws from its predecessors, screen scraping and automating workflow to perform tasks, from beginning to end, without human interference. The following decade, marked by the start of the Internet of Things (IoT) around 2009, represents the proliferation of technological advancements and a world connected by technology. The world’s drastic technological transformation brings us to the fourth revolution of automation, which involved a mainstream recognition of RPA, with 2016 marking a surge in sales for robotic process automation services and tools and the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools in RPA systems.
Benefits of RPA
The benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are extensive.
1. Maximize Operational Efficiency
Operational efficiency refers to time, costs, and human resources previously used to complete a task. For an organization to compete in its industry, it’s become nearly impossible to succeed without data-driven software to streamline its processes. A primary reason for increased competition in virtually every industry is because they’ve set up bots to complete tedious tasks 24/7. With the successful implementation of RPA software, employees that originally spent valuable time on manual tasks can use their time on more productive and stimulating activities. RPA not only allows employees to use their expertise on more critical tasks but it results in a happier work environment.
2. Easy to Implement and Configure
RPA software is shockingly quick and easy to implement into a users’ current Informational Technology (IT) system. RPA software automates by interacting with the existing interface, meaning it doesn’t require external or expensive equipment to operate. In addition, the configuration process requires no programming knowledge. For example, many RPA software allows users to “drag-and-drop” the already generated code for their desired automation.
3. Fast Implementation
The complete implementation and integration process of RPA software depends on the complexity of a users’ workflow, with most systems taking between one to six weeks to fully implement. However, for users requiring complex automating, the implementing process could take up to twelve weeks.
4. Maintain Industry Compliance
In many industries with RPA software configured to complete the desired task, users report increased compliance with rules and regulations. Since the purpose of RPA software is to complete rule-based, structured tasks that are free of errors, it becomes a powerful and accurate auditing tool.When a user implements RPA software, they configure the bot to perform a task and can also program the bot to complete jobs according to their industries’ compliance rules.
5. Improve Customer Satisfaction
In the same way, RPA software can increase industry compliance; it can also improve a businesses’ quality of service. The benefit of eliminating human errors leads to accurate results, which can drastically improve continuity of service, customer relations, and the duration it takes to deliver service.
6. Software Robots are Non-disruptive
RPA software, or software robots, work independently on top of a users’ existing software. In other words, this means bots act as a control and managing center, capable of tackling multiple tasks without interfering with existing software – it’s more of an addition. As a control center operating with a user’s current interface, RPA software can create an ecosystem of machines by connecting and communicating with a user’s original software.This allows for current computers to function as they have while having RPA software as a line of communication to link several independent sources; thus, allowing for a constant flow of information without interfering with other programs.
7. Data analytics to Pinpoint Weaknesses
What is RPA software? It can expose faults within a users’ tech system by showing patterns through data analytics. With data aggregated from RPA software, companies can identify and fix areas of improvement in their current system and human resources.
8. Increased Data Security
Users’ can benefit from increased data security through the proper implementation of RPA software. RPA can improve data security by limiting the need for humans to interact with sensitive data. Good performance relates to the sophistication of RPA development. The necessary degree of a company’s software sophistication depends on its needs. Still, businesses wanting to reduce risk to the lowest degree possible require adequate funds and, often, a professional body of tech-oriented human resources.
Challenges of Robotic Process Automation
The benefits of Robotic Process Automation services are considerable, making it seem almost foolish for a company to stay away from RPA automation. But, even RPA technology, like every solution that presents itself as a cure-all, has its challenges, drawbacks, and limitations.
Challenge 1: Automation Limits
RPA automation, in its simplest form, is a software that a user configures to mimic activities in the same way a human does. As complex as RPA software is, it can only replicate rule-based, structured tasks. This automation limit of RPA tools means that RPA robot software can’t adapt to changes or learn from its mistakes without the help of humans’ re-programming it to act accordingly.However, current approaches to automation software seek to provide even more scalability by adding intelligent tools to bots, which allows them to recognize changes, act on these changes, and learn from their mistakes.
Challenge 2: Benefits Lack Tangibility
While there is concrete evidence of RPA’s benefits, like measuring costs and errors, some of the benefits stated above aren’t tangible. For example, it’s implied that by implementing bots to complete tasks that were originally completed by a company’s human resources, employees have more time to focus on other tasks. However, RPA’s stated benefit of increasing office productivity relies on measurements of time, cost, and errors rather than comprehensive metrics for productivity.
Challenge 3: Human Replacement
The fear of robots making human resources disposable is genuinely the biggest challenge for RPA implementation and company acceptance of software robots. It’s reasonable to hold a fear of software robots replacing human jobs, specifically with automation software’s ability to complete human tasks faster and with more consistency. Moreover, advancements in RPA software entail an increase in intelligent automation technology, meaning it can learn from experience, a human drawback that wasn’t prevalent in simple RPA automation.
