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What is Robotic Process Automation

New to robotic process automation? Looking for new ways to optimize your RPA strategy? This is the ultimate guide to getting your initiative started.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, an organization can configure software commonly known as a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing IT applications to enable transaction process, data manipulation, and communication across multiple IT systems. 

Robotic Process Automation is best suited for processes with repeatable, predictable interactions with IT applications. The robots perform routine business processes by mimicking the way people interact with applications through a user interface and following simple rules to make decisions.

Learn More: 5 Ways to Maximize your RPA Investment

How is Robotic Process Automation different from other enterprise automation tools? 

Process automation is by no means a new thing in the IT world. Traditional automation has led to increased efficiency, reduced risks, compliance maintenance, and enhanced profitability. But because the benefits of traditional automation and Robotic Process Automation tend to get mixed up, it’s important to determine the distinct difference between the two. 

Learn More: Why it's Time to Embrace Digital Process Automation

First off, Robotic Process Automation is an emerging automation technology - its full potential still goes unrealized by many organizations as they are likely to be in the early stages of their transformation. However, RPA has several distinguishing features that make it stand out from traditional automation: 

  • RPA tools are mostly non-intrusive as they stay in the front-end of the system and moves forward with the task, without having to intrude on the back-end 
  • RPA tools are system agnostic, meaning they can work across a variety of application types 
  • RPA tools are able to take action quickly because they mimic the role and logic of a human worker 
  • RPA tools are scalable and can be integrated within an already established system
  • RPA tools are easy for non-technical people to use - there is no code to learn, and it’s mostly all visual modeling

Traditional automation is the automation of any repeated task. It combines application integration at a database or infrastructure level and is usually found in product workflows. It can take months to implement and relies on the developers understanding of the target system. 

When it comes to deciding whether a traditional automation system or RPA is the right choice for your organization, the answer may simply be that Robotic Process Automation is a precursor to a full-fledged automation program. Here are some of the main differences between the two: 

Technology Base 

In traditional automation, programming takes the center stage and makes use of APIs and other methods to integrate several systems on one platform. In order to develop these programs, a developer needs to have a thorough understanding of the target system. 

For Robotic Process Automation, the actions are always at the user level, meaning that the bots can make quick decisions with a higher degree of effectiveness than their human counterparts. In addition, because the robot is focused on only comprehending the actions of a user and following those steps, the complexity of the technology and its application tends to take a back seat. 

Vendor/Software Limitations 

There are several limitations of traditional automation because: 

  • They’re difficult to customize 
  • They’re difficult to implement because of limited APIs
  • They require skilled developers who are willing to work on legacy systems 

Trying to make amendments or upgrades to a legacy system is incredibly difficult as it requires a thorough understanding of business goals, customer expectations, and technology architecture. For organizations that are looking to have their automation cross multiple departmental boundaries and have them interact with multiple systems, RPA may be a better alternative. 

Turn-around Time 

Because traditional automation demands complex programming and quality tests it tends to take longer than RPA. However, Robotic Process Automation should not be implemented without the support and buy-in from the IT department. To ensure your RPA project takes less time than traditional automation it’s important the IT team is working alongside the business team to implement safely and effectively.  

Customization 

As mentioned, because traditional automation is naturally a heavier solution and is significantly more rigid than RPA, traditional automation is difficult to customize. RPA can be tailored easily to meet the needs of the user and can integrate with various applications like ERP or CRM. 

Audience 

While both aim to improve productivity, increase efficiency, reduce cost, and make managing compliance easier because traditional automation requires a strong involvement from developers, the main users of the program - business teams - won’t start receiving benefits until much later. With RPA, technical business users can get involved immediately and start producing bots that will help the organization realize the benefits of automation faster.

Discover Blueprint's Enterprise Automation Suite

What processes are relevant to Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation has helped organizations run smarter and work more efficiently, but choosing the wrong processes for the initial pilot can be detrimental to the entire initiative. In fact, 38% of all implementation failures are a result of choosing the wrong processes for the RPA pilot. 

