Source: RPA Awareness course provided by UiPath
What is RPA
RPA or Robotic Process Automation is the technology that enables computer software to emulate or integrate actions performed by humans interacting with digital systems to execute business processes.
- RPA is non-invasive and that means it doesn’t require any major IT architecture changes or deep integration with the underlying systems.
- Easy to scale. The amount of work involved in a process can vary, as changes are likely to occur in most business environments. If an RPA solution is used, companies can easily adapt by scaling the solution up or down, depending on the requirements.
- RPA is the future because the robots work with today’s technology, yet the automation is extensible, able to handle tomorrow’s technology.
- Emulate human actions
- Operates any application with a user interface
- Processes data in structured formats
- Works continuously
- Has high accuracy
What is a ROBOT
The computer software that executes such operations is called a ROBOT. These robots are able of capturing data, running applications, trigger responses, and communicate with other systems.
RPA targets processes that are highly manual, repetitive, rule-based, with low exception rates and standard electronic readable input.
The Robot gets tedious tasks like data collection, data entry, storying files, and so on. It’s 100% focused on these tasks and makes no errors while the Humans keep the high-value activities for themselves. These include face-to-face interactions with colleagues or coming up with complex strategies. They can be 100% dedicated to the things that make them irreplaceable.
Real examples of RPA
- Payroll processing refers to the actions that companies take to pay their employees, keep track of their bonuses and taxes. Every month, there is a need for manual intervention. An RPA system can be used to extract the details that are required from handwritten timesheets and calculate the pay form their stipulated contracts and pay them as well.
- Client information updates. The CRM system of any organization faces all sort of related issues: the client-base is spread across many geographies, there are frequent calls to the back-end databases, and updates and changes are coming from all sources. An RPA solution can process these requests in batches instead of one after the other, reducing the load on the back-end systems and ensuring better performance and data quality across the whole application.
- Renewal process. The contact renewal process is in general a complex process, but not necessarily due to the exceptions and complications, but rather to the number of operations and the synchronization between different departments and systems. Robots can take over the entire process, starting with the standardized communication with the client, processing the changes, drafting the documents and updating the internal systems accordingly.
- Financial statement reconciliation covers all the operations of matching orders, payments, losses, margins and so on, with accounts and financial statements. It’s a common process that an organization needs to manage in order to ensure clean records and reliable financial documents. The process is well handled by the RPA software robots. Once they are set up, they can seamlessly perform all the above actions.
- Compliance reporting. As organizations grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to closely monitor the compliance requirements that each department has to follow: reporting to authorities, complying with the internal procedures, audit requirements, and so on. Robots can be set up to cover all these needs, with a low error rate and low human intervention.
- Customer complaint processing. Their number and substance is an important indicator of the business health and good predictor of the future of the company. Through RPA, customer complaints can be categorized based on keywords and other criteria, and possible solutions can be suggested to the customers right away. By doing so, the customer complaints can be answered 24×7 instead of 8 hours a day and only during the weekdays.
RPA solutions could be thought of as virtual robotic workforces whose operational management is made by the business line and only supported by the IT just like for a human workforce.
Determine the automation potential
Here are the criteria you can use to evaluate how fit a process is for automation:
- Rule-bases: the decision made in the process can be captured in a pre-defined logic. The exception rate is either low or can be included as well in the business logic
- Automatable and/or repetitive process: we can differentiate 4 types of processes:
- Manual & non-repetitive: the process steps are performed by humans and can be different every time the process is executed
- Manual & repetitive: the steps in the process are performed by the user, and at least some of them are the same every time
- Semi-automated & repetitive: some of the repetitive steps have already been automated (using macros, Outlook rules, and so on)
- Automated: there are processes that have been already automated using other technologies than RPA
- Processes that need to stay manual or are non-repetitive, due to the high exception rate or factors that cannot be integrated into business logic, aren’t good candidates for automation.