Challenge 4: IT Acceptance
Typically, the organizational structure separates business and IT sectors into different departments within an organization. However, the implementation of RPA software muddles the previously set responsibilities of these departments since it’s often the business side that initiates and configures RPA software without the help of the IT department. The business’s role in implementing and configuring its robot software is to ensure the automated tasks correspond with the company’s vision. However, to maintain the solution-focused capabilities of RPA software, the IT department remains responsible for the aspects of an automated technology such as governance, security, and so on.The convergence of these previously separate departments poses challenges to an organizations’ structure, requiring shared responsibilities and communication between them.
Challenge 5: Lack of Capability
RPA automation, in its simplest form, lacks analytical capability because of the software robots’ lack of cognitive ability. However, as stated above, advancements in the trade incorporate intelligent tools, like artificial intelligence (AI), to advance the software’s cognitive skills, which results in another valuable resource for a business’ decision-making process.
Challenge 6: Not Suitable for All
RPA software isn’t suitable for all organizations’ current technology infrastructure or all business-related processes. For some businesses, deploying RPA tools won’t provide optimal solutions; its infrastructure relies on older technology. Gartner suggests an Enterprise Automation Roadmap (EAR) to help organizations avoid wasting time and money prioritizing RPA when there’s another more optimal solution. It’s important to know RPA software’s limits on business-related processes. For example, organizations shouldn’t invest in robot software to automate unstructured data. Another aspect to consider, while not necessarily a limit on RPA but essential for an organization to decide the best solution, is if the desired task for automation is structurally poor. While RPA can automate tasks with suboptimal performance, it may not be the answer; instead, an organization should improve the business process before investing in other equipment.
Challenge 7: Organizational Changes
Covered above was one organizational change that poses challenges to an organization implementing RPA tools: the business and IT relationship. Another difficulty organizations encounter is establishing overall corporate support. While previous IT-based automation systems operated over the entire organizational structure, requiring acceptance from those involved, robotic automation does not necessitate overall approval. Instead, separate departments can implement RPA automation tools within their sector without communicating this change to others. However, failure to achieve overall support can result in conflict relating to an individual’s beliefs, responsibilities, and control.
How Does Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Work?
There are two potential answers to the question: how does Robotic Process Automation (RPA) work? The first is the build-up to executing a software robot, and the second is the steps RPA software takes to complete a task.
Steps to Executing RPA
There are four main stages to executing RPA into an entities’ infrastructure.
1. Selection and Approval
The identifying stage entails selecting suitable processes to automate. Appropriate RPA processes are structured, unchanging, rule-based, with a high number of transactions. Although, it’s possible to automate rule-based tasks even if they don’t require a high number of transactions every second.
2. Developer Design
The design phase of RPA means deciding which software tools for the user’s identified activities are the most optimal. For example, if a user wants to use RPA automation for payroll, they should consider the cost, quality, functionality, and time needed to implement robot software for this task. By considering these factors, a user may find that RPA tools for payroll won’t result in an optimal outcome compared to other existing solutions. Other actions to consider during this phase are to tackle the common challenges of RPA, identify short-term and long-term results, and establish roles and responsibilities of those involved.
3. Scripts, Build, Test
The third stage of executing RPA is building and rewriting scripts for the automation tools picked in the design phase. Depending on the desired task, the scriptwriting phase requires some knowledge of configuring and programming. In addition, it’s typically the responsibility of IT or an RPA developer to write the configurations. Each tool’s interface is unique. For example, some may require little to no code, while others need a new script. Other actions required during this stage are to create an area for the RPA tools to build, test, and deploy.
With every step completed, it’s time to execute the tools for automation. It’s essential to monitor the software robots for defects and have a professional body of human resources with a comprehensive understanding of this technology.Many organizations should consider hiring external help for their RPA deployment process and establish a skilled team to monitor the software by the execution stage.
Steps of RPA in Motion
It’s beneficial to have a general idea of how Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools complete tasks and interact with other systems. RPA automation technology has an interface for the user to see what the robot is doing and if it’s active.RPA process automation completes a task in four steps. To explain these steps, let’s use the example of email automation.
The robot software collects attachments from the user’s email inbox.
RPA automation software takes the data from the inbox and transfers it into another document, like Excel.
The robot software generates a report from the data in the spreadsheet that it copies into its designated online system.
The RPA automation tool notifies users’ that it completed the task.
Best Practices for Robotic Process Automation
In practice, RPA is a powerful tool for virtually every industry to cut costs, eliminate errors, meet compliance, and save time. However, many companies fail to correctly implement RPA software into their system because it tries to use RPA to handle issues it was never capable of in the first place. In addition, sometimes enterprises invest in RPA tools only to find that it’s not producing optimal results or find that RPA isn’t the best solution after it’s too late. Luckily, there are five practices to guide companies toward successful Robotic Process Automation to avoid this.
1. Establish a Persona for the Developer
A persona is a fictitious character that can adequately represent a company’s needs and visions to the RPA developer. Since the function of RPA tools is personalizable, organizations need to avoid solely depending on the knowledge and skills of a professional developer. Any developer can program and create scripts to automate a task, but RPA is not “one size fits all,” so avoid relying exclusively on a developer.
