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Robotic Process Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the software technology used to automate simple yet highly repetitive tasks typically performed by human workers. While each of these tasks takes only minutes to complete, they are mundane and often error-prone, so automation helps employees focus on more strategic work.

 

RPA serves a variety of industries, including banking and financial services, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and many others.

 

Robotic Process Automation is an emerging technology that increases work efficiency, empowers human employees, and can transform business operations. 

 

Despite the fantastic business value provided by this technology, the term robotic process automation is quite deceiving. This technology has nothing to do with traditional “robots,” and using the term “process automation” is also a stretch.

 

To grasp this concept, let us discuss the meaning of every word in “Robotic Process Automation” phrase. 

Why Robotic?

RPA platform allows to design and run “software robots,” often called “bots,” that can imitate the actions of a human worker. 

 

Those actions include interactions with multiple software applications, copy-pasting data, filling out forms, and performing other simple tasks. RPA robots are scripts that define step-by-step instructions of what needs to be done (see How does RPA work for more details). 

 

Thus RPA robot is not an independent acting machine doing the work; it’s a software program that you can execute when necessary, and it will perform the required set of predefined actions. 

Why Process?

business process is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that people or equipment perform to achieve a business goal.

 

A task is a small essential piece of work that a single actor can complete in one approach.

 

Here is an example of a business process and corresponding tasks:

Business Process 

 

Procure-to-pay – one of the fundamental processes in any organization that allows it to purchase goods and services to support its operations. 

Tasks

  • Pull the list of approved vendors
  • Pull price report for the recent purchases of similar products
  • Compare quotes
  • Check available budget
  • Create purchase order
  • Enter data from the invoice into the accounting system
  • Validate invoice data Send the invoice for approval

Despite its name, Robotic Process Automation works on the task level, NOT the process level. 

 

 

RPA robots can help you pull a specific report from ERP, collect quotes from the email attachments, save them to the proper folder, or fill in purchase order data.  While each task may take only 3-5-10 minutes to complete, they create a tremendous workload for human workers when repeated hundreds of times per month. These are the tasks that RPA technology can automate with great ROI (return on investment). 

Why Automation?

On top of its popularity, RPA took the place of the primary business process automation technology. It is often perceived as a synonym for process automation, which is inaccurate. 

 

The term “Automation” describes various technologies that reduce human intervention in business processes. Since almost every software application performs some automation, it’s essential to understand what we mean when talking about RPA as an automation technology.   

 

Take the Procure-to-Pay process, for example. It leverages multiple technologies, including the core ERP platform, which orchestrates the entire process – stores all the transaction data, defines business rules, and routes the approval workflows. However, some tasks are executed outside the ERP system.

 

For example, the procurement manager may download the report on similar purchases in the past from ERP to Excel. It is often easier to analyze it in Excel since it offers more flexible and convenient data analytics capabilities.

 

Yet the standard report exported from ERP may require significant editing before a user can analyze it. Someone may want to move columns around, adust them, and sort and filter data. It takes a few minutes each time, but if the procurement manager needs to repeat it for every report several times a day – it becomes an annoying and time-consuming task. 

 

This is where robotic process automation helps. RPA platform allows specifying a set of actions for a bot to perform automatically. For example, when the user exports the Excel report, it is saved to the folder, where the RPA bot can open it, update formatting and save it back to the folder or send it to the user’s email address. Now the user does not need to deal with formatting issues and go straight into data analysis.

 

Thus RPA creates an additional “automation layer” on top of enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, etc.) and productivity tools (Microsoft Office) that allows interaction with multiple applications and performing prescribed activities across them.

 

However, RPA is not the only automation technology. Business Process Management (BPM) systems automate complex workflows touching multiple applications across various teams and departments. Enterprise integration platforms (iPaaS) offer API connectors to various enterprise applications that enable transferring data and executing activities across those applications.

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What does Robotic Process Automation do?

Robotic Process Automation is designed to automate repetitive tasks, such as data entry, data transfer, form filling, creating reports, and other simple operations.

 

Automate legacy systems

The unique ability of RPA is accessing applications via a graphical user interface (GUI) and simulating human interaction using mouse clicks, keystrokes, and hotkeys. While some modern enterprise applications offer sophisticated APIs to access and manipulate data, most legacy applications, still widely used in companies – don’t have it. The only way to interact with them safely is through the user interface. This is where RPA shines by providing automation on top of those applications.

Automate productivity applications

Another area where RPA successfully applies is automating tasks involving productivity tools. 


Microsoft Excel and Outlook are often used for performing highly repetitive tasks as a part of larger processes involving multiple applications. Without other ways to integrate Office applications into the automated process, RPA becomes a true saver by offering this unique ability.

RPA vs. Intelligent Automation

There is also a perception in the market that RPA is an intelligent technology that can perform complex operations and enable the creation of digital workers, threatening to take the jobs of human workers. It is far from reality. Let’s be clear, RPA robots follow the script. You can implement the “if …then… else” logic in the script, but that’s about it. That is why RPA is used for automating highly repetitive yet simple rule-based tasks, requiring no intelligence.

However, there is a possibility to use RPA robots to call pretrained ML models for analyzing complex data, making predictions, and emulating intelligent decision-making. To learn more, please review the Intelligent Automation page.

What are the benefits of RPA?

