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Is robotic process automation right for your business?
As a general rule of thumb, if you can explain it to a robot, you can automate it with RPA.
Robotic process automation deploys “software robots” over existing IT infrastructure to automate well-defined business tasks. It allows you to create custom intelligent process automation solutions that do the following:
In this ultimate guide, we will look at everything you need to know about robotic process automation.
Let’s get started!
Robotic process automation is the use of specialized computer programs, known as software robots (bots), to automate and standardize repeatable business processes.
RPA takes the robot out of the human-this is the real beauty of robotic process automation. Imagine a robot sitting in front of a computer looking at the same applications and performing the same keystrokes as a person would. While robotic process automation involves no form of physical “robots,” software bots mimic human activities by interacting with applications in the same way that a person does. The goal is to remove the monotonous, manual task from the white-collar worker’s day-to-day routine.
Your average worker has a lot of repetitive, routine tasks that are tedious and unengaging. RPA is simply software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a process. It can do repetitive tasks more accurately, quickly, and (relatively) effortlessly compared to humans. This frees workers up to do other tasks requiring human strengths, such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and interaction with the customer.
Working as if they were your company’s virtual assistants, bots complete tedious tasks, freeing up time for employees to concentrate on more interesting, revenue-generating tasks for an organization.
There are four streams of RPA. The first is a highly customized software that will work only with certain types of process in, say, accounting and finance.
The more general streams can be described in terms of a three-lane motorway.
The slow lane is what we call screen scraping or web scraping. Previously, a user might be collecting data, synthesizing it, and putting it into some sort of document on a desktop. With RPA you automate this manual process as much as possible.
The power of the second lane is similar to an organization-development kit where a process template is provided to programmers to specifically design the robot customized for the specific organization.
The fast lane is out-of-the-box enterprise/enterprise-safe software that is scalable and reusable.
You can multi-scale each piece of software. It’s lightweight in the sense you don’t need a lot of IT involvement to get it up and running.
Business-operations people can learn quickly how to configure and apply the bots. It’s also lightweight by only applying to the presentation layer of information systems. RPAdoesn’t have to address the business logic of the underlying system or the data-access layer.
You might ask yourself, “Do these ‘bots’ all work the same in RPA?” The answer to that is “no.” It will depend on what your needs are-what processes in your company you need to automate.
In this section, we will look at 3 different bots associated with RPA.
1. Process Robots
With RPA you can now automate repetitive, data-driven activities across websites, portals, and internal applications with “process robots.”
Automate manual, repetitive, information -driven processes where data and electronic documents need to be accessed and acted on as part of critical business processes.
Businesses can be quickly and easily deployed and provide customized integration flows regardless of whether existing APIs are available or the data is locked in applications.
Both businesses and enterprises alike can build intelligence into processes so more automated decision-making can occur-even with real-time, high-volume, and unstructured data.
Information critical to the business is now acquired, enhanced, and delivered across the enterprise ecosystem to be used in innovative ways to achieve competitive advantage including:
2. Web Robots
With web robots, you can now automate the acquisition and integration of data from websites and portals into business applications.
With certain RPAs, critical market intelligence information can be acquired, integrated, and delivered into the hands of decision- makers rapidly and cost effectively. Web robots also help remove common barriers related to data access, time-to-value, and cost.
Web robot applications include:
3. Content Robots
And finally, you can now automate the migration of content and data from legacy enterprise content management systems with content robots.
With an adaptable and versatile platform, enterprise organizations can quickly merge enterprise content from legacy web content and enterprise content management systems into other modern ECM platforms (such as DocLib, for example).
Content migration tasks are automated to minimize cost, time and labor, and it can apply metadata across both new and legacy content to ensure a seamless and optimal search experience.
Robotic process automation is a software that can realistically be leveraged in just about any organization and in virtually any industry. RPA is most adequately suited for automating business processes which involve a particularly high volume of manual, repetitive tasks. This makes it ideal in the areas of rules-based and/or screen-based jobs-something businesses in most of today’s industries are familiar with to a certain degree.
As of today, however, there are 4 industries in particular that are already succeeding greatly by incorporating RPA into their business’s workflow and keeping them relevant in today’s world.
Below, we’ll examine each of these industries, see how they’re using robotic process automation to their advantage. But first, let’s briefly look at which manual, monotonous process are relevant to RPA.
RPA is a versatile, scalable technology that can apply to many different departments and industry processes.