2. Establish All Areas of Governance
Organizations that have successfully implemented Robotic Process Automation services into their infrastructure established a governing body to ensure optimal Return on Investment (ROI). While there are many ways to establish a governing body, i.e., creating a Center of Excellence (COE), a committee, or an individual, the important factor is how they govern RPA processes. For example, the committee or individual should be responsible for approving automating a process and validating the script before execution. In addition, the governing body must support the organization’s RPA project vision. When building a team, Gartner recommends starting with the business owner and a member of the IT department. Additional members could include a security validator, someone from HR, and a data management representative. Overall, the composition of a company’s RPA team should have individuals with varying skills and responsibilities applicable to an organization’s RPA project. In addition, establishing a governing body opens more possibilities for full-scale RPA implementation within an organization by tackling the issue of RPA forcing business and IT responsibilities to merge. The activities that the committee should act on are:
- Managing scripts, the index of connectivity within a system, and the reuse of object code and protecting any useful IP.
- Demand management – “RPA should not be the default answer.”
- See to adequate support for RPA project, i.e., skills, consultants, servers, and available software.
- Work with existing BPO and SCC.
- Plan how and when to communicate RPA implementation to the entire enterprise.
- Be aware of the latest trends in automation.
3. Enterprise Automation Roadmap (EAR)
As briefly mentioned above, Gartner recommends creating a roadmap for RPA implementation, as it will determine the project’s success. The roadmap entails limiting risks by selecting suitable processes, considering other automation software, hiring external help, company beliefs, actions to take if RPA suddenly stops, goals, and many others.For example, an already established Application Programming Interface (APIs) might produce better results than using RPA to emulate a task. Another possibility is if an organization wants to modernize its systems but hasn’t installed an API. In this case, Gartner suggests evaluating the long-term costs of RPA compared to adding APIs. An EAR can help organizations set realistic expectations about RPA’s capabilities to make strategic decisions to ensure optimal outcomes. The importance of this pre-discussion period is absolute since businesses with older systems may find that their tech-build isn’t mature enough to make RPA attainable. It will also debunk common misconceptions regarding RPA as a cure-all or a resource that people with little to no tech knowledge can use to automate everything they want.Overall, the criterion for automating tasks with RPA are those that:
- Have a high number of transactions
- Have access to transfer information to multiple systems
- Are stable and unchanging
- Are straightforward i.e., does not require judgment, creativity, and the like
- Are rule-based and structured
- Often suffer human error
- Will deliver optimal ROI
- Are repetitive
- Have been done for a long time
- Don’t require human intervention
- Are structured and deal with digital data
4. Test and Validate Scripts
An organization shouldn’t continue with the project without the combined effort from IT professionals, business professionals, and external sources validating the RPA framework. While the process of testing and validating RPA scripts is vital to ensure the proper operation of the software bots, it’s also critical to validate the limits of the bot’s access. For example, if the software robot’s activity is indiscernible from that of a human, the script needs a redesign. Another issue that will prompt redesign is if the bot engages in activity beyond its intended task, like accessing sensitive data unnecessary to its purpose. The process of RPA test and validation is simple, as it only entails checking off a process once the bot successfully passes a process – those are:
- Functional validation
Does the software robot function as it’s supposed to? Does it properly flow through the other systems?
- Architectural validation
Does the RPA software have the necessary applications, support tools, configurations, listeners, and infrastructure?
- Implementation validation
Is it ready to handle the organization’s important tasks?
- Identity validation
Does the software robot have a unique identity to distinguish it from a human?
- Data access validation
Can the software bot access data that isn’t necessary to its task? For example, is there a record of all activity the bot performs?
- Additional validation
Additional validation means any other critical aspects required for the software bot to run successfully. In addition, any additional validation should address possible risks of data leaks and fraud – if the committee hasn’t already.
Testing RPA Scripts
Gartner recommends a three-layer approach to testing RPA scripts: user acceptance testing, system integration testing, and unit testing. The first test is unit testing by the developer, then system integration testing to ensure the bot is interoperable with the current system. Finally, it’s the owner or user’s time to test and accept the RPA script.In general, a software robot passing the three-layered testing means it performs gracefully by following exceptions and validating other computational units with minimal human interference. Moreover, the RPA software should deliver an ROI high enough to compare RPA’s advantages.
5. Using RPA with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0, represents the current period of widespread advanced technology and automation tools presence in businesses. It’s become clear that as companies and organizations apply Machine Learning (ML) and AI to RPA software, they’ve experienced enhanced functionality and improvement in automating their business processes, compared to RPA alone. Incorporating ML and AI to enhance the benefits of the robotic automation process further aids in common industry challenges like decision making, identifying patterns, and data analytics. In other words, adding machine learning and artificial intelligence changed automation from a data-driven approach into a decision-making approach for business processes.
As business processes slowly use ML and AI with their RPA systems, this trend towards intelligent automation points to the current rise of hyperautomation, a discipline for businesses that identifies, vets, and automates all processes capable of automation.