- Standard input: The input in the process should either be electronic and easily readable or readable using a technology that can be associated with RPA (such as OCR). A good example is an invoice having the fields pre-defined.
- Stable: Processes that have been the same for a certain period of time and no changes are expected within the next months are good candidates for automation, provided they meet the other criteria as well.
- Number of screens: RPA works by programming the robot to perform tasks at screen level (when the screen changes, the logic has to be taught). The higher the number of screens, the more elements have to be captured and configured prior to the process automation.
- Types of applications: Some applications are more easily automated (such as the Office suite, or Java), others heavily increase the automation effort (Mainframe, for example). And the more different the applications are, the number of screens will increase, as well (see previous point).
- Business logic scenarios: An automation’s complexity increases with the number of decision points in the business logic. Basically, each one could multiply by two the number of scenarios.
- Types and number of inputs: As previously stated, standard input is desirable. Yet there are cases in which one standard input (such as an invoice) has to be configured for each supplier that will be affected by the automation. Moreover, non-standard input can be of different complexity grades, with free text being the most complex.
By using these 2 factors in our automation potential assessment, we can split the processes into 4 categories:
- No RPA: Processes where change is frequent, the system environment is volatile, and multiple manual (even non-digital) actions are required.
- Semi-automation: Processes that can be broken down into steps that can be clearly automated, and steps that need to stay manual (such as validations or usage of physical security tokens).
- High-cost RPA: Processes that are rather digital and can be automated, but use some technologies that are complex (such as OCR) or require advanced programming skills.
- Zero-touch automation: Processes that are digital and involve a highly static system and process environment, so that they can be easily broken into instructions and simple triggers can be defined.
The RPA journey
RPA often brings quick wins. But in order to also produce long-term effects in companies and changes in the mindset of everybody involved, each stage of the RPA journey has to be handled carefully.
In the Discovery stage, there are 3 organization-wide points to be addressed:
- creating buzz and involving as many people as possible;
- defining end-to-end process governance;
- generating a strong pipeline of automation opportunities and assessing them objectively.
In the Build phase, there are several approaches. Fortunately, these are fully compatible and can be applied simultaneously:
- having professional developers that build enterprise automation.
- having business users automating parts of their work and parts of their colleagues’ work.
The automation built need to be deployed and updated. You need to keep track of them and keep an eye on their usage.
Automations are run through robots. There are different organizational setup and the way robots are doing their part has to take everything into consideration: working in shifts, using virtual machines, and so on. This is why the Run stage is crucial.
Most of the enterprise-wide processes can be automated to a certain extent. Robots will need validation or will encounter exceptions. This is something called ‘Human in the Loop’ and RPA frameworks need to address this.
RPA will produce an impact in your organization, but just knowing this shouldn’t be enough. You need to define metrics and monitor them, so that you will be able to make the right decisions and align the RPA operations with your overall strategy. The Measure stage is about using the right tools to track your RPA practice.
RPA center of excellence
When a company decides to implement RPA at scale, it’s a good idea to put the RPA expertise and the roles involved in one team that can drive the RPA journey with the right energy, knowledge and tools.
This team is typically known as the RPA Center of Excellence. These are the roles typically involved:
- RPA Developer
- Solution Architect
- Business Analyst
- Implementation Manager
- Infrastructure Engineer
- RPA Support
To amplify the ability of organizations to automate work, RPA can be expanded with advanced capabilities, such as artificial intelligence (AI), process mining and analytics.
In a nutshell, hyperautomation is the approach in which organizations rapidly identify and automate as many business processes as possible, including knowledge work. Benefits of hyperautomation include:
- The business processes most suited for automation are rapidly and scientifically identified.
- 22By just performing the expected activities, robots learn new skills and gradually improve their work.
- 33People and robots are enabled to automate together basic to complex, end-to-end business processes;
- 44Companies have a thorough and unbiased view on the impact of automation, their next move, and what can further be improved.