In our digitally dominated society, utilizing technology to improve work processes and operations is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. When using software to streamline operations and increase efficiency, robotic process automation (RPA) has everyone’s attention.
You might be asking, “If technology is advancing and developing so quickly, is RPA still in demand?” In recent years, RPA has proven to be one of the fastest-growing types of intelligent automation software in the world. An extensive Gartner forecast elaborated on the growing popularity of RPA, stating that global RPA software revenue would reach $1.89 billion in 2021. This was an increase of 19.5% when compared to RPA’s 2020 revenue. Despite the various economic pressures that have arisen throughout 2020 and beyond, the RPA market is still expected to grow at double-digit rates through 2024.
But why is RPA so popular? The answer is simple: RPA makes everyone’s lives easier. Robotic process automation can mimic, and sometimes improve upon, traditionally human-controlled business processes. Tired of working on the same mundane and repetitive tasks? An RPA bot can make all of that go away.
In this guide to robotic process automation, we will explain what RPA is, how RPA works, why RPA is beneficial, and include a few RPA examples to demonstrate how all of this comes together in practice.
What Is Robotic Process Automation?
At its core, RPA is all about productivity. When it comes to completing repetitive tasks, software robots are much faster and more consistent than people. From time-consuming data entry to generating analytic reports, RPA can do it all without needing to get up and stretch or take a coffee break.
RPA tools allow users, or third-party services, to configure multiple software bots that are designed to automate specific tasks. This configuration allows the bots to mimic steps usually taken by a human in any given business process. The latest RPA technology simplifies the process of building, launching, and managing software bots, while third party consulting services are available to help you incorporate RPA into your workflows.
So, what is robotic process automation used for? Here are a few general examples of what RPA bots can do:
- Imitate actions completed on a computer screen
- Navigate multiple software systems
- Perform a wide range of specified actions
- Collect, store, and analyze data
- Transfer data to and from different applications
- Trigger automated responses
- Execute transactions
In the Context of Automation What Is a Robot?
When discussing automation, particularly RPA, a “robot” is any automatically operated software designed to replace human effort and mirror human actions to complete a task. The general purpose of RPA is to give a portion of a workflow to an RPA bot specifically designed for the completion of that task or tasks. Although every use-case varies, there are common functionalities performed by all RPA software that can be applied to a variety of industries and businesses. In general, software robots handle the lower-level and repetitive tasks like:
- Moving files and folders
- Filling out forms
- Logging in and out of systems
- Copying information to another location
- Compiling routine reports
The most advanced RPA bots can imitate more complex tasks like chatting with a customer to solve a common issue, interpreting text, and reviewing unstructured data.
What Are the Different Types of RPA?
Although it should be noted that the RPA industry continues to expand and develop, there are currently three types of robotic process automation in use today:
Attended automation in RPA means that the bot needs to work in collaboration with, and be called into use by, a human. This type of automation is best suited to complete tasks that are still fairly human-led, making them difficult for a bot to detect and fully manage on its own. In attended automation, the bot will work through individual tasks, but stops and notifies the user if something becomes unclear or needs attention. Attended automation is an ideal solution for work processes that still require human interaction and guidance.
Unattended automation means that there is no need for the end-user to interact with the automation that is being performed. These bots usually work with tasks that are completed in the background, like data processing. Unattended automation is ideal for departments that are not typically client-facing, like IT. Here are a few tasks unattended automation bots can handle:
- Data entry
- Email management
- Various batch operations
Hybrid RPA combines both attended and unattended bots to serve client-facing and non-client facing departments. This means automation is anywhere you need it to be. A hybrid model encourages end-to-end automation, making it ideal for departmental collaboration. In this case, the bot and employees are usually working together and completing related tasks simultaneously. Hybrid RPAs are especially useful in this case because it allows for collaboration while preventing each department from crossing the access boundaries as currently defined. Hybrid RPA is often considered to be the “best of both worlds” when it comes to robotic process automation.
Robotic Process Automation Tools
RPA tools are software bots created to perform pre-determined automations. Gartner’s official definition of an RPA tool states that a typical RPA tool is designed to use “if, then, else” statements on structured data. RPA tools achieve these operations by:
- Using a combination of user interface (UI) interactions.
- Connecting to APIs to drive client servers, mainframes, or HTML code.
RPA tools map out the process of a specific task using a complex coding language. This allows the RPA robot to follow the code and perform the desired action within the confines of the rules established by the control dashboard.