RPA technology particularly applies to processes that are:
In many cases, RPA can bring immediate value to core business processes including:
Below, we’ll examine each of these industries to see how they’re using robotic process automation to their advantage.
The manufacturing industry is one of the early adopters of automation processes as a whole.
Since several decades, manufacturing industry has used machines and even robotics to assemble, test, and package their products. However, now forward-thinking manufacturing companies have expanded and fully implemented RPA in their back-office processes to stay ahead of competition.
When we speak about manufacturing industry, we do not talk just about the floor or the plant alone; we also speak about other processes such as inventory management, waste management, regulatory management, and much more.
RPA has been helping companies within this industry to make these processes simpler and faster to complete. The core areas where RPA is used are:
One commonality all financial service providers share is constantly dealing with a ton of data and transactions. Take, for example, the banking industry.
Financial service organizations must cope with ever-increasing numbers of transactions and data volumes structured around legacy systems that tend to be hard to integrate. In addition, they must build streamlined processes that comply with security and regulatory standards while simultaneously ensuring cost savings, risk control, and an impeccable customer experience.
From simple processes like deposits and transfers, to complex workflows such as mortgages, debt collection, and new business application processing, robotic process automation has effectively transformed this transaction-laden industry into one that is fast, effective, and reliable.
RPA has helped to improve customer service levels on top of making the lives of those who work behind the scenes much easier and more efficient.
When you think about all the work that goes on behind the scenes in the insurance industry, it’s no surprise how well robotic process automation fits within this field. Whether it’s managing policies, processing claims, or a countless number of administrative tasks, RPA enables insurance providers to manage all the necessary tasks across multiple platforms with simplicity.
Implementing robotic process automation also provides the scalability necessary to deal changes, challenges, and growth.
The insurance sector is notoriously pressured by regulatory changes and macroeconomic developments. This is why scalability options and the ability to integrate new business models
Let’s move along and look at 8 individual benefits that come with RPA integration. By the end of this section, you will have a full understanding of the vast advantages gained when incorporating robotic process automation into your business.
1. Cost Savings
For the first benefit, we will focus one of the biggest advantages-and probably most significant to all businesses-robotic process automation contributes to an immediate and significant reduction in company expenditures. When work is automated, not only is it completed faster, but it also can be performed round-the-clock at a much lower rate.
This leads to a greater output for less, which results in a better bottom line for your business.
2. Employee Experience
Once you incorporate robotic process automation into your business, employees will naturally have more time and energy to invest their skill set in a more engaging and interesting work.
Bots enable workers to offload manual offload tasks like data entry, meticulously looking up information from websites, and the monotonous process of filling out forms. Workers can focus on higher-end tasks, such as strategy and revenue-producing activities.
Beyond this, robotic process automation empowers your employees in that it does not require any special technical skills.
The ability to deploy robots to perform certain tasks without having to enlist the help of someone from IT empowers the end user to get their tasks done more efficiently and effectively. It also frees up IT to focus on more important tasks and projects.
3. Low Technical Barrier
As we saw in the previous RPA benefit, empowering employees with user-friendly automation software means they can perform a myriad of tasks without IT support for the most common of daily responsibilities. These low technical barriers are an enormous benefit-and relief-for your non-technical staff.
Automating tasks and workflows through RPA does not typically require custom coding or scriptwriting. As a primarily code-free technology, any non-technical staff can use a drag-and-drop process designer to set up a bot-or even record their own steps to automate a process through a process recorder feature.
That means even complex processes can be transferred from human to machine with little effort. The faster these tasks and workflows can be automated, the sooner your organization will begin reaping the benefits.
4. Increased Productivity
Process cycle times are more efficient and can be completed at a faster speed compared with manual process approaches.
How long does it take a human worker to perform a task such as completing a web form? Even if it’s mere minutes, a robot could shave that time down to just a few seconds. Over time and multiplied by dozens of tasks and several staff members, this savings adds up in both cost of employee and their ability to focus on more profit-driven tasks.
5. Existing Systems Remain in Place
Unlike traditional automation initiatives that may require extensive developer resources to integrate across multiple applications, RPA involves no disruption to underlying systems.Robots work across the presentation layer of existing applications just as a person does.
This is especially useful for legacy systems, where APIs may not be immediately available, or in situations where organizations do not have the resources to develop a deep level of integration with existing applications.
