Automation is gaining ground day by day across companies in all industries. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one of the novelties in the field. RPA involves freeing workers from repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks where they add more value.
But what kind of tasks can be automated? How do RPA tools differ from other technologies? What benefits do they entail? Hopefully, we’ll get to answer all your questions in this article.
What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)?
Let’s start with a simple Robotic Process Automation definition: RPA technology is a tool that enables companies to automate tasks and get them done in the same way that a human being would do them. The idea behind it is having bots interact with technology (be it an internal application, website, user portal, etc.) to free employees from having to carry out repetitive and tedious tasks.
We have already discussed automation in previous articles. When thinking about robots, complex equipment aiding in industrial manufacturing processes is what usually comes to mind. However, Robotic Process Automation is all about software running on a computer and following predefined rules.
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How does RPA differ from other automation tools?
Unlike other automation tools, RPA makes it possible for businesses to automate their processes in a much simpler way, in less time and at a lower cost. RPA automation takes advantage of a company’s infrastructure without causing any interruptions. This enables employees to carry on using the systems the bot is working on without any trouble.
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How does Robotic Process Automation work?
As we have already mentioned, Robotic Process Automation mimics human behaviour. For this reason, it can perform repetitive tasks such as:
- Log in to an app
- Read and write in databases
- Connect with APIs
- Extract structured data from different kinds of files: documents, pdfs, forms, etc.
- Open e-mails and their attachments
- Move files and folders
What are the benefits of RPA?
Robotic Process Automation has great benefits in store for companies willing to incorporate it into their digital transformation strategy.
One of the most striking benefits is the savings it brings since costs are significantly reduced by automating large volumes of work because it saves plenty of time and resources. It’s also important to point out that programming skills are not required to configure these bots. RPA software is designed so that anyone can set it up and record the necessary steps to automate any given process.
Once set up, processes run smoothly. However, if an error occurs due to a faulty setup, it can be detected in real-time to fix it as soon as possible.
Despite what one might first assume, RPA can be applied to companies of any size and industry; RPA is not something meant only for large corporations. The introduction of RPA in an SME may be expensive at first but it’s an investment that will undoubtedly pay off and allow workers to focus on tasks where they are essential.
What processes are relevant to Robotic Process Automation?
Any process that follows fixed and repetitive rules and is highly repetitive can be automated. This can be illustrated more clearly through some specific robotic process automation examples. Management or human resources tasks such as billing, order management, paying payrolls, or making quality reports can be automated.
What are the drawbacks of RPA tools?
As always, we can also find some negative aspects of process automation.
RPA automation can pose a danger to many jobs that involve repetitive administrative tasks. For this reason, redefining jobs in which the human factor is essential will be necessary.
Another relevant aspect is the complexity of the processes to be tackled by RPA. Even though RPA is in principle designed to allow its set up without the need for technical knowledge, sometimes its implementation can take longer than expected. Also, small changes like a new item on a form require the bot to be set up again.
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Which companies are making use of RPA?
Process automation is widely applied across many industries. Companies of the financial, insurance or tourism industries are known to be some of the ones that are benefiting the most from its implementation.
Insurance company Zurich has implemented (along with its technology partner Capgemini) RPA process automation solutions to relieve its insurance agents of administrative tasks. Its insurance brokers are now able to engage in more complex policies that require their intervention, leaving standard policies to be handled by bots.
Private equity fund manager Vanguard Group has also developed its Personal Advisor Services (PAS), a new hybrid product. It’s a customised piece of software that offers customers tailor-made investing advice. What’s new about it is that it’s a hybrid model: the bot works with algorithm-based investment portfolio planning but also interacts with the advice provided by expert managers.
As for the travel industry, American Express Global Business Travel has implemented RPA to automate the cancellation of airline tickets and manage customer refunds. Besides, it’s also envisaging automatic recommendations for reservation changes in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as the temporary closure of an airport.
4 tips for achieving effective Robotic Process Automation
Understand the process before implementing RPA
Before introducing the business automation process, you need to make sure that you are perfectly acquainted with it. Having a vague idea of what the bot should do can lead to implementation errors. Evaluate, validate, test, and familiarise yourself with the process to confirm that the automation results are what you expect.
Have realistic expectations
Rapid cost savings are possible with Robotic Process Automation but bear in mind that it’s not a miracle technology. You must know what you can expect from this kind of bots and if they will fit in well with the processes you want to automate to assess whether it will prove an appropriate tool.
Get your IT department engaged from the beginning
Although no technical knowledge is required to configure the bots, neglecting the insight of your technology department when you implement this new technology may lead to errors or problems if these bots coexist with other tools.
Don’t forget the impact on the remaining processes
Good planning is of the essence. Before implementing RPA, please make sure that the process you want to automate doesn’t interfere with other workflows. Prior to tackling its implementation, it’s necessary to get managers from different departments involved to rest assured that the introduction of the new RPA tools will be a success.