More and more enterprises are now turning to a brand-new technology solution called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). According to the 2019 Global Robotics Survey by Deloitte, intelligent automation will reduce costs by 22% and increase revenue by 11% within the next three years. 

By implementing RPA solutions, businesses can automate mundane, rule-based processes and enable their employees to spend more time on high-value work such as serving customers or contributing to mission-critical initiatives. Some companies consider RPA as one of the key steps in their digital transformation journey that spans from intelligent automation to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be trained to make decisions about future outputs.

Brands such as Deutsche Bank, Walmart, Ernst & Young, Walgreens, and American Express are now experimenting with and adopting RPA. For example, Walmart CIO Clay Johnson revealed that the retail giant deployed 500 bots to automate tasks such as answering employee questions or retrieving useful information from audit documents.

How can your business benefit from RPA? What kind of RPA tools should you be looking to develop? 

Read this article to find out what Robotic Process Automation is, what its key benefits and challenges are, and what to look for in RPA software.

what is robotic process automation

What is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA is a technology that aims to automate business processes with the help of different types of software. When implementing RPA tools, you can configure that software to process transactions, manipulate data, trigger responses, and communicate with other systems. 

RPA use cases span over a broad range of scenarios. For example, businesses can use RPA solutions to automate email responses, but also employ thousands of bots that automate jobs within an ERP system. The financial services sector was the early adopter of RPA solutions. Such companies use RPA to streamline business processes without increasing the number of staff employed and their associated costs.

Note that Robotic Process Automation isn’t a replacement for the underlying business applications. Instead, RPA simply deals with manual tasks carried out by human workers. Such solutions free employees from monotonous and low-value tasks like data entry. That way, your staff will be available for completing more important tasks that require ingenuity, creativity, and high-level decision making. Moreover, RPA helps to ensure that outputs are correct, complete, and consistent between tasks. Since RPA tools retrieve any data in the background, the task completion is also faster. 

Three types of RPA

RPA automation tools come in three modes: assisted automation, unassisted automation, and hybrid RPA that combines the two modes.

Each of these modes comes with specific benefits and limitations. That’s why it’s important that you determine which one meets your needs best before deploying your RPA will solution. 

Here is a short overview to help you understand how they can benefit your company:

3 types of robotic process automation
  • Assisted automation – this type of RPA automates applications that run on the user’s desktop to help users complete them faster. Such implementations generate significant cost savings and help deliver a better experience. However, inconsistencies in the desktop settings like changing graphics or display settings can cause RPA solutions to fail. Moreover, sometimes the user’s desktop may become locked when automated steps are being executed.
  • Unassisted automation – this type of automation requires no work from human agents. The RPA software carries out tasks on its and notifies the user only when something goes wrong. Unassisted automation works 24/7. It’s a perfect tool for optimizing processes. However, such RPA requires structured data and clearly defined rules model.
  • Hybrid RPA – in this model, employees and bots work side by side. They pass tasks back and forth to each other. Hybrid RPA tools automate the work that involved structured data. For optimal efficiency, it’s important that bots and employees can work on different tasks at the same time. In the end, hybrid RPA helps companies to achieve automation on a more diverse range of scenarios and processes.

How does RPA differ from automation?

At this point, you might be asking yourself how RPA differs from automation. The truth is that automation is a term that includes a broad set of technologies. Automation is, for example, continuous delivery and integration tools, hybrid cloud management, or even machine vision tools you find in autonomous vehicles. 

Process automation tools are a subset of Business Process Automation (BPA). This is an umbrella term to denote technology that executes workflows and activities that are part of the business tasks with minimal human input. 

The most important thing that differentiates between RPA and traditional workflow automation tools is the skill set required to complete the automation task. In the latter, we need an experienced software developer to write the code and create a set of actions that automate the task. This developer then connects the software to an underlying infrastructure through APIs written in different languages. 

RPA systems develop the action list by recording the actions of a user while they perform a task in an application’s Graphical User Interface (GUI). Once these actions are recorded, the system is able to repeat them directly in the GUI without any human effort required. 

RPA is also different from business process management (BPM). The latter uses various methods to discover, analyze, model, and optimize business processes. In fact, it might not even include automation. Such systems are designed to orchestrate complicated business processes from beginning to end, which is fundamentally different from what RPA bots do. 

