Worldwide, companies are looking for innovative technologies that can redefine how traditional business processes are performed. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one such tool for innovation as it helps to improve the efficiency of operations and provides cost savings through automating time-consuming and repetitive tasks or processes with high operational costs.
Estimates by Gartner forecast that the spends on RPA software can reach $2.4 billion by 2020. As per GrandViewResearch, In 2019, the global RPA market size was valued at USD 1.1 billion and is anticipated to witness a CAGR of 33.6% from 2020 to 2027.
While RPA is gaining momentum with companies across the world turning to it for automating business processes, it faces some resistance as decision-makers look at it as not being as valuable as human capital. However, RPA can have a positive impact on business performance by automating repetitive or dull tasks that take up precious time of the employees, thereby leaving them with more time to focus on more critical tasks.
What is RPA? What is it used for?
Robotic Process Automation refers to the software tools that can be employed to automate routine and highly repetitive tasks that are usually performed by employees. The automation of repetitive tasks saves time and money as bots perform the tasks faster and frees up the employees' workload so they can focus on higher-value work.
Besides being a non-intrusive tool, RPA offers the benefit of leveraging the existing infrastructure without causing disruptions in the underlying systems. RPA bots can be used for almost all routine actions that a human user performs such as logging into applications, filling in forms, scraping browsers, extracting data from documents, and moving files and folders, among other tasks.
What is the difference between RPA and Automation?
RPA is highly intuitive compared to traditional automation, which relies on programming and uses APIs to link between various systems. In comparison, RPA mimics the actions of human users at the User Interface. RPA uses several types of technologies, including Machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to execute actions across applications.
Whereas developers needed to understand the target system before writing a program for traditional automation, RPA provides a more straightforward solution that allows business users to automate processes on their own.
Types of RPA
Assisted or attended automation implies that a bot or RPA agent is available on the user's machine and can be invoked based on specific circumstances that usually occur based on specific actions by the user.
For instance, if a customer query requires some initial validity checks, the user's action of copy-pasting or entering the data into a specific field could be the point that triggers the bot to perform the checks on the user's behalf by scraping information from a database and automatically filling in the customer details in the other fields.
As the name suggests, unassisted automation refers to bots or agents that are not dependent on user actions. This type of RPA is ideal for tasks that run in the background, such as processing data to provide reports. For example, bots could process sales data at predetermined intervals – daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly – to generate reports for the marketing team.
Hybrid automation is ideal for environments that require user as well as backend processes and need inputs from both sources to be more stable and robust. Instead of processes being run solely based on algorithms, certain parts of the process can be outsourced to humans to ensure that it is working as expected.
It offers the advantage of freeing humans from mundane, routine tasks while benefiting from their lateral thinking to ensure that the automation is error-free.
A Few Advantages of RPA
- Accuracy – RPA eliminates manual errors, thereby providing more reliable and high-quality data.
- Compliance – By minimizing human contact with sensitive data, RPA tools reduce the occurrence of compliance issues and fraud and are highly recommended in financial applications.
- Cost savings – Since machines perform some of the routine tasks, it reduces wage costs as companies won't need to hire additional resources to handle these processes.
- Employee productivity/morale – By freeing up employees from performing mundane tasks, they have more time to focus on high-value tasks, thereby boosting their productivity and morale.
- Digital transformation – By eliminating human errors while completing processes, RPA provides reliable and accurate outcomes, which lead to better customer experience.
Disadvantages of RPA/Why RPA projects fail
Underestimating human capital/improper implementation One of the main reasons that RPA fails is that it does not get the required support from businesses. Furthermore, the users who best know the processes are often excluded from the implementation, resulting in a gap between expectations and results. However, this issue can be tackled by involving users and understanding processes before implementing an RPA solution.
Security risks Since RPA processes often require the processing of sensitive data such as payroll, personal details of customers, and credit card numbers, among other data points, unauthorized access poses the risk of confidential data being misused through the privileges granted to the software robots.
Several techniques can be put in place such as segregation of data access, credentials management, and activity tracking as well as data encryption to eliminate these risks.
What types of business processes can benefit from RPA?
Robotic Process Automation is ideal for the following types of processes:
- Not dependent on human intervention – Certain repetitive processes such as payroll batching and accounting calculations that do not require too many inputs from the human user.
- Prone to human error – Mundane activities, which cause human attention to waiver, resulting in errors.
- Need for several systems to work together – Certain complex processes might require several systems to be used to retrieve various data points, which can be time-consuming. Instead, automating the process helps to free up the human user's time.
- Well-defined rules – Since robots do not have the lateral thinking capability that humans have, processes that have clear-cut rules to follow are most suited for RPA.
In what business functions can RPA be used?
Banking and Insurance Banking and insurance processes are lengthy and require a lot of information input and exchange. RPA can simplify these processes significantly. For instance, to recommend a suitable investment solution to a client, the banker would need to study the customer's information on the CRM system, evaluate the various products and then decide which ones to recommend.
Using RPA, the entire process can be automated by using machine learning algorithms that perform all these tasks as well as confirm an appointment with the client in a fraction of the time a human would take. It can be used in several areas, including audits and compliance.
