What Is RPA?
More CIOs are turning to robotic process automation (RPA), a new technology practice, to streamline enterprise operations and cut costs. Businesses can use RPA to automate routine rules-based business processes, allowing business users to devote more time to serving customers or other higher-value tasks. Others see RPA as a stopgap measure on the way to intelligent automation (IA) via machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be trained to predict future outcomes.
We look at what robotic process automation is and how CIOs can make the most of RPA to achieve business goals.
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is a technology that allows software “robots” to perform repetitive, rule-based digital tasks. Humans typically carry out these tasks via the user interface, which includes the mouse and keyboard. RPA robots can mimic human actions, and they are usually more accurate, faster, and consistent at it. RPA can target more sophisticated work when combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI). This opens up a world of possibilities on the road to a fully automated enterprise. Automation is a term that more accurately describes these possibilities that go beyond the scope of basic RPA. Given that RPA is still at the heart of automation, we sometimes use these two terms interchangeably. A Robot is the computer software that performs the operations. The RPA robots can:
- Extract structured data from documents,
- Log into and run applications,
- Open emails and attachments,
- Fill in forms,
- Read and write to databases,
- Make calculations,
- Connect to other systems,
- The read/write of a database,
- The extraction of content from forms or documents,
and a lot more.
The robots interact with data and applications in the same way that human workers do, by using the mouse, keyboard, and User Interfaces. Such things may appear mundane, boring, and simplistic. But that’s exactly the point.
To get a better sense of all this, I think it’s a good idea to look at how various RPA software companies view the concept. Here’s a look:
UiPath: “Robotic process automation (RPA) is a software technology that makes it easy to build, deploy, and manage software robots that emulate humans’ actions interacting with digital systems and software.”
Automation Anywhere: “Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software technology that’s easy for anyone to use to automate digital tasks. Think of RPA bots as a Digital Workforce that can interact with any system or application. For example, bots are able to copy-paste, scrape web data, make calculations, open and move files, parse emails, log into programs, connect to APIs, and extract unstructured data. And because bots can adapt to any interface or workflow, there’s no need to change business systems, applications, or existing processes in order to automate”
PEGA: “Robotic automation is software that does the rote work so that you and your employees don’t have to. For example, robotic software can automatically fill out forms, look up information, and enter data. If your employees are focusing on these manual tasks, they have less time to focus on connecting with customers.”
ElectroNeek: “RPA is an automation technology that allows you to get rid of repetitive tasks in a digital environment. To do so, it employs bots, software programs that are trained to mimic human employees’ actions to perform various assignments. These can be data entry in CRM systems, automated invoicing, text recognition, and more.”
Let’s take a final definition by Stardex CEO, Kolawole Emmanuel, he defined
RPA as ” RPA is the process by which a software bot performs a set of high-volume, mundane and repetitive tasks that are rule-based.”
These all provide a fairly good view of RPA, showing the broad applications and benefits. These definitions also highlight that the vendors in the industry have their unique twists and approaches to technology (in this book, we’ll take a deeper look at the different solutions). In some cases, the differences can be quite stark.
But boiling things down, I think the best way to think of RPA is as “the virtual employee we didn’t know we needed”
There are many misconceptions surrounding the use of automation. Here are some common myths of RPA implementation, and what you should remember instead.
The Robots are Physical
In our minds, the term robot in RPA conjures up an image of a metal humanoid. One of the most common misconceptions about RPA is that it employs physical robots or humanoids. However, there is no use of physical robots or industrial robots in RPA. Robots, on the other hand, are software or virtual robots that automate mundane and repetitive digital tasks. Hence, the title of this book is RPA: the virtual employee we didn’t realize we needed.
We require a Bot army
This is also a myth, as some people believe that hundreds of thousands of Bots are required to get things started. RPA can begin with just one or two bots, and the workforce can be scaled up in accordance with the company’s success. Many businesses will not need to own a Bot at all, instead of relying on Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) technologies.
Our jobs will be taken over by robots
Human labour and intellectual capacity are far too valuable. In many cases, RPA has resulted in an increase in job opportunities as teams become more productive, causing businesses to expand. Bots can alleviate the burden of certain tasks on a workforce, but this also provides businesses with the opportunity to upskill and multi-skill their employees through proper training. Bots are excellent virtual assistants that can be used by your team to perform routine tasks while leaving higher-level thinking to us humans. Bots are there to help us be more efficient and effective, not to replace us. RPA, in reality, only reduces the need for repetitive human effort. Rather than replacing a human workforce, RPA will enable it to handle higher-value tasks that require human intelligence.
Bots do not make mistakes
Even if a bot does exactly what it is told to do, if it is programmed incorrectly, it will perform a task incorrectly a thousand times. Furthermore, unforeseen exceptions or incorrect data inputs may cause the bot to complete the job incorrectly or not at all.
Robotic process automation (RPA) robots can eliminate human errors and are completely accurate. However, the main idea is that software robots are only as accurate as they are developed or programmed to be. RPA bots lack cognitive and intelligence capabilities. They simply carry out the set of instructions that have been programmed for them.
RPA is risky and untrustworthy.
Contrary to popular belief, RPA was designed with safety and dependability in mind. RPA technology has been shown to be difficult to hack and to provide the same level of security as a human employee. Furthermore, the technology provides a higher level of security in terms of privacy and safety, compliance, and administrative simplification.
RPA heralds the end of business process management (BPM)
Unlike RPA, BPM is a method for streamlining a process rather than software. Consider it like a car driving down a road: BPM is constructing the road to take a specific route, while RPA is a self-driving car driving down the same road.
RPA means the end of business process outsourcing (BPO)
Rather than being replaced by RPA, BPO providers are utilizing the software to provide more timely and effective services to their customers. Even as RPA evolves, the need for outsourcing will persist, especially since RPA cannot automate all front-office tasks. As a result, BPOs are here to stay.
RPA will almost completely eliminate the need for IT departments
RPA is EXTREMELY RELYENT on the IT team, so it’s critical to involve IT as early as possible. Once bots are deployed, they must be managed — this is where the concept of Digital Workforce Management comes into play. The bot is nothing more than a virtual employee.
Watch the YouTube version of this.