Hyperautomation’s primary goal is to continue growth without hindrance.Hyperautomation is the next step of better-automated practices, defined by the combination of RPA, intelligent BMP software, AI, machine learning, and IoT analytics. Moreover, Gartner explains that since most enterprises use data-driven systems that are outdated in terms of the current technology available, hyperautomation is the next digital phase for businesses to increase resilience, scalability, and reduce costs. As a result, Gartner predicts that the discipline will reach a market high of $596.6 billion in 2022.
Why is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) a Disruptive Technology?
In the business world, disruptive technologies are innovative technologies that start at the bottom but quickly infiltrate the market and completely alter how a business operates. RPA truly is a disruptive technology. It completely changed the way companies manage their business processes to the point that it’s nearly impossible for a business to avoid RPA companies if it wants a chance to compete with its competitors.
Outside of business theory, disruptive technology is an innovative technology that changes the way individuals and other industries operate. RPA as a disruptor made an impact on all three: individuals, industries, and businesses. RPA’s impact on the individual resulted in both positive and negative outcomes. For example, RPA positively affected accountants by improving the efficiency and quality of accountants’ workload and reports. Moreover, these accountants also experienced a change in routine since RPA made mundane tasks, like data collection, faster and easier.
At the same time, however, RPA disrupted some individuals’ comfort and produced fears regarding the possibility of software robots taking people’s jobs. The primary way RPA disrupts organizations is by changing the roles of management, the business sector, and IT. Overall, this disruptor impacts the number of workers, when they work, and the need to employ skilled workers of RPA software. The impact on organizations prompts a higher demand for tech-skilled workers and reduces the costs of employing current workers.
What Industries is RPA Ideal for?
With the banking and finance industry being one of the first industries to implement RPA into its systems, other branches like insurance, manufacturing, utilities, healthcare, and telecommunications found success in RPA. While virtually any industry looking to automate or emulate human activities for speed and accuracy would likely benefit from robot software, cases show that RPA is the primary force of these six industries.
Industry 1: Banking and Finance
In 2016, a large bank employed its first robot to increase efficiency with bankruptcy and loss mitigation services. Since the start of implementation, the bank has increased its program to include 22 total robots, although they’ve limited their usage to task and meta-robots. Ultimately, the company has seen transformation with RPA in a couple of key areas: foreign money transaction operations, global payments operations, customer service operations related to mortgage and card disputes, and vehicle and mortgage servicing.From idea to execution, implementing RPA into the bank’s processes took about eighteen months, and since then, the company has already seen improvements with consistency, speed, and accuracy with each area that RPA was implemented in. The bank managed to achieve 95% of the targeted benefits under the original budget, and reduced the average time needed for servicing cases from twenty minutes to four minutes. They’ve also been able to reduce their customer service call time by up to 15%, which has also led to a reduction in overtime for employees. Given the benefits they’ve seen from RPA, the finance company has continued to invest and roll-out new RPA technologies, including more advanced techniques.
Industry 2: Insurance at PZU
A large Polish insurance company with millions of clients was another early implementer of RPA technology. When the insurance company struggled with personalizing and enhancing its customer experience, it looked to RPA companies for help. In this company’s situation, solving its issue made Robotic Process Automation services ideal, as the company had the human resources to provide personalized customer service, but none of the time. So the company first identified which processes to automate: back-office support and front-office support. Its first installment of RPA solved its time issues, allowing employees to increase their performance and care, leading to better customer satisfaction.Then, as RPA proved successful, the company saw many opportunities to automate other tasks precisely because it’s a company in the insurance industry. In general, entities in the insurance industry have many of the same processes that are perfect for automation. For example, most insurance companies engage in these tasks: claims processing, sales, underwriting, and auditing.The insurer saw opportunities for automation in its claim system, accident processing, all data, invoicing, customer history, and preliminary analysis for car damage claims, car damage payment, and childbirth claims. As the insurance company expanded its automation processes, it eliminated human errors and prompted 100% accuracy in repetitive tasks like data entry. Unfortunately, a common mistake that industries make after successful RPA implementation is neglecting the software robot, believing it will reap sustained benefits from its automated tasks. One way that the company saw continued growth and results from RPA was by focusing on expansion. In other words, once these companies saw the benefits of automation, they continued to expand RPA software to other tasks.
Industry 3: Manufacturing at a Manufacturing Company
RPA’s usage for manufacturing industries is exhaustive, as most tasks are repetitive, structured, and rule-based. For example, at the basic level, manufacturing industries can automate the bill of materials and sales. Further advancement of RPA software to automate manufacturing tasks includes order processing, payments, email, vendor selection, shipment status, and supply and demand. A manufacturing industry’s entire supply chain proves optimal for RPA.
3.1 Order Processing and Payments
Before a manufacturing company automated its order processing and payments, it relied on a paper record of transactions and humans to confirm orders and select products. With the successful installment of RPA, the software robot selects products, records transactions, and notifies the user of a completed order faster than a human.To confirm a vendor entailed tedious work from a manufacturing company to purchase goods. RPA changes the workload and time used to finalize a vendor transaction, with the only necessary human intervention being during physical interactions.