Healthcare The healthcare sector faces a significant number of repetitive administrative tasks such as scheduling patient appointments, processing claims, data entry, and billing. Automation of these processes speeds up the time taken, thereby creating a positive experience for patients. Additionally, it can help with better management of patient data and the network of third-party service providers.
Manufacturing RPA software helps in strengthening manufacturing processes through managing supply chain procedures, generating quotes and invoices for specific suppliers as well as handling routine daily activities such as updating accounts receivable and payable information and general ledger operations.
Retail Cumbersome activities in the retail process such as product categorization, a daily update of stock, managing order changes, and shipping statuses are among the tasks where RPA can help retail companies. Additionally, for e-commerce companies, robots can handle routine customer queries to improve customer response time, thereby generating goodwill for the brand.
Government Governments and local authorities provide a wide range of services such as healthcare, education, and housing, among others. Thus, government workers spend a significant amount of their time in collecting, cleaning, moving, and repurposing data. Automation can help to give them more time for more meaningful activities such as data analysis and integration.
Utilities Gas, electricity and water companies handle a large volume of monetary transactions daily, which requires a large volume of accounts and billing activities that can benefit from RPA. Moreover, these companies can automate a range of tasks such as debt recovery, meter reading, and customer service.
Key points for effective implementation of RPA
Setting and managing expectations Before the implementation of RPA commences, it is essential to manage expectations with the management team on aspects such as the implementation time, estimated cost, benefits, and cost savings.
Additionally, there should be a communication plan in place to update the key stakeholders to seek their participation and support for long-term development.
Considering the impact on business While RPA can boost business revenues and save costs, the key to its success lies in determining the impact that the tools have on aspects such as employee morale and customer satisfaction.
A bot performing repetitive or mundane tasks boosts employee morale by leaving them with time to focus on more valuable activities such as analysis and planning. Similarly, with bots providing quicker responses to customer queries, customer satisfaction improves tremendously.
Keeping IT involved from the initial stages Instead of RPA being an executive decision and activity that runs into issues during implementation, it's advisable to involve IT right from the beginning to ensure that all the required resources are in place for RPA to be implemented successfully.
Planning and managing the changes in design and processes The lack of management of design and processes often results in failure in RPA implementation. For instance, with the focus on implementation within a specified timeline, often communication between bots is overlooked, due to which they do not work together. It is crucial to plan and manage the entire process to avoid disruption of business processes.
Clear definition of the scope of RPA Robots can undertake a range of tasks from automation of manual data entry to the generation of data from multiple points. It's easy for CIOs to fall into the trap of generating more data than necessary and then struggling to find ways to leverage the data. Therefore, it's essential to define the scope of RPA clearly so that its benefits to the business are looked at from a long-term perspective instead of several smaller piecemeal projects.
Continuous monitoring/governance While RPA bots can perform most tasks without supervision, companies can run into roadblocks in the implementation process due to the lack of proper monitoring. A simple action such as a policy change, without adjusting the programming of the bot can lead to loss of important data. Therefore, it's essential to identify choke points and implement systems to monitor and alert the team of any discrepancies that affect performance.
Setting up an RPA team For RPA to be successfully implemented, there should be a team within the organization that champions its cause. From evaluating cost optimization and ROI to measuring progress against each of the business goals, the team can work with the technology staff to scale the project as required to ensure that everything works as it should.
Preparing to Implement RPA across the entire development cycle RPA implementation should be looked at across the entire development cycle. Otherwise, it may lead to bots needing to be reskilled after a while. The ideal way to achieve it is to look at RPA as a long-term journey in the process of the company's digital transformation.
What to look for in RPA software
Scalability For RPA implementation to benefit all parts of the organization, it should be scalable not only in terms of the increasing support to a larger number of bots that need to work together to carry out processes but also for expanding the scope of usage across functions within the company. Moreover, the tool should have the capability to integrate with newer technologies.
Speed One of the main aims of RPA is to increase the speed at which tasks are completed. Therefore, when choosing software, it is essential to evaluate whether it can deliver in terms of faster completion of tasks or mapping of processes.
Reliability A reliable support system is essential for RPA implementation to ensure trouble-free deployment, updates with technology innovations, and training users, among other things. Identifying a strong vendor with an excellent track record of providing client support is essential.
Simplicity Since RPA software will be used by business analysts and other employees with no technical knowledge or expertise in programming, it should be user-friendly, easily controllable, flexible, easy to work with, and require less training.
Intelligence An intelligent RPA tool is one that can be used easily and is non-invasive and compatible with existing legacy systems.
Before choosing an RPA tool for automation, in addition to performance features, it is advisable to evaluate relevant factors such as cost of ownership, employee training, and more. Additionally, working with a reliable Robotic Process Automation development company can play a significant role in successful implementation.
At TechAhead, our team includes RPA experts with experience in developing RPA software solutions for clients in varied sectors across multiple geographies. What's more! We offer continuous support to clients, even post-launch to ensure that the business process and the adoption of RPA is smooth.