Robotic Process Automation is best suited to highly manual and repetitive activities and typical tasks can include data entry, reconciliation, data transfer, report generation, data processing, archiving, and data mapping. To determine which processes are most suitable for Robotic Process Automation, there are four key criteria that should be considered: 

  • Rule-based decisions: Rules-based processes are highly programmable, can run on their own and require no human intervention. Decisions made by the bot are rule-based and logical and can be modeled based on decisions i.e. input - process - expected output. 
  • Digital data inputs: When critical information and data are stored within documents it’s difficult to extract the information and accurately translate it into a digital format. Using digitized documentation to feed information into your processes will enable your bots to be more accurate. 
  • Processes can be coordinated and integrated system-wide: To prevent redundancy in your network of bots, it’s important to trace business processes to expected responses and their digital systems. This means that for RPA to work you need to make sure the processes are modeled, optimized, and mapped from end-to-end. RPA crosses multiple tech boundaries, so it’s important the bots are built to be resilient and highly integratable. 
  • Highly repetitive and stable: Bots can easily replicate the repetitive work of their human counterparts by registering user events, observing variables, and scraping data. Repetitive processes can be coded, sequenced, and scaled with little error. Selecting processes that are highly repetitive and are stable will make it easier to accelerate automation and ensure bots can withstand change. 

What are the benefits of Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation has gained tons of traction over its promise of improving efficiency, making employees more productive, and increasing customer satisfaction. However, there are still some business leaders who are on the fence whether or not RPA is worth their time and effort. 

Without a doubt RPA has an innate ability to help the business because it removes the mundane and repetitive tasks so that the business can: 

  • Direct their workforce toward more critical functions that require decision making and human intelligence
  • Free employees from mundane tasks and assign them to bots, thus saving the organization money
  • Improve productivity as robots get more done in less time 
  • Minimize error 
  • Lead to a more efficient organizational overall

Now if that didn’t convince you, here are a few more benefits of deploying Robotic Process Automation: 

Optimize Resource Use 

When workers are tasked with repetitive and mundane tasks the risk of error is incredibly high and therefore your ability to achieve high efficiency is diminished. RPA can be used in these cases to replace human workers and instead assign them tasks that are worthy of their time and effort, and bring greater value to the company. By leveraging bots to help employees move up to focus on more complete tasks, companies are able to complete activities faster, with fewer errors, and with significantly less resistance from employees. 

Ensure Compliance Across Processes 

The processes involved in managing and maintaining compliance are typically stable, rules-based, require structured inputs, manual, and are repetitive in nature - perfect for RPA. Leveraging RPA to manage compliance can lead to a more efficient and effective process, refocus employees on higher-value activities like testing and quality assurance, and improve the overall auditability of your organization. Because bots save their actions in an activity log, companies are prepared with an accurate trail depicting which processes were executed and how, when exceptions were generated, and the ways in which employees intervened to deal with the issues. 

Read This: 3 Benefits of Automating Compliance Activities

Improved Customer Experiences 

Robotic Process Automation virtually eliminates costly mistakes which lead to false analytics, poor decision making, and unhappy customers. Robotic Process Automation helps businesses become more precise in their operations and makes processes error-free, which results in improved and more consistent customer experiences throughout the organization. In addition, because processes are automated, employees are able to serve customers faster and with significantly less friction than before. 

Enhanced Accuracy 

Since employees are human there is natural room for error, especially when the work being done is highly repetitive and manual. As we already know, one of the main benefits of Robotic Process Automation is how it significantly reduces process errors. As a result of fewer errors, the company can expect to save costs related to rework and maintenance, making it easier to realize the full ROI of Robotic Process Automation.  

Improved Decision Making 

Robotic Process Automation technologies allow organizations to gather data about task execution that can be used for analytical purposes which ultimately helps team leaders make informed decisions. Work volume patterns, cycle times, errors, and expectations are just a few of the analytics your RPA tool can provide for you. The data gathered from these tools can help make decisions at both the micro and the macro level - meaning you can really drill down into the activities of your bots but also determine how it’s activities are impacting the organization as a whole and what the value of those activities are. In addition, this gives the company the necessary visibility into processes to determine where there are gaps and how to properly optimize them to enhance the effectiveness and accuracy of bots.