RPA offers numerous significant benefits for both businesses and employees.

 

Business benefits include: 

 

  • increased operational efficiency
  • reduced costs, primarily the cost of human labor
  • improved compliance; bots do exactly what they suppose to do.

For employees, RPA bots offer automation of the most monotonous tasks:

 

  • Reduce stress and increase work satisfaction
  • Free-up resources for more productive, higher-value work and professional growth
  • achieve a better work-life balance and personal well-being.

RPA is an emerging technology with immense potential. As RPA becomes more widely adopted, its benefits will become even more apparent. RPA is poised to revolutionize the way businesses operate.

 

 

HOW DOES RPA WORK?

RPA software bots are designed to mimic human actions, such as opening and closing applications, filling out forms, and extracting data.

RPA software bots can be deployed quickly and easily without expensive hardware or software licenses. In addition, RPA can be used to automate tasks across multiple platforms, including desktop, web-based, and mobile applications.

 

 

 

How to get started with RPA?

If you’re interested in getting started with RPA, the first step is identifying which business processes would benefit from automation. Once you’ve identified suitable candidates for RPA, the next step is to select an RPA software platform and start developing your automation scripts. RPA platforms typically provide drag-and-drop interfaces that make it easy to develop automation scripts without needing any coding knowledge.

 

Once you’ve created your automation scripts, you’ll need to test and deploy them. This typically involves setting up a test environment and then running the scripts in this environment to ensure that they work as intended. Once you’re happy with the results, you can deploy the scripts into production.

 

Implementing RPA can be a complex undertaking, but the rewards are significant. RPA can help businesses achieve new levels of efficiency and quality while freeing employees to focus on more value-added tasks. If you’re interested in exploring RPA for your business, getting started is as simple as identifying which business processes would benefit from automation and selecting an RPA platform.

 

 

 

What to consider while implementing RPA?

There are a few things to consider before implementing RPA.

 

First, it is important to determine which tasks are best suited for automation. RPA is most effective when it is used to automate repetitive tasks that do not require human judgment or creativity.

 

Second, it is important to have clear objectives for the RPA implementation. RPA should be used to improve efficiency and quality, not to replace human workers.

 

Finally, it is important to choose the right RPA software. Many different RPA platforms are available on the market, so it is important to research and select the package that best meets the organization’s needs. RPA Master helps you by providing an overview of the top RPA players on the market.

 

 

 

What are the challenges of implementing RPA?

One of the key challenges of robotic process automation is that it can be difficult to replicate the nuances of human behavior. While RPA software is very good at completing repetitive tasks quickly and accurately, it can struggle with more complex processes that require a higher degree of judgment and interpretation. This often requires significant customization and applying complex AI/ML models for this type of automation.

 

RPA can also be expensive to implement, especially for smaller tasks when the value of automation can not justify its cost.

 

Finally, RPA creates dependencies on the GUI of a specific version of applications. Building resilient automations requires skills and creativity; otherwise, maintaining RPA becomes challenging and requires continuous updates.

 

 

 

How much does an RPA solution cost?

RPA solutions can vary in cost, depending on their features and functionality. However, RPA solutions are generally more affordable than traditional enterprise software solutions.

 

RPA platforms offer various pricing models, from traditional annual bot licenses to a more flexible pay-as-you-go license model, where you pay only for the time when the bot is running.

 

RPA solutions typically have a shorter implementation time than traditional enterprise software solutions, which can further reduce costs. As a result, RPA is a versatile and cost-effective solution that can be used to automate a wide range of business tasks.

 

 

 

How long does it take to implement an RPA solution?

RPA solutions can be implemented relatively quickly, with some implementations taking as little as a few weeks. However, the time required to implement an RPA solution will vary depending on the task’s complexity and the organization’s size. For example, a large organization with complex processes may take several months to implement an RPA solution. In contrast, a small business with simpler processes may be able to deploy RPA in just a few weeks. Either way, RPA can provide significant time-savings compared to manual processes.

 

 

What are the risks associated with RPA?

While RPA offers significant benefits, some risks are associated with its use.

 

One of the main perceived risks of RPA is that it can lead to job loss. RPA can automate many tasks that human workers currently perform. As a result, RPA can reduce the need for employees in certain roles.

 

There is an even deeper observation that it could increase inequality. RPA is typically used to automate low-skilled tasks. This means that it is often low-paid workers who are most at risk of being replaced by RPA, which could lead to increased inequality as high-skilled workers reap the benefits of RPA while low-skilled workers can lose their jobs.

 

While those risks are real and could be significant for particular employees and their families, we must consider the bigger picture. Increased operational efficiency and work productivity across industries lead to the improvement of living standards across society. The replacement of lower-level jobs with automation is not something new. This has already happened in the past with farmers and factory workers. This replacement resulted in more food and goods being produced at a lower cost. And better education is available for people to learn new skills and find new opportunities in the changing society.

 

Finally, there is a risk that RPA could fail to live up to its promises. RPA is often touted as a panacea for all sorts of business problems. However, it is important to remember that RPA has its limitations. There have been notable failures of RPA projects in the past, and there is always the possibility that future projects will also fail to meet expectations.

 

Despite these risks, RPA remains a promising technology with the potential to transform businesses across various industries. When used correctly, RPA offers significant benefits with minimal downside risks.

 

 

 

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