There are a few types of automation tools available on the market today, and it is important to explore their specific capabilities before integrating them into your tech stack. Here are three types of RPA tools and their specific functions:
As the oldest form of RPA, macros were designed to operate within a single system and handle very simple processes like making calculations or organizing data. Excel macros for spreadsheets are among the most common examples of these RPA tools.
Cognitive RPA Tools
Cognitive RPA tools are more advanced than macros, but are still fairly easy to use. These tools are usually called intelligent or cognitive bots, and are equipped with AI capabilities that are designed to help the bot continuously learn and adapt based on previous examples. The main purpose of these bots is to understand and have conversations with people – this is especially useful in customer service use cases.
IT Process RPA Tools
Unlike macros, IT process RPA tools are able to operate in multiple systems and handle more complex tasks like prioritizing action plans and creating alerts from multiple sources. IT process tools fall into the attended RPA category, and need to be supervised by experienced IT professionals while the automations are being run.
What Is RPA Data?
Using RPA allows you to easily collect, track, and store data across multiple platforms. But how does RPA use data? Beyond automating repetitive data management tasks, RPA helps businesses understand the patterns in their data, giving them insight into what’s driving certain customer behaviors.
Additionally, when RPA is paired with advanced data processing tools, an even deeper analysis can be performed. Companies that use RPA and advanced analytics tools can utilize their discoveries to advance ahead of their competition, limit operating expenses, and increase customer loyalty. In a general sense, advanced RPA data capabilities can be leveraged to:
- Structure and correctly classify data collected from multiple systems.
- Generate centralized repositories (also known as data lakes) to develop machine learning models for data scientists.
- Deliver analytics that supplement decision-making, pattern detection, and other future-focused business tasks.
Can Data Entry Be Done Through RPA?
Automating manual data entry tasks is a pillar of the RPA framework. From data validation to metadata organization, RPA technology can be used to take over the most mundane data-centric tasks. Here are a few examples of how RPA can be used to increase efficiency of the data entry process:
- Automate transactional data entry, saving employees time.
- Automate preliminary data cleansing.
- Automate data migration between dissimilar applications.
- Automate data monitoring by checking for data anomalies.
What Is an Example of Process Automation?
Finance is one industry where RPA has proven to be extremely effective. Automating finance operational processes using robotics comes in many different forms. Some RPA use cases involve individual task automation, while others have evolved to handle full-process automation that is used to generate more accurate financial reporting and analysis. Let’s take a look at what RPA looks like when applied to a use case in the finance industry.
Robotic Process Automation Example in Finance: A Customer Applies for Credit with a Wholesaler.
The process of applying for credit with a wholesaler is cumbersome and time consuming, especially on the business end. In this section we’ll list each step typically involved with this process, and explain how RPA could make it more efficient.
- Sales representatives speak with the customer and explain the process of applying for credit. This process could be automated using an RPA chat-bot.
- After speaking directly with a representative, the customer then receives a PDF version of their application in their inbox. Using RPA, the PDF document could be automatically sent to the customer if a script was created to trigger this action as soon as the sales representative enters that customer’s information into their database.
- After the customer fills out the form, they send their PDF back to the credit department. RPA comes into play in this instance by helping companies move towards a digital/paperless office. By creating a digital web-form, an applicant can enter all of their information without having to deal with any hard-copy documents. After the applicant submits the digital form, the data is ingested, transformed into a PDF document, and sent to the applicant via DocuSign for their digital signature.
- After the application is received, the credit department employee evaluates the credit application PDF and checks for incorrect information. This action could be completed by an RPA bot, if the bot is programmed to identify errors in the form.
- If the application is missing information or has incorrect information entered, it is sent back to the customer for corrections. If no missing information is detected, the form is signed by the credit department employee and sent back to the customer for their signature as well. RPA can help automate this process by sending the form back in an email as soon as missing information is detected.
- Once the credit application is signed and reviewed by the customer for a second time, the credit department conducts a second manual evaluation. Again, this could be completed much more quickly using RPA.
- After the application process has been completed, the credit department sends the completed documents to the branch assigned to the customer. Sending these documents to the branch could be handled by an RPA bot instead of having the credit department representative manually send them. After the application is sent, the branch evaluates it for approval. Once the branch has made a decision, they notify the credit department.
