What Is Robotic Process Automation?

Understanding RPA

What is RPA?

RPA has evolved from traditional process automation and uses artificial intelligence (AI) methods to automate tasks previously performed by humans with the help of software robots. The tasks range from simple data queries and form input to complex activities such as logging in and operating electronic systems. The software robot, also known as a software bot, imitates a human user and performs parts of its activities at a virtual workstation.

From an architectural perspective, the RPA solution is installed above the systems that execute the business processes and acts at the user level. The actual business processes or systems do not need to be adapted or changed. Software-based robots are comparable to physical robots in automated production processes that perform manual production activities by employees. Software robots mimic human interaction with the user interfaces of IT systems and applications.

Robotics Process Automation solutions are process-independent, easily scalable, and applicable in all industries and business sectors. Secondly, RPA provides artificial intelligence with the necessary data to provide reliable decision support to humans based on the best practices model. RPA lays the groundwork for the AI to make decisions automatically itself according to predefined criteria.

History of Robotic Process Automation

The automation of workflows is nothing new. It has been impossible to imagine an industry without robots for several decades now. Other operating business units have also been looking for process automation solutions in the past few years in order to increase their efficiency and boost growth. The result so far, however, has been semi-automated processes that are often very costly and take up a lot of resources.

Robotic process automation emerged from classical process automation and was inspired by industrial robots. It involves digital robots that can handle processes completely independently according to their orders and operate other programs. The variation in robots used can range from simple workarounds set up by hand to multifaceted software. Since the last decade, robots have been used for social media posts, to send emails, to automatically reply to customer service calls. To some extent, RPA can also be traced back to screen-scraping tools that automatically extract targeted data needed from a web form. However, the breakthrough of Robotic Process Automation occurred in software quality assurance test automation.

Can scripts, macros or screen scrapers be considered RPA?

A macro is a short code sequence that must be started manually over and over again to perform a single task. Common macros are keyboard shortcuts and text substitutions. The script is related to the macro. Script is a basic term for a sequence of computer code that performs a specific procedure or set of tasks.

Unlike macros and scripts, software robots can operate with far more complex logic and execute procedures and tasks across applications, and they do not require access to databases or interfaces to do so. They can access multiple systems at the optimal time and obtain information and perform operations depending on content and duration.

In addition, most enterprise RPA tools emphasize governance, which is not possible with macros or scripts. Robotic process automation is much more than just a macro or a shorthand for lines of code.

Screen scraping is about capturing the screen. It is used to capture specific information in web forms and place it in appropriate fields. While RPA tools resemble the look and behavior of primitive screen scraping methods and can use them as one of several ways to “read” information. However, they are much more advanced in terms of capabilities and offer a much more mature, flexible, scalable, and reliable approach to enterprise deployment.

What is the difference between RPA & Business Process Optimization?

RPA are solutions that automate labor-intensive, manual tasks across computer applications. RPA is designed to decrease the burden of mundane tasks on employees and increase business efficiency and productivity.

Business Process Optimization involves analyzing and improving processes. That is, every sequence of events or tasks in the business is analyzed to improve efficiency. Processes are optimized either by restructuring or automating them or by completely changing the way they work.

There are two types of RPA

Semi-automated processes

In partial automation, the focus is on bot/human interaction in processes. In semi-automated processes, the robot responds like a digital assistant to the employee by taking over certain standardized tasks to assist the employee. Its work is triggered by specific events, actions or commands that an employee executes in a given workflow.

The tasks range from database queries and summarizing the information found to transferring changed contact data to all necessary systems to filling out forms and templates. The employee only needs to deal with analytical tasks and exceptions in the process. While full automation focuses on independent processing with little human intervention, the idea behind partial automation is collaboration with the employee in which human actions are supported by smaller automated processes.

Fully automated processes

In fully automated processes, the robot works completely autonomously without requiring human intervention or, depending on the scenario or context, only in unusual cases. The software robot performs transaction-based activities and processes on a large scale fully automatically without human interaction, even when the employee is logged out of the system.

Full automation is often used for back-office systems when large amounts of data need to be collected, sorted, analyzed, and distributed to specific employees within an organization. The software robot reacts to defined triggers and independently carries out the necessary processing procedure.