3.2 Inventory Management
As a manufacturing company, maintaining a current and comprehensive list of its inventory is the oldest and most straightforward task conducted by the company. Previously, these numbers required manual input on a computer, paper, or some other medium. Now, not only are the company’s inventory levels accurate and up to date, with time, the software robot accumulates a historical record of inventory. The automation tool provides the company with prediction analytics of its inventory with historical data.
3.3 Other Tasks to Automate
A manufacturing company uses humans to respond to customer inquiries regarding their package. Automating customer inquiries by automatically sending confirmation emails, checking status, and replying to customers relieves human resources from manually checking order statuses and improves customer satisfaction. Once an industry automates its entire supplies chain, the only human intervention required is those that necessitate judgment and human connection. For example, RPA companies cannot maintain client relationships through face-to-face interactions. Overall, with the successful installment of RPA, manufacturing companies reap benefits from reducing payroll costs and improving overall operational efficiency and accuracy.
Industry 4: Human Resources
Another case study comes from a large company that began to see the potential benefits of RPA in their human resources department. The company had seen how RPA had benefited the financial sector, and realized some of those same manual tasks took up time and energy with HR employees. The manual task that the company wanted to automate included combining data about employees from different HR systems into a single source. Previously, employees had to combine this information themselves, using an Excel spreadsheet to manually check the information, and the process could take up to 45 minutes. Once the HR department implemented the RPA pilot program, the new technology was not only able to eliminate the manual task, but it also allowed for more frequent updates about employee information. Of course, the company has continued to evaluate how RPA technology could help other areas of their HR department, including chatbots that can interact with new job candidates or screen resumes and applications. Similar companies have begun to take after this corporation’s example by using their own RPA systems to send offers to job candidates, audit datasets, and even facilitate health plan enrollment for new hires.
Industry 5: Healthcare
Like businesses and insurance companies, the healthcare industry engages in billing, claims, and patient inquiries. One Dutch corporation operating within the health and nutrition sector, adopted RPA to automate its business processes. The Dutch healthcare corporation’s first implementation phase involved automating financial tasks. But, first, the company had to redesign the automation process to ensure little human involvement since it didn’t want the software bot to complete a step and then pass it to an employee. After the corporation’s success with its first phase, the company programmed more RPA bots to scale more tasks. As a result, from July 2016 to August 2016, the company successfully automated 25 tasks, which is 89% of its manual functions. The benefits of RPA for the company made the time used to complete financial-related tasks decrease from a couple of weeks to three days. Moreover, the company increased accuracy, compliance, available work hours, and ROI. Aside from this Dutch corporation, RPA opportunities for industries operating in the healthcare sector are activities like billing, faster claims and payment, accurate validation of patients’ health insurance, and streamlining patient payments.
Industry 6: Telecommunications
In another example, a British telecommunications provider used RPA to scale its back-office processes, making the tasks more reliable, efficient, and accurate. In 2004, this telecommunications company reduced its back-office work to India through Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). However, the company’s growth soon led to operational and expense issues with BPO. As a result, the company decided to tackle this issue with RPA. Still, this company’s RPA case is unique since it chose to implement RPA without the help of an external RPA software company. The telecommunication company identified the back-office task it wanted to automate and successfully implemented the robot software to automate around 35% of its back-office activities. With RPA’s success, the company expanded by increasing the number of automated transactions to around 400/500 thousand a month. As a result, the telecommunications company saw increased accuracy, productivity, customer satisfaction, and decreased operational costs. In general, the telecommunications industry can implement RPA into processes like SIM swaps, orders, and credit checks to increase turnaround time, flexibility, and efficiency.
What Types of Processes Are Good for Robotic Process Automation?
Any business, company, or organization interested in automating their processes must understand what processes RPA can and cannot automate. However, even with knowledge of potentially automated processes, there’s still difficulty ensuring users choose suitable strategies. Moreover, failure to choose suitable processes to automate results in monetary loss, less than optimal results, and a possibility of investing in the wrong solution. So, let’s discuss what types of processes are optimal for Robotic Process Automation?
1. Rule-Based Processes
Rule-based tasks are simple; they can’t be processes that require human judgment or interpretation. Robot software can’t understand ambiguous statements, so the task must be logical with little to no changes or exceptions. For example, the lengthy process of copying and pasting data is highly rule-based because the process is very straightforward, making it easily programmable.
2. High Number of Repetitive Transactions
The purpose of RPA is to automate many tasks quicker and with more accuracy than a human. While it’s possible to automate processes that are typically done every couple of months, focusing on high-volume transactions ensures optimal performance with the greatest benefits. For example, a manufacturing company’s supply and demand chain record is constantly changing, requiring frequent updates of its supply chain record. A supply chain task is also repetitive and typically done many times a day, making it a suitable task that would benefit from RPA.
A mature task is a process that’s existed for a while, so it’s a process known by most workers. This also means that the process likely is completed in the same manner each time.
4. Easy to Identify Cost
If an organization can calculate the current cost incurred to complete a task, it is easier to lay out the cost versus the potential benefit from automation. In other words, a job that historically requires eight hours of human resources is easily quantifiable, allowing businesses to compare the cost of RPA materials and implementation minus the predicted growth.
