Are you ready to take advantage of Robotic Process Automation?

Posted on : 28-02-2018 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation, Uncategorized

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Robotic Process Automation or RPA is growing fast. We were initially sceptical as to how innovative it actually is but are always looking for ways to help our clients (and Broadgate!) work more efficiently.

RPA technology, sometimes called a software robot or ‘bot’, mimics a human worker, logging into applications, entering data, calculating and completing tasks, and logging out.

RPA software isn’t really part of an organisation’s IT infrastructure. It sits above, enabling a company to implement the technology quickly and efficiently without changing the existing infrastructure and systems.

RPA could be seen as a ‘tactical’ approach to solving a business problem. In the long term the ‘bots’ should be replaced by strategic solutions but the advantages of quickly being able to make a process more efficient and remove human error can make immediate efficiency gains. And we all know how long these tactical solutions can remain in place….

The evolution of RPA

Although the term “robotic process automation” can be traced to the early 2000s, it had been developing for a number of years previously. We worked on screen scraping applications in the early ’90s to help turn ‘green screens’ into newly fashionable GUI applications.

RPA evolved from three key technologies: screen scraping (mimicking user interaction), workflow automation and artificial intelligence.

Screen scraping is the process of collecting screen display data from a legacy application so that the data can be displayed by a more modern user interface. The advantages of workflow automation software, which eliminates the need for manual data entry and increases order fulfilment rates, include increased speed, efficiency and accuracy. Lastly, artificial intelligence involves the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that normally require human intervention and intelligence.

Benefits of RPA

Robotic process automation technology can help organisations on their digital transformation stories by:

  • Creating cost savings for manual and repetitive tasks
  • Enabling employees to be more productive
  • Enabling better customer service
  • Ensuring business operations and processes comply with regulations and standards
  • Allowing processes to be completed much more rapidly
  • Providing improved efficiency by digitising and auditing processes

Applications of RPA

Some of the applications of RPA include:

  • Financial services: Companies in the financial services industry can use RPA for foreign exchange payments, automating account openings and closings, managing audit requests and processing insurance claims.
  • Customer service: RPA can help companies offer better customer service by automating call centre tasks, including verifying e-signatures, uploading scanned documents and verifying information for automatic approvals or rejections.
  • Accounting: Organisations can use RPA for general accounting, operational accounting, transactional reporting and budgeting.
  • Supply Chain:  RPA can be used for procurement, automating order processing and payments, monitoring inventory levels and tracking shipments.
  • Healthcare: Medical organizations can use RPA for handling patient records, claims, customer support, account management, billing, reporting and analytics.
  • Human resources: RPA can automate HR tasks, including onboarding and offboarding, updating employee information and timesheet submission processes.

 

What’s so different from regular automation?

What distinguishes RPA from traditional IT automation is the ability of the RPA software to be aware and adapt to changing circumstances, exceptions and new situations.
Once RPA software has been trained to capture and interpret the actions of specific processes in existing software applications, it can then manipulate data, trigger responses, initiate new actions and communicate with other systems autonomously.
RPA software is particularly useful for organisations that have many different and complicated systems that need to interact together fluidly.
For instance, if an electronic form from a Compliance system (such as know your customer) is missing a postcode, traditional automation software would flag the form as having an exception and an employee would handle the exception by looking up the correct postcode and entering it on the form. Once the form is complete, the employee might send it on to Compliance so the information can be entered into the approved customer system.
With RPA technology, however, software that has the ability to adapt, self-learn and self-correct would handle the exception and interact with the payroll system without human assistance.

What to look for in RPA software

When enterprise leaders look for RPA technologies, they should consider a number of things, including:

  • Simplicity: Organisations should look for products that are simple enough that any employee in the business can build and use them to handle various kinds of work, including collecting data and turning content into information that enables leaders to make the best business decisions.
  • Speed: Enterprises should be able to design and test new robotic processes in a few hours or less, as well as optimise the bots to work quickly.
  • Reliability: As companies launch robots to automate hundreds or even thousands of tasks, they should look for tools with built-in monitoring and analytics that enable them to monitor the health of their systems.
  • Intelligence: The best RPA tools can support simple task-based activities, read and write to any data source, and take advantage of more advanced learning to further improve automation.
  • Scalability: Organisations shouldn’t select RPA software that requires them to deploy software robots to desktops or virtualised environments. They should look for RPA platforms that can be centrally managed and scale massively.
  • Enterprise-class: Companies should look for tools that are built from the ground up for enterprise-grade scalability, reliability and manageability.

Prerequisites for robotic process automation

  1. Are you able to describe the work? This doesn’t mean your documentation exists or is current. The task could be described by recording a user performing their work on a computer including how they handle exceptions.
  2. Is the work rules-based rather than subjective? Robots need to be prepared (aka, taught, trained, configured) to perform specific actions on your systems. Current technology is insufficient for a robot to determine on its own what to when faced with a new situation.
  3. Is the work performed electronically? It doesn’t matter how many different applications are required or whether they are in-house, cloud-based, Citrix, desktop or mainframe.
  4. Is the required data structured (or could it be structured)? If not, you may be able to utilise an OCR and/or cognitive application capable of structuring the file.  Alternatively, you could have people enter the data into a structured format.

Disqualifiers for robotic process automation use cases​​

  1. Process stability. If your organisation keeps changing the process (e.g., responding to competitive factors or new sources of information), then it may not be the right time to automate it. Despite investing resources to stabilise the current activity, you may end up with too much maintenance to keep your automation aligned to business needs.
  2. Target applications suitability. Some applications are harder for robots to use than others. It’s a fact that vendors don’t really like to highlight in the sales process. Starting with an especially challenging target application could delay the whole program, cause fatigue in leadership and put your credibility at risk. If you have to do it, make sure that you build in an accurate view of the time required.

Organisational impacts of RPA

Though automation software is expected to replace up to 120 million full-time employees worldwide by 2024, many high-quality jobs will be created for those who maintain and improve RPA software.

When software robots do replace people in the enterprise, managers need to be responsible for ensuring that business outcomes are achieved and new governance policies are met.

Robotic process automation technology also requires that the CIO take more of a leadership role and assume accountability for the business outcomes and the risks of deploying RPA tools.

Additionally, the COO, CIO and HR, as well as the relevant executive who owns the process being automated, should all work toward ensuring the availability of an enterprise-grade, secure platform for controlling and operating bots across systems.

Where the robotic process automation market is heading

One report expects the RPA market to reach $5 billion by 2024. The increased adoption of RPA technologies by organisations to enhance their capabilities and performance and boost cost savings will reportedly drive the growth of the robotic process automation market most during that time.

We are excited that the mix of technologies and domain business expertise will enable this growth and we are focusing on growing our skills in this area.