6. No Fatigue
Operations can be performed 24/7, as these bots can work tirelessly and autonomously without requiring staff to manually trigger bots to initiate business processes. If a human does need to intervene, it is to make a crucial strategic decision.
7. Insights and Analytics
Learning from the past can help your business leaders make better decisions for the future. RPA offers the ability to gather, organize, track, analyze, report on, and store valuable data. That information can then be utilized to improve on current operations, address and correct issues in a timelier manner, accurately forecast, and develop best practices.
8. Quality, Accurate Work
Let’s face it. Even the most careful human can and will make a mistake.
Another benefit of robotic process automation is that its bots are extremely accurate and consistent-they are much less prone to making mistakes or typos than a human worker.
Multiply those errors by the number of people you have performing routine tasks for your company, and you could be looking at a pretty costly problem.
With RPA, the work is performed error-free.
Better quality means higher satisfaction rates, which, again, is good for your company’s profitability.
In the next section, we will take a glance at the few drawbacks of robotic process automation. By doing so, you will be able to better decide whether RPA is ideal for your business and industry at this point in time.
1.Startup Investment Costs
The next challenge of robotic process automation is centered on initial investment expenditures. There is a lot to analyze when considering the implementation of a new technology in your business. In many cases, the returns can be significant and typically occur within a short span
Your company’s cash flow must be sustainable and the stability of your company is not worth the risk if the returns are only marginal. However, in most instances there will be a repayment schedule available.
This makes it much easier to afford and control finances.
Increased amount and reduction in defects both need to be considered along with the capital expenditure when deciding whether there is a business case for investment.
2.Potential Job Loss
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the introduction of robotic automation is the impact of jobs for workers.
If a robot can perform at a faster, more consistent rate, then the fear is that humans may not be needed at all. While these worries are understandable, they are not really accurate.
The same was said during the early years of the industrial revolution, and as history has shown us, humans continued to play an essential role.
The true purpose of RPA bots is not to replace employees, but rather support humans in the workplace.
Other potential challenges of RPA include:
1. Select the Processes to be Automated Wisely
In order to tap into the vast potential of robotics, it is essential to begin an RPA implementation with those business processes that are best suited for automation. Selection should be made based on criteria such as:
2. Understand Human Resources Required to Build your Automation Projects
People are at the heart of any successful, sustainable robotic process automation program. There is no “one size fits all” approach to building an RPA team, so taking the time to test your options is key. Will you look to build your team from internal talent, who may have an existing knowledge of business processes and ideal automation opportunities?
Do you prefer to hit the ground running by working with a specialized RPA consultancy, who can build, implement, and manage the automation projects for you? Or perhaps a blend of both, where your internal Center of Excellence is guided and trained by an RPA consultancy, before taking full control themselves?
Answering these questions at the beginning of your automation journey will help drive a more successful outcome.
3.Have an “RPA Sponsor”
And not just any “sponsor,” but one with a holistic, centralized vision of the road toward RPA implementation.
It is crucial that automated processes remain compatible with all the other procedures of your business.
Merging of RPA into the overall functionality is therefore a must.
This is why having someone who can have a “bird’s-eye view” over all the relevant aspects facilitates efficient implementation on a larger scale.
We recommend that such a person be an executive sponsor, or someone who can also handle the financial aspects of implementation. Relatedly, an RPA center of excellence (COE) might ensure the right level of centralization, which is likely to provide not just short-term process automation but also a coherent longer-term plan.
4.Divide and Conquer
Suppose after a thorough analysis, you face the reality that the process whose automation is likely to be most useful is also a very complex one.
Should you go for the second-best option?
Not at all.
It may be better to invest time into breaking this complex process into several sub-processes, and then implement automation only for those that do not require human-level decision-making.
For instance, the parts that gather the information needed to decide could be automated, and leave the decision-making itself to human employees.
5. Have a Test and Fallback Plan
Having a test plan and a fallback plan is critical before deploying an automated process to production.
As with any automation technology, rigorous testing of an automation build is critical. It is recommended to be prepared with multiple environments where the build can be developed and tested, before finally being approved and deployed.
We highlight some important points to consider to minimize any frustrations when transitioning to live production:
6. Train and Educate Your Employees
You want to educate your employees and train them as well. Education is key to destroying ignorance in any facet of life, and RPA is no exception. The mythology of “robots will steal our jobs” is one you must combat as the leader of your company.
