Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is just one of the technologies that many experts believe is influencing the 4th industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, where physical and digital technologies are combining to create organisations that are interconnected and interoperable. But what is RPA and why should you be embracing it? This article will answer these questions.
- Your human and digital workforce can coexist, working to their own strengths.
- Think big, start small with manageable process automation projects you can build and expand.
- Choose a RPA vendor who has the ability to scale with you as your business needs change and technology evolves.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software, or a set of tools, that can be programmed to use structured data and logical rules to complete routine tasks. It is best suited for processes that are repetitive, time-critical, prone to error, data-driven, and rules based (predictable).
Consider your organisation or department what are the repetitive, labour-intensive, clerical tasks that your teams are carrying out? What data do they download, update and put in to different systems? What information needs to be merged, consolidated and output on either customer, supplier or employee documents? What do you need to track and monitor? And the big questions is, how much time are your staff spending carrying out these tasks?
Most of these tasks are core to how the business operates but are not often core responsibilities of employees, rather a business need. RPA can automate these tasks easily and is less disruptive than other technologies because its outcomes are often valued by human employees.
What Robotic Process Automation isn't
You'll hear many experts using different terminology to describe automation technology and it can be confusing to understand the differences, and which ones are relevant to you. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the technologies that gets mentioned a lot when providing examples of tools used to automate processes. It can learn, it can develop and AI can interpret and analyse data, recognise patterns, make predictions, suggestions and recommendations. Therefore it is important to recognise the difference between AI and RPA. With RPA you have to set rules and basically tell it what to do, whereas AI is 'self-learning' so it will 'think' and 'learn' for itself and then act on what it thinks is the correct solution.
Artificial Intelligence definitely has it's place and is the focus of many exciting headlines and articles as it displays the cleverness of automation technologies. For example, Google recently previewed Google Duplex, their impressive technology that conducts natural conversations by carrying out real world tasks over the phone. If you haven't heard of this before, then take a few minutes to watch the video below as it's worth a watch.
Video source: Tech Insider
However, AI can be very disruptive, is typically more expensive and can take longer to implement than RPA because it requires you to understand a process in great detail and be able to build complex scenarios for the intelligent automation to work from.
If you're just starting out on your process automation journey be aware of Artificial Intelligence, but it's worth considering smaller projects that you can easily implement at the beginning of your journey.
Six business benefits of Robotic Process Automation
Organisations need to see an increase in speed and accuracy, whilst also reducing costs. It would seem logical to look at reducing the millions of hours employees waste on mundane, repetitive, labour-intensive tasks that could be automated with the right tools.
There are numerous benefits to using Robotic Process Automation tools, but here are the top six most rewardings benefits you'll want to know:
- Cost reduction - due to the far reaching business uses of RPA, consistent reporting on costs savings is yet to be seen. But some organisations have reported up to 75% savings, and many say the percentage saved was higher than expected.
- Flexibility & scalability - when you have fluctuating volumes and peak periods you may have to provide extra resource to cope with the demand. Robotic Process Automation technology can be scaled up or down as you need it, so you shouldn't have to think about the extra resource needed as RPA adapts to your business needs.
- Improved consistency and accuracy - we're all familiar with the phrase "we're only human" when a mistake occurs. Even the most conscientious and driven employees can make mistakes and are even more likely to do so when completing repetitive and mundane tasks. However, small mistakes can cost the businesses dearly.
- Staff time focused - many early commentators were concerned with the impact of RPA technology on human jobs. However this isn't the case. Robotic Process Automation should work alongside your human employees. Their core activities are still there but now they can focus on these and do the jobs only humans can do: creativity, making connections, strategy.
- Improved efficiency - tasks that previously took hours by humans can now take seconds or minutes to complete by a robot, which may give you the competitive edge that is needed in your fast-paced industry.
- Boost in productivity - robots do not eat, sleep, take holidays or phone in sick. Customers expect a real-time response and 24 hour service, which you can now deliver effectively with the help of automation tools.
Is Robotic Process Automation for you?
If you have ever thought "why isn't this automated?" then Robotic Process Automation is for you - so why not embrace it?
You may be feeling the pressure to change and automate all your business processes and there are many vendors in the RPA space that are offering all singing, all dancing intelligent automation solutions, but realistically these will take years to implement successfully.
Robotic Process Automation doesn't mean you have to completely change the way you operate. Think big but start small. What will RPA mean for your business? What processes would benefit from being automated? Where will it add value? What are your pain points? Pilot small automation projects first and then build on them and implement on a wider-scale. Choose a vendor that is agile and flexible and that can evolve with you.
Automation in action
Many RPA vendors focus on automating the information that comes in to your business, for example taking a document, scanning it, analysing the content and inputting the information into one of your operating systems. There is no denying there are many benefits associated with that automation process. However the scope, content and layouts can be very broad and you can't control the business systems that are producing them. So the RPA tool you choose to implement will have to be able to cope with all those different formats.
If you compare that with outbound communications (the information you send out of the business to customers, suppliers or employees), they probably come from a centralised system. You have great knowledge of the people and processes that are involved in that activity, as a result your automation project is much smaller.
Starting with RPA for outbound communications will enable you to demonstrate to the business all six of the benefits highlighted previously in weeks not years. You'll be able build your knowledge to expand automation projects going forward.
See real business examples of how organisations, and departments are successfully implementing and using automation tools for their outbound communications: