Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a piece of highly customized software, either called a Software Robot or a BOT, that is able to perform a variety of tasks as a part of the digital enterprise.
RPA is slowly starting to become a vital component of a digital enterprise as they take over repetitive tasks in order to reduce manual efforts. As businesses are evolving with new technologies, it is important to see how RPA can help them adapt to market changes at a fast pace.
Thus, we have talked to experts in the industