What is Robotic Process Automation?

In recent times, RPA, aka Robotic Process Automation, has been gaining a lot of attention. While it may seem like just another buzzword for the IT acronym soup, RPA is'nt a totally new concept. In fact, many of the established RPA vendors have been honing their RPA offerings since the turn of the millennium. That being said, RPA still seems to be in its naissance, as many are learning or hearing about this technology for the first time. So, what exactly is it?

RPA is one of many technologies that form part of a broader Digital Transformation landscape. It is software that enables businesses to automate manual and repetitive tasks. It is like a virtual assistant, who lives on your machine (or a dedicated machine), and mimics various tasks that humans would normally perform, but with much higher accuracy and speed.

RPA is non-invasive, meaning that it doesn't tap into the internal mechanics of your existing systems or software, rather it  operates much like a user, performing clicks, logging into apps, copying files, entering data, reading emails, sending emails and much more. An RPA "bot" is typically setup on a machine and "trained" to perform tasks in the same manner as a human would, and then set to run at regular intervals, or to run based on certain triggers/events, like an email appearing in your mailbox with a specific subject header.

What can RPA bots do?

Some of the actions that bots can perform:

  • Screen-scraping (automatically capture and retrieve data from website pages)
  • Data Entry (spreadsheets, web-forms, desktop app forms, and databases)
  • Read emails
  • Send Emails
  • Create files, move files, copy files
  • Login/logout of systems
  • Communicate with other systems

What are the benefits of using RPA?

  • Efficient - can operate around the clock, 24x7
  • Fast - performs tasks much faster than humans
  • Accurate - robots perform tasks based on rules. They don't make typos, and thus eliminate the risk of human error
  • Reduced costs - since it is more efficient, it saves money
  • Speed to setup - doesn't take long to setup compared to alternatives, like integration/automation using code
  • Scalable - add more bots to speed-up if timelines are tight
  • Privacy - the bot performing activities can run under a single user-account, meaning that tasks involving sensitive information don't need to be exposed to numerous individuals
  • Improved morale - since employees are not performing low-level and repetitive tasks, it allows them to focus on higher value and more rewarding activities that are less monotonous
  • Compliant - provides an audit trail of when and where actions were performed

RPA Process Disruption Chart Source: Deloitte

Considerations before getting started with RPA

  • Map your processes - if your processes aren't already mapped, this is a good place to start. Map your processes, identify process owners, and who they will impact
  • What to automate? - review mapped processes and identify which ones will make good candidates for automation
  • Form a business case - provide the business with a clear demonstration of how automating the identified processes will result in improved outcomes. Ideally the processes you wish to automate should have some metrics behind them, such as how long they currently take, and how much time you think can be saved by using RPM
  • Establish Governance - create guidelines in relation to how RPA will be managed. Some topics to consider may include, security, compliance, stakeholder identification, change management
  • Identification of RPA Software & Partner - compare and contrast various RPA softwares to understand their capabilities and pricing. Find a partner who understands your preferred RPA software, and who will best understands your needs

About The Author

Daren Kovacevic
Daren's time in IT has mostly been spent in the Software field, architecting and developing solutions with .NET and SharePoint. He also spent several years in a Business Intelligence team, eventually founding Thought Cloud in 2011, and now works closely with clients to help them maximize returns on their technology investments.