What about Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)? RPA differs from it as well. In fact, IPA combines RPA with traditional BPM tools and emerging technologies like machine learning to automate more tasks in larger portions of enterprise jobs. It enables RPA bots to pass along intelligence from AI modules and quickly respond to any process changes. 

Benefits of RPA for your business

  • Reduced error rates – RPA bots to complete processes in the same way every single time. They reduce error rates and inconsistency across tasks.
  • Compliance – such solutions track both performance and store all the data for auditing compliance with governance and regulatory requirements. They also reduce human interaction with sensitive data and lower the potential for fraud.
  • Increase in employee productivity – by automating repetitive and mind-numbing tasks, RPA solutions make employees more productive and free them for higher-value work. As a result, teams enjoy higher morale and greater engagement.
  • Easy to implement – RPA bots usually don’t require systems integration. That’s how they enable companies to grow without adding significant expenses or creating friction among workers.
  • Open door to digital transformation – by using RPA solutions, companies can automate processes without making any changes to legacy systems or investing in costly backend integrations with existing systems. That way, the company can move forward on its digital transformation track without taking significant risks or investing in costly software.
benefits of robotic process automation

Challenges of RPA

Naturally, every new technology comes with its limitations and challenges. Ernst & Young reported that as many as 30 to 50% of initial RPA projects fail. 

Installing a great number of bots often turns out to be more complex and costly than organizations hoped it would be. Since the platforms on which to both interact change frequently, that kind of flexibility may not always be configured into the bots. Even minor changes to an application could delete months of work in the back office on a bot that is close to completion.

How to implement RPA

Here are a few things you need to know before implementing RPA solutions at your organization:

RPA doesn’t work for every business process. If you’d like to automate a mission-critical, complex, and long-running business process, RPA may not be enough. How to tell whether the process you want to automate is suitable for RPA? Here are a few characteristics you should look for: 

  • it’s high-volume and repetitive, 
  • relies on structured data, 
  • has clear business rules and low exception rate, 
  • it’s time-sensitive or seasonal, 
  • it’s prone to error when completed by humans. 

Before implementing an RPA, make sure that the business processes and the applications they use are stable. To determine which processes are suitable for RPA, you can take advantage of the Rule of Five created by Forrester Research:

  • Five decisions – RPA is great for simple applications that operate in high-volume. Applications that involve more than five decisions require a BPM rules engine. 
  • Five apps – since the RPA doesn’t rely on APIs, bots will be sensitive to changes in applications. By limiting the number of applications to five, you can stay on top of these changes.

Pay attention to design and change management. Many RPA implementations fail when these two aspects are poorly managed. You may be in a rush to get your RPA solution deployed, but you shouldn’t forget about the operating model design. You need to map out how various bots will work together. Also, successful projects require negotiation regarding the changes such new operations will have on your company’s business processes. Planning in advance is essential to avoiding business disruption (the bad kind).

Deal with roadblocks. Here’s an example scenario: if you change your company’s password policy and fail to program the bot accordingly, you may easily suffer data loss. CIOs need to check for potential points where their RPA solution may suffer. At least, you should install a monitoring alert system that checks for hiccups that may impact performance. 

What to look for in RPA software

Here’s what you should take into account when vetting RPA software or looking to build a custom one:

  1. Make sure that the RPA platform and its management can scale massively. 
  2. It should be possible to design and test new robotic processes in a few hours or even less. Optimizing the bots to work quickly should be fast as well. 
  3. Look for solutions that offer built-in monitoring and analytics. That way, you can monitor the bots and react as soon as an issue arises. 
  4. Look for products that are simple to help every employee in your business is build and use bots to handle different types of work. 
  5. If this is one of your business demands, look for solutions that are built from the ground up with enterprise-grade reliability, scalability, and manageability. 

As you can see, you can achieve the best results with a custom-made RPA solution.

Conclusion

Robotic Process Automation is a strong trend in the tech landscape. Many companies are now experimenting in combining RPA with artificial intelligence solutions to create bots that can manage even more challenging tasks. All in all, RPA tools are on their way to becoming the new standard in business process automation. 

Are you looking for a team of experts to help you create a custom RPA solution? Get in touch with us. We have ample experience in delivering such tools to companies operating in different sectors.

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karol.przystalski

Karol Przystalski is CTO and founder of Codete. He obtained a Ph.D in Computer Science from the Institute of Fundamental Technological Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, and was a research assistant at Jagiellonian University in Cracow. His role at Codete is focused on leading and mentoring teams.