July 17, 2020
In today’s era of disruptions, businesses are increasingly leveraging the power of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to achieve peak productivity, deliver innovative products and services, reduce costs, and allow knowledge workers to focus on higher-value work rather than routine and repetitive tasks.
The term ‘robotic process automation’ may invoke images of actual robots working on a factory floor building a car or moving around massive pieces of manufacturing. However, the ‘robots’ in question are software residing within a computer that can be made to perform the kinds of administrative tasks that otherwise may require stop-gap human handling – for example, transferring data from multiple input sources like email and spreadsheets to ERP and CRM systems.
RPA tools have caught the eye of forward-thinking business leaders because this technology has the potential to automate a variety of manual processes, thereby simplifying business process complexity, increasing efficiencies and dramatically reducing costs.
Gartner predicts a major change in the RPA software market in the next couple of years. “The RPA market has grown since our last forecast, driven by digital business demands as organizations look for ‘straight-through’ processing,” said Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice president at Gartner.
Software giants like IBM are partnering with or acquiring RPA software providers, indicating that they are expanding their automation footprint. With its latest acquisition, IBM’s AI-powered RPA solution will help companies speed the completion of more types of tasks so employees can focus on higher-value work.
How does Robotic Process Automation work?
At the very core of an RPA solution are software robots or ‘bots’ that facilitate inter-application messaging, manipulate data and output, or trigger responses. By mimicking the way people use applications, they follow simple rules to automate routine business processes such as processing orders, gathering and comparing data from different systems, or adjusting insurance claims among others.
RPA products broadly comprise of three fundamental elements: developer tools, a robot controller, and the software robots.
They are used to define jobs – sequences of step-by-step instructions a robot follows to perform particular business processes. Instructions need to be very detailed and may include business rules or conditional logic, such as if/then decisions. Developer tools offer an assortment of different functionalities consisting of, but not limited to the following:
- Drag-and-drop functionality and simple configuration wizards for non-technical business users to employ. However, these tools require users to manage exceptions which may impede the automated process if not addressed promptly.
- A ‘process recorder’ 3speeds up the definition of a process by capturing a sequence of user actions.
- Interactive diagrams that make visualizing complex processes easier.
One of the most essential roles of the Robot Controller is serving as a master repository for defined jobs to facilitate version control. It safely stores credentials for business applications and provides them to the robots in encrypted form, when required. It also assigns appropriate roles and permissions to users and provides workflows to govern the complete process of job creation and assignment to the robot workforce. Detailed logs of bot activities and decisions can be maintained, which are useful for compliance, auditing, and troubleshooting, as well as identifying process improvement opportunities.
The robots (also known as “bots”, “agents” or “clients”) carry out the instructions and interact with the business applications to process transactions. They utilize the user interaction to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. They interpret, trigger responses and communicate with other systems to perform a wide variety of repetitive tasks.
Types of Robotic Process Automation
All Robotic Process Automation tools can be categorized based on the functionality they provide. Here is a broad classification:
Unattended bots execute tasks from start to finish without any human interventions. Users will assign tasks to the bot and they will continue to perform them based on an established schedule or when an event would trigger the start of the automation process. This type of automation is mostly used in back-office scenarios, where large amounts of data are being gathered, processed and distributed amongst key players in the organization.
For example, a health insurance company with large amounts of claims processing, invoices and other documentation tasks could engage an unattended automation workflow to streamline the documentation and data management process.
Users collaborate with bots on business activities. This is used when human involvement is required for the completion of the RPA process. Attended bots are mainly used for virtual assistance, guidance and on-demand data processing. The automation workflow is limited to the employee currently engaging in a certain workflow in a specific workstation.
A call center agent could trigger an attended RPA bot as soon as the call is answered, to retrieve information about that customer from various sources and put it in front of the agent.
A hybrid RPA bot equipped with natural language processing capabilities could listen to a conversation between two people, analyze it in real time and then use the analysis to provide information that could aid in taking the next necessary steps.
This combination of unattended and attended automation brings AI into the mix. Hybrid RPA bots are mainly used in customer-facing scenarios where they help with handling customer needs during their interactions.
RPA combines the robotics with the process. Using software as a virtual workforce, it enables developers to create a workforce capable of doing manual tasks at a fraction of the cost. With the number of possibilities unlocked by RPA, the ‘R’ can very well stand for ‘Revolutionary’.
As Digital Innovation Partner to IBM, Systems Limited can enable the successful implementation of their state-of-the-art RPA solution to unlock greater value for your business. Get in touch with our team of specialist automation engineers for powerful RPA implementation that ensures high returns on your investment.