Processes suitable for automation are clearly defined and use structured data. Structured data are quantitative numbers and values like a database holding addresses and credit card numbers.
Transactional processes are those that are frequently subjected to human error. For example, an organization updating its sales orders is a transactional task perfect for automation. Transactional tasks are hierarchically lower than other processes in the business world but still require the utmost care, making them perfect for automation.
7. Little to No Exceptions
These tasks typically mean a bot can complete processes with minimal exceptions. An exception is when the software robot would have to respond to something unexpected. Unfortunately, while automation technology can handle exceptions, it cannot take many.
8. Not Complex
RPA software cannot handle complex tasks, like subjective feedback, without adding Machine Learning, AI, or other intelligent tools. However, since processes suitable for RPA are rule-based, repetitive, and structured, tasks requiring more complexity would likely not be on an organization’s agenda.
9. Multisystem Access
A benefit of RPA software is that when the bot attaches to an organization’s current system, it creates an ecosystem of interconnected technology. In other words, processes that access many different systems provide optimal benefits because these tasks typically result in human errors and inconsistent results.
Why the Current Focus on Robotic Process Automation?
Since the emergence of the World Wide Web, automating workflows has become relevant in businesses, organizations, and enterprises. The world’s introduction to Robotic Process Automation changed the way companies operated and became a tool for companies to surpass their competition.
However, while RPA launched in the 2000s, it wasn’t until 2017 that RPA’s popularity rose, marking the point of RPA as a disruptive technology. As the world entered industry 4.0, further advancements in RPA technologies capabilities sustained automation software’s market popularity. Industries desire better and faster automation technology to advance their processes with each passing year. So, the current focus on RPA companies will always be prevalent unless a new disruptor shakes the market. But, for many industries to succeed, they must know where RPA was, what it is today, and where it’s going. By following Gartner’s 2022 technology trends, hyperautomation is the next phase of automation because of the world’s current focus on data, cybersecurity, AI, intelligence tools, autonomous systems, and generative AI.
AI vs. RPA – Understand the Differences & Commonalities
AI once operated in a sector completely different from RPA, but it’s become increasingly implemented in RPA software to enhance the capabilities of the software robot. Artificial Intelligence is advanced technology capable of predicting, learning, and understanding human cognitive processes. When RPA combines with AI, it further improves the benefits of automation software while adding other analytics to increase customer satisfaction, security, accuracy, and much more.
RPA by itself isn’t intelligent, meaning it cannot understand complex processes that require judgment or interpretation. While AI doesn’t necessarily provide information that can aid decision-making because suitable processes still need to be well-defined and mature, it operates as a benefit enhancer, allowing for even more performance optimization.
RPA vs. Intelligent Automation – Understand the Differences & Commonalities
While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a software tool used to complete repetitive tasks without human intervention, Intelligent Automation (IA) combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with RPA. These combined resources help businesses cut costs, increase productivity and accuracy, reduce the turnaround time, and meet demands. It requires multiple machines and automated tools to achieve the desired outcome by adding the “intelligence” aspect to help people make correct decisions without relying solely on reason, prudence, and predictive analytics.
The Future of RPA: Hyperautomation & Intelligent Process Automation
The future of RPA is hyperautomation and intelligent process automation. While RPA’s process-oriented approach endured systematic errors, without the mechanical component of RPA, more advanced and complex tools wouldn’t exist. Gartner coined the concept of hyperautomation with the discipline as one of its “Top Strategic Technology Trends” for 2022. In detail, Gartner’s goal is to help optimize and accelerate organizations’ growth through digitized solutions.
Intelligent Automation (IA) combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with RPA to help businesses cut costs, increase productivity and accuracy, reduce the turnaround time, and meet demands.
While hyperautomation takes IA a step further as an all-encompassing method through machine learning, AI and other software operate all processes more intelligently and efficiently. The main difference is that hyperautomation incorporates IA and RPA to create complex and cognitive systems to automate tasks.
The success of a hyperautomation depends on AI and ML to construct heaps of replicated data, otherwise called “digital twins.” Success also depends on interoperable hardware, which necessitates a need to build an ecosystem of technology through machines that can “adapt to hardware changes with minimal intervention by the user,” known as Plug-and-Play (PnP).As data becomes more comprehensive, the connected network and intelligent tools of a hyperautomation system learn from itself, making it progressively self-regulating and automatic.
RPA & Cognitive Computing
Many confuse cognitive computing with Artificial Intelligence (AI) because of its design; however, cognitive computing is actually a subcategory of AI. In addition, cognitive computing can enhance RPA technology since it can handle large amounts of data, which can help organizations make decisions based on data. While AI enhances the benefits of RPA similarly, unlike AI, cognitive computing still requires human intervention. Moreover, it can adapt to change but can’t provide a solution for decision-makers like AI. RPA with cognitive computing support can help decision-makers better understand and see patterns from large amounts of information through structured and unstructured data.