Typical tasks conducted through Robotic Process Automation

Wherever there are repeatable, predictable interactions with IT applications, RPA can be used. Here are some of the most common tasks performed by RPA solutions in different industries:

  • Processing email attachments
  • Creating reports
  • Editing log files
  • Filling in forms
  • Structuring data
  • Retrieving web pages
  • Loading and processing data from the Internet
  • Opening and sorting emails
  • Extracting data
  • Copying or moving files
  • Logging into and operating electronic systems
  • Retrieving information from social media
  • Performing calculations
  • Performing actions based on if/then conditions

How do you know if a process is suitable for RPA?

With the help of tools such as process mining and process recording, processes suitable for automation can be quickly identified, as these tools are able to analyze processes on this basis. They recognize where automation through RPA makes sense or whether the software robot is inferior to its human colleague due to the complexity of the task – at least today.

In general, processes that are particularly suitable for automation by RPA are those that:

  • have a high manual component and are therefore particularly prone to errors
  • are based on structured input data
  • have a medium to high transaction volume
  • are labor-intensive,
  • are rule-based, i.e., are based on clear decision-making criteria for their execution
  • are already standardized, i.e. do not have too many varying circumstances during execution
  • have long terms to maturity
  • for which no changes are planned within the next few months

How Robotic Process Automation benefits industry

The benefits of utilizing Robotic Process Automation are evident: A software robot works day and night, all year long. It makes no careless mistakes and forgets no operational steps. And it makes no processing errors, no matter how many computations are necessary. Errors in customer-oriented processes can thus be avoided, and customer satisfaction improved through process automation. RPA opens up entirely new possibilities for automating everyday routine activities such as maintaining master data, creating invoices, or processing notices. That’s because RPA can do repetitive things faster, more accurately, and more tirelessly than humans. As a result, RPA frees up employees for other tasks that require human strengths, such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment. Freed from tedious routine tasks, employees can once again focus fully on customers or other challenges in the business.

Improved data processing efficiency

Even isolated successes in streamlining have not altered the fact that monotonous, uniform volume processes occupy qualified human expertise in a company. Especially processes that need a lot of manual input in several systems offer a lot of potential for the use of RPA. Beyond the realization of pure cost benefits, RPA can increase data and process quality as well as processing speed.

Ease of use without requiring an API

Typically, the deployment of Robotic Process Automation is not started by IT departments but by business departments. This is due to its simplicity of use. To use a software robot, one does not have to be well-versed in IT with extensive programming skills. Conversely, RPA does not require expensive investments in new platforms. By mimicking user input through an application’s user interface, there is no need for costly programming of an application programming interface (API). This eliminates the need for back-end integration with the associated effort. Experience demonstrates that processes can be fully automated in around two to six weeks, from planning to contracting. When installed, the software robots work the applications required for a process just as an employee would. They communicate with all the necessary systems, obtain information, and change the relevant data.

RPA deployment tends to provide a fast ROI

RPA is added onto existing systems. It utilizes and understands existing IT applications and enables transaction and data processing as well as communication across various different IT systems. However, this is not the sole reason why RPA will shape our future industries. RPA also delivers a direct return on investment through lower licensing costs compared to labor costs of personnel. A robot costs only around one third, when compared to afull-time employee. In addition the robots raw working time will likely be about five times that of a human full-time employee. At the same time, process automation helps improve accuracy and increase operational flexibility.

The various benefits of Robotics Process Automation in a nutshell:

  • Relief of employees from routine activities
  • Improvement of data security
  • Faster implementation of new processes
  • Software robots working around the clock
  • Efficient execution of tasks
  • Higher productivity
  • Lower costs
  • Strict and flawless adherence to specifications and rules
  • Highly optimized customer service
  • High process quality
  • Accurate documentation of all activities

What are the challenges with RPA in terms of access rights and licenses?

Since software robots perform the tasks assigned to them completely autonomously and must have access to various software applications and data for this purpose, it is imperative to differentiate between access rights for humans (employee login) and machines (machine login) in a dedicated role concept. Many companies already differentiate between “dialog users” and “system users”.

The access rights and login information that a software robot needs to perform its work must be defined and stored in an authorization database. The same requirements regarding naming conventions, responsibilities, user and authorization management apply to “virtual assistant authorization” as to “employee authorization”.

Will RPA endanger employment?

RPA frees employees from tedious routine work. Employees’ expertise is not wasted on tasks that a robot can do better. Employees are able to focus their expertise on more intricate challenges that require human strengths, such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment. Also, because of the widespread lack of skilled workers around the world, employees are rarely laid off due to the automation of their jobs. Rather, automation creates scope for more value-adding activities.

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