Never miss an opportunity to explain to your employees what your automation projects are being used for, identify where the automations will assist them in their day-to-day responsibilities, and how this forges a pathway toward higher value, business-building projects that will tap into the true skills and expertise of your workforce.
Be clear regarding what robotic process automation can do (and what it cannot), so that expectations are maintained at a realistic level. In doing this, you build and foster a sustainable, long-term development of RPA within the business.
We believe—after showing how accessible software robots are—that it’s only a matter of time before robots will be embraced by all. This belief is validated with the knowledge about the many benefits of RPA technology (which we covered earlier) combined with minimal drawbacks.
In the next section, we look at a series of questions you must ask before implementing RPA into your business.
By now, you have a general understanding of robotic process automation and its ability to use software robots to either fully or partially take over completing processes within your business.
The key to automation is to assist an organization to improve and/or remain competitive across our fast and changing business environment. For these reasons and the many benefits of RPA—as we’ve seen—it’s slowly but surely becoming a “must” for businesses of all sizes.
At this point, you might rightly wonder about the criteria you should have in mind when picking the processes most suitable for robotic process automation.
What should you consider when choosing?
Let’s look at several questions you should ask yourself in order to make the most out of implementing robotic process automation.
Are your processes ready for robotic process automation?
First, it is recommended that you start from a very concrete problem and have a clear objective to be attained.
Let us say that you are an open-minded business manager, welcoming innovation as long as it brings you profit and promises sustained long-term development.
To this end, after having been brought up to date with respect to the latest available technologies, you make a sound business case that automation is the way to go.
But, where exactly should you start from?
Are there measurable savings?
We recommend you commence automation with processes that can be evaluated against a known cost and/or time basis.
The cost savings or benefit gained can typically be expressed in terms of greater accuracy, faster response times, reduced labor costs, and higher productivity from re-allocating staff
Mature and stable?
The more stable the process, the more smooth and effective (and thus cost-efficient) its automated version. The reason behind this is that RPA should always change whenever some steps in the process change.
But more adjustments also mean more hassle, and therefore reduced efficiency. And since efficiency is one top benefit of RPA, this is something you certainly do not want.
Moreover, since their operational costs are consistent and well-defined, stable processes are also predictable. Examples of this are AP Automation and Sales Order Automation.
Structured or unstructured — What type of data does the process work with?
Robotic process automation calls for structured data, like that made available in an ERP application, Excel file, etc. Unstructured data, like the free-form content within the body of an email, often requires pre-processing to transform it into a structured format for robots to successfully automate.
Leave these types of processes until later in your automation cycle once you’ve learned how to get the most out of your RPA solution.
These types of task generally end poorly if attempted early in an implementation.
Also, always consider the cost/benefit when working with unstructured data.
Are the process(es) high volume and/or high frequency?
High transaction-volume processes (including batch processes), such as those that run end of day and end of month, or high-frequency processes, such as those that run intra-daily, daily, and weekly offer excellent payback. We recommend starting some of these types of processes once you have built some good experience with your RPA development tool (i.e. midway through your pilot program, not at
What process automations should you avoid?
Seek to avoid automating processes that are either marked for re-work, continually change over the short- to medium-term, or those that will be eliminated in the near-term.
According to Forrester’s orecast for RPA development during 2018, “Automation will go from being a political hot topic to having a genuine and measurable impact on our day-to-day lives.”
They go on to claim that “companies that master automation will dominate their industries.”
Globally, software robots will grow substantially in 2018 and disrupt the operational norms of many companies as robotic process automation is embedded in the front- and back-office teams of small, medium and large organizations.
Let that sink in for a minute. It means that employees will be increasingly engaged to conduct higher value work to improve customer experience, or come up with innovative ideas that support economic development at both the micro and macro scale of the organization.
Most of all, standardized, repetitive, and high-volume/frequency processes will be the realm of software robots, not people.
In the longer term, RPA will leave humans with more interesting work that leverages their abilities while interacting with state of the art computing technologies.
Over the past 100 years we’ve been creating uninteresting jobs requiring less and less skill.
The truth is, it’s not entire employees’ jobs that will be lost, but rather individual parts of jobs. With advancing technology, it is possible to reassemble work into new, different types of positions.
The relationship between technology and people has to change in the future for the better, and RPA is one of the great tools that has the power and potential to enable that change.
This powerful technology advancement is driving enhancements on multiple levels in enterprises all around the world. To learn more about how robotic process automation can support your business, be sure to schedule a complimentary evaluation with one of our experts today.