The Impact: Present & Future of RPA on Employment: Where RPA Already Replaces Humans and Where They Don’t (Yet)
As we know, successful implementation of RPA technology requires a shift in roles and responsibilities within an organization’s structure. But how do RPA’s current capabilities and performance replace humans?RPA already replaces humans from completing mundane, repetitive tasks, which frees up valuable time for employees to engage in more creative, intellectual, and essential work. So, currently, RPA replaces human jobs like data entry and auditing.
Software robots can also limit the amount of work required from an employee by configuring the software to act more as an assistant rather than a replacement for a process. But, again, this is true with current intelligent automation systems, specifically, tasks that require a worker’s highly technical capabilities and social, human skills. However, many businesses have automation systems incapable of automating complex, cognitive, and changing processes, so RPA as a complete human-labor replacement is yet to come.
The future of RPA could automate most business processes, which could ultimately replace many human jobs. Consequently, as software robots become increasingly intelligent, so do human anxiety levels. Many tech and business analysts predict that as automation software advances into an intelligent, autonomous technology with the ability to make judgment-based decisions, many jobs will no longer require humans. For example, the Journal of Strategic Information Systems 29 noted that some scholars predict automation will replace 47% of U.S. jobs by 2033. Moreover, as RPA becomes increasingly paired with AI and other intelligent tools, humans won’t be able to compete with the software robots, making AI-led automation the superior choice for many organizations.
If the future of intelligent automation likely will replace most humans, what jobs will it replace? Essentially, all jobs capable of automation will be completely replaced by robot software. For example, many processes completed by Human Resources (HR) are capable of automation, and the need for humans to complete these tasks could become obsolete. However, HR requires human social skills and emotion; a factor software robots could help enhance but not necessarily replace completely.
How RPA Displaces Outsourcing
The leading sector disrupted by RPA technology is the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. It was once common for companies, businesses, and enterprises to outsource front-to-back-office processes to other countries to reap the benefits of cheaper labor costs and efficiency.RPA completely displaces outsourcing and BPO providers because high volume administrative processes are precisely the tasks RPA software is designed to complete. Moreover, many businesses that outsource their back office and end-to-end processes continue to endure higher costs as other countries’ wages increase.
Using robot software to automate these processes dramatically reduces costs incurred from outsourcing human resources, so why wouldn’t companies invest in RPA? While BPO providers are largely obsolete with RPA’s market growth, service providers can implement RPA into their model to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Overall Impact of RPA on Society
When someone mentions Robotic Process Automation, many individuals imagine a physical robot programmed to do something to replace processes done by humans. But as many come to find, RPA isn’t an actual robot; it’s a programmable software used to complete repetitive, structured tasks faster and with more accuracy than humanly possible.
Overall, RPA’s impact on society is mainly positive, as it allows employees more time to engage in valuable work rather than mundane copy and paste work. As the world entered the 4th industrial revolution, the fear of robots taking over, a storyline portrayed mainly in Hollywood films, became common. In particular, with RPA, many employees feared that automation robots would replace them, but, for most, that wasn’t the case. In other words, many organizations with successful RPA implementation found that automation prompts a more productive workforce, either by relieving employees of tedious processes or allowing employees to complete procedures faster with a robot assistant. However, as RPA becomes increasingly intelligent, the overall positive impact of RPA on society could change if it puts some jobs at risk of becoming obsolete.
Practical Example of RPA
There are many success stories from organizations implementing Robotic Process Automation services into their current system. For example, Leeds Building Society, a financial service provider in mortgages, savings, and life planning in the United Kingdom, has fifteen robots automating thousands of tasks on thousands of applications. The company attributes the use of RPA to process transactions, update member accounts, and automate emails as an essential resource that helped them during the pandemic. RPA provided a solution for Leeds Building Society to meet and keep up with rapidly growing member requests. According to the company, RPA reduced the time wasted dealing with complex customer inquiries and reduced telephone wait times, increasing customer satisfaction and delivery of mortgage payment holidays.
How to Get Started with RPA
The process of implementing an RPA project entails three steps: Proof of Concept (PoC), pilot, and test.
1. Make a PoC
The first step in an RPA project is developing a PoC, or a way to demonstrate that automating a user’s desired processes is feasible. To ensure RPA is the best solution that will result in optimal benefits, users must identify cases to automate and quantify benefit predictions like ROI, costs, savings, and compliance.Moreover, a PoC should contain a plan on which RPA software provider best represents the user’s identified processes. For example, some providers only specialize in RPA software, while others can provide multiple products on top of RPA, and others are IT or BPO service providers that use RPA platforms.Lastly, a PoC should reconsider internal organization, like creating a Center of Excellence (COE) from human resources in the business and IT departments to oversee the project.
The pilot stage is the design, build, and test phase of an RPA project. This phase is the project’s programming, configuration, and installment stage. For example, if a company records data on paper, it must transfer it into an electronic medium. Unless an entity doesn’t use an external resource for installation, this phase typically requires collaboration from the COE and the RPA manufacturer or service provider.
If the software robot operates as designed, the RPA installment is complete. However, the user needs to continue expanding and updating automation technology to ensure the robot provides optimal results.PoC is the most crucial step in any RPA journey since failing to plan accordingly can result in wasted time and money. Unfortunately, one of the leading reasons most RPA implementations fail is because the user attempts to automate a process that was never intended for robotic process automation.