- If approved, the credit department starts securing references as identified on the application. When reference responses are received, the credit dept makes their decision. Newer RPA technologies are being developed to automate this process by using a bot to trigger a credit check, and complete the evaluation and scoring process.
- Whether approved or declined by the credit department, a notification letter is sent to the customer and branch. This notification letter can be automatically sent by an RPA bot once the status of the application has been determined.
- At the last stage of this process, the credit department moves all associated documents (application, credit references, tax certificates) into the Customer Account Document library, while the paperwork for declined applicants is deleted. Migrating the files and deleting declined applications can all be handed over to an RPA bot.
What Are the Benefits of Robotics Process Automation?
Automation is a natural part of our progression towards a tech-centric world of work. RPA is applicable to every industry, and has become an essential component of digital transformation. Additionally, RPA is non-invasive and can be quickly adapted to serve a wide range of work processes. So, what do the numbers look like? Pegasystems released a study analyzing the benefits of the various types of RPA and why it has become so popular in recent years. 500 decision makers from various global industries participated in this survey. Here is what they had to say when asked about how RPA impacted their business’ digital transformation:
63% said RPA is a major component of digital transformation.
23% said it’s the most important component of digital transformation.
66% said bots are even more effective than originally anticipated.
51% said workflows are more efficient, effective, and accurate.
45% saw a significant reduction in overall business costs.
42% noticed an improvement to the employee experience.
Since automation is becoming more prevalent, every business should be aware of how RPA can benefit their operations. Here are just a few examples of what RPA can do for you:
Lack of Human Error
To err is human, but bots don’t have that problem. One of the most appealing aspects of robotic process automation is its ability to eliminate processing errors. So long as the bots are properly programmed, implemented, and operated – there is no risk of faulty data entry or other common flaws that come along with humans completing repetitive and mundane tasks.
Teams Are Happier
Mindless work is draining and time consuming. Giving the monotonous, low-level tasks over to bots does wonders for team morale. RPA often increases employee satisfaction by relieving the workload of understaffed managers and overworked employees. RPA is designed to eliminate repetition and take the mundane out of an employee’s day. This allows workers to do the more exciting high-level tasks that require a human touch. After all, no one jumps out of bed excited to do hours of manual data entry.
Bigger and Better Scalability
Robotic process automation is extremely flexible and can easily be modified to meet the demands of any given objective. Since bots are amenable when it comes to operations, businesses have an easier time adapting to the ever-changing demands of their markets.
More Accurate Analytics
Faultless data leads to improved decision making capabilities. RPA software simplifies the process of collecting and analyzing your data surrounding different business operations. This includes data trends of:
- Work volume
- Tracking errors
- Cycle times
This collected data can give you direct insights into what needs to be changed in your processes to further enhance efficiency and increase velocity.
Enhanced Customer Service
Customer demands are constantly evolving, and many companies have struggled to keep up. When an organization adopts RPA, the bots can take care of the dull tasks, giving employees more time to nurture their relationships with customers and generate new ideas to improve the overall customer experience.
More Work Gets Done With Less Effort
When it comes to manual tasks, bots are fast. RPA bots can navigate through a computer screen, complete a calculation, and generate insights in just a few seconds. This gives workers faster and more accurate access to information they need to do their jobs. Ultimately, RPA increases the productivity of individual workers and the business as a whole.
Does RPA Have a Future?
We might argue that RPA is the future. Although robotic process automation is still in the early stages of development, these tools have created a strong foundation for further evolution in machine learning and artificial intelligence. In our fast-paced modern work climate, automation and AI are necessary to help businesses keep up with ever-evolving consumer demands.
According to a worldwide Gartner survey, 90% of large organizations will have adopted RPA in some form in 2022. In a world gripped by constant change, RPA remains a critical component of digital empowerment, as companies look for new ways to support their workforce and streamline processes.If you’re interested in adding RPA capabilities to your business, how do you get started? The process is easier than you might think.
There’s no need for you or your team to enroll in robotic process automation courses or even take a hands-on approach to integrating RPA software into your systems. Foulk Consulting can help you every step of the way. When you choose to partner with Foulk, we’ll do everything for you – there’s no need for anyone on your team to understand how RPA works in detail, or work through the integration of the RPA system. Our team is primed and ready to help you introduce new RPA techniques and strategies that reduce repetitive tasks.
What do you think? Are you ready to take a step towards a more efficient future? If so, it’s time to stop researching and call us.