RPA: Robotic Process Automation

Automating end-to-end business processes is now feasible; due diligence is still key.

What is RPA and why do we need it?

Simply put, RPA is a technology application whose goal is to automate manual, time-consuming or repetitive business processes and tasks. Like all automation, RPA doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans – rather, it streamlines their work, so they can focus on more important tasks where human oversight is invaluable. RPA encompasses anything from simple tasks, such as automatic resource scheduling to much complex processes, including data mining using bots.

How does RPA work?

RPA relies on sophisticated software, often referred to as a ‘robot’ to perform routine processes and make decisions based on rules governing inputs and outputs. Robotic automation can be applied to end-to-end processes with very little need for human involvement or supervision. Typically, the latter would only be necessary when there are exceptions or incidents that require special analysis or higher-end decision-making that’s best left to non-robots.

In some scenarios multiple RPA units work together as a team to completely automate the functions of a given business unit or team. When deciding whether to outsource human work to robots, it’s advisable to start with an evaluation of the processes in question. Suitable candidates for RPA include rule-based, time-critical, repetitive tasks that involve big data processing, complex calculations, or analysis.

Software applications that fall into the category of RPA typically deploy bots, allow for workflows to be built for the bots to execute, and require little to no human intervention. To implement RPA, there are two possible scenarios: purchasing software from a third-party vendor or developing your own. Depending on the scale of the implementation, the latter may prove to be the best business decision in the long run, though it is often costlier and more time-consuming.

Advantages of RPA

Beyond the obvious benefits of implementing RPA, including increased efficiency and reduced operational costs, process automation can significantly diminish human error, improve accuracy and timeliness, and positively impact the bottom line by freeing up resources for value-adding vs. transactional tasks.

RPA has been successfully applied to data processing and analysis, data and content scraping, email and file management, connecting to APIs, reading and writing to databases, and copying/pasting data, to name a few.

Real-world RPA applications

Robotic Process Automation tech can benefit numerous different sectors, processes, and professions. Some of the common ways to utilize RPA include recruitment, IT and help desk support, financial services, and marketing automation. Automated assistants, capable of managing a plethora of daily support tasks, are also an example of personal RPA that’s gaining popularity.

Some organizations like Deloitte and Amazon have deployed RPA applications at scale, filling in for the typical tasks of hundreds of human employees, both within client organizations and in automating internal support. At scale, the benefits realized by early adopters are even more sizeable and noticeable; they’re said to contribute to employee retention as satisfaction goes up in the long run.

Implementing Robotic Process Automation

RPA certainly isn’t suited to every type of business or enterprise, and RPA software isn’t flawless yet. Implementing thousands of bots is risky, costly and complex – adopters need to consider it a long-term strategy that won’t produce immediate results. Integrating RPA into operations is also subject to high maintenance costs, which often accompany the adoption of new tech that’s constantly evolving. It’s important to conduct a careful cost and benefit analysis to ensure the expected cost savings will outweigh the risks.

When implementing department- or organization-wide RPA programs, getting everyone on board is key.  Stressing that RPA can improve employee morale by enabling them to focus on high-value work is an important step towards educating team members and ensuring their support.

Copywriter Ina Danova

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