Understanding Robotic Process Automation

Understanding Robotic Process Automation

A simple google search for Robotic Process Automation returns over 53 million results, its particularly hot topic since the start of the pandemic as organisations seek ways to automate its processes as most staff are now working from home. Despite its prominence it is still seen as a bit of mystery technology that is either the answer to all business solutions or a quick band-aid solution.  We take a deep dive into understanding Robotic Process Automation and what value it provides to businesses.

The Evolution of RPA

Robotic Process Automation or RPA in its simplest form is where a computer program follows some pre-defined logic and rules to automate various business tasks. Some of the core technology concepts of RPA has actually been around for a long time with screen scrapers being used heavily in early computer viruses. 

However, since the advent of a range of modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, natural language processing, image recognition, voice recognition, process mining and integration of different technologies through APIs RPA can be far more powerful. The complete suite of capabilities that RPA can now employ has made the possibility of a digital worker (an automated team member trained to carry out a business process just like any employee, only faster and without mistakes) a reality.

The Digital Worker

Digital workers built on RPA are able to capture and interpret applications, data or other inputs for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. They login to systems in the same way that humans do and therefore require very little integration or migration work making them a useful solution for legacy technologies. Digital Workers are also an ideal solution for many labour-intensive knowledge work. They handle repetitive, and rule-based, large volume tasks particularly well.

Digital Workers help automate each stage of a business process leveraging RPA, each digital worker can manage one or more processes or tasks. Additionally, it can be trained to prioritise selected tasks, handle exceptions and learn by doing. Digital workers can be delivered from the cloud or even on location for selected technologies.

A good way to demonstrate the opportunity that RPA creates is to look at a human worker and a digital worker undertaking the same task, our partners at Digital Workforce compared the two in the video below:

Clearly the Digital Worker was far faster than the human worker.

When to use RPA?

RPA is a perfect match for tasks like applications handling, feeding information to multiple systems, and anything that involves a lot of data intensive work repeatedly entered by specialists. In transformative situations, like integrations, mergers, or outsourcing, a large part of the work can be replaced quickly and economically using RPA. Here are a few examples of processes just in customer service that are ripe for automation:

Customer Service Processes

  • Integrate Customer Data With Legacy Platforms – digital workers can assist efficiently in the process of copying data from customer emails or web-forms. The team email inbox response can be automated to select the CRM or ERP systems and classify customer inquiries.
  • Automate Incoming Emails –  Large customer service units have front line staff handle incoming mail ensuring requests end up with the right team. Digital workers release team resources for more value added tasks.
  • Retrieve Customer Orders – Suppliers may have to use business system portals that require staff to enter data online. Retrieving data from a portal or entering data to an ERP system can frequently be a time consuming and error prone activity, digital workers can automate the cutting and pasting required for procurement forms and simplify the process.
  • Automate Mass Activations – Mass campaigns to activate customers can flood the customer service team unless the onboarding process is fully automated. Digital Workers can handle routine requests for new service activation, bridging a gap until the onboarding process is fully automated or balancing the workload during transformation of the new processes involved.
  • Plan Workforce – Many companies already use digital workers for creating a baseline plan for their workforce. Balancing resources and demands is mainly based on simple rules, forecasting, and agent qualifications. Automation can create a plan for the Team Lead to finetune and finalise.
  • Manage Peak Loads – Resourcing front line client service teams can be challenging due to fluctuating seasonal and peak demand times. Digital workers can tackle peak loads with greater flexibility according to your resourcing plans and availability of part time staff.

What’s involved in implementing RPA?

RPA can be implemented to postpone IT investments. In the case of integrating legacy IT systems, RPA can replace the need for time consuming and labour intensive work arounds that are required when multiple systems have been poorly integrated over years.

RPA is a more inexpensive and quicker solution to the same problem. RPA’s competitive advantage comes from its light structure. You can implement RPA technology without changing existing systems. The high cost and operational impact related to reinventing badly integrated IT can be avoided.

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