Robotic Process Automation is a powerful tool to automate business processes by reducing operational costs and human errors.
What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)?
To define RPA, it is a tool that focuses on continuous flow and efficiency by emulating human activity like screen recording and scraping. However, RPA goes a step further than these simple business processes by being non-intrusive when installed in a user’s current system, and it’s programmable to complete structured, repetitive tasks with little to no human intervention.
Robotic Process Automation Benefits
The benefits of RPA are maximum operational efficiency, fast and straightforward implementation, configurations to keep industries compliant, improve customer satisfaction, relieve workers from performing tedious tasks, and increase data security.
Robotic Process Automation Technologies
The different types of RPA technologies are:
- Data – Data software robots can engage in data transfer, encryption, and file encoding.
- Integration – Integration-based software robots can access and change items on various applications
- Process – Process-based software can recognize changes, events, or triggers to engage in its programmed process.
Where is Robotic Process Automation used?
Virtually any industry that would benefit from task automation can use Robotics Process Automation. But currently, RPA companies areas affected by RPA usage are:
- Customer service
- Order processing
- Financial sectors
- Supply chain manufacturing
- Information Technology (IT)
- Human Resources (HR)
- Product development
- Industry compliance rules
How Robotic Process Automation Works
RPA’s workflow follows four steps: collection, transfer, generate, and confirm. For example, in data input and output, a software bot grabs the data, transfers it to another application, generates a report, and notifies the user when completed.
How to Implement Robotic Process Automation
The process of successful RPA implementation entails at least three phases: Proof of Concept (PoC), pilot, and test. The PoC stage entails selecting processes for automation, approving them, and internal organizational restructuring. The pilot stage is the development, design, scriptwriting, and building stage of RPA implementation. At this stage, all tools, add-ons, and resources for an RPA system should be carefully discussed and implemented. Finally, the last step is to test the software to ensure that the robot operates as desired.
Robotic Process Automation Market size
According to Statista, as of 2022, the current market size of RPA is $3.7 billion U.S. dollars.
How to learn Robotic Process Automation
Becoming an RPA developer requires lengthy, comprehensive training to learn and master the programming of the automated robot software. Moreover, the RPA sphere is constantly changing, so the knowledge needed never stops.
Best Robotic Process Automation Books
When it comes to RPA books, it’s important to remember that the industry undergoes frequent changes and advancements, so printed resources may struggle to provide readers with up-to-date information. However, there are still great RPA books out there, so here are five great Robotic Process Automation books:
- “Robotic Process and Cognitive Automation: The Next Phase” by Mary C. Lacity and Leslie P. Wilcocks
- “Workflow Automation with Microsoft Power Automate: Achieve digital transformation through business automation with minimal coding” by Aaron Guilmette
- “The Care and Feeding of Bots: An Owner’s Manual for Robotic Process Automation” by Christopher Surdak
- “The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems” by Tom Taulli
- “INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION: Learn how to harness Artificial Intelligence to boost business & make our world more human” by Pascal Bornet
Best Robotic Process Automation On-line Courses
The best Robotic Process Automation Online Course comes from EdX. For anyone looking to understand RPA at its basic level, this introduction course can be a helpful starter that can help you develop new skills like using robotic process automation as a form of problem solving, designing automation blueprints, learning how to create effort estimations for process automation, and more. You’ll get virtual classes with instructors that are leaders in the field of programming and machine learning.
Is Robotic Process Automation a Good Career?
Yes, Robotic Process Automation is a good career. According to GlassDoor, an RPA developer makes an average annual base pay of $80K in the United States. Moreover, the lowest reported salary for an RPA developer is $57K, while the highest reported is $112K.
And, as more and more companies begin to understand the true potential of RPA’s benefits, the salaries for those with RPA skills is only increasing.
Robotic Process Automation Research Papers
For more information on everything RPA, here are some valuable research papers:
- Best Practices for Robotic Process Automation Success by Gartner
- Beyond Tactical RPA by Gartner
- Robotic Process Automation – Future of Business Organizations: A Review by Mr. Manishkumar Gami, Mr. Parth Jetly, Ms.Nidhi Mehta, Dr. Sunita R. Patil
- Robotic Process Automation as a Digital Transformation Tool for Increasing Organizational Resilience in Polish Enterprises by Andrzej Sobczak
- Robotic Process Automation in containerized environment by Marko Kauppinen
- The robots are ready. Are you? Untapped advantage in your digital workforce by Deloitte
Best Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Certifications
The Best RPA certifications come from Microsoft, which is an entry-level certificate that anybody looking to familiarize themselves with RPA software and tools can achieve. This allows those who are interested in RPA to begin understanding and working with one of the best tools for automation: the Power Automate software from Microsoft. To earn the certificate, participants will be expected to complete and pass an exam that covers topics and basic understanding of automating business processes with the Power Automate software, building chatbots with Power Virtual Agents, and performing data analysis with Power BI. There are no prerequisites required for this certification, although you’ll need to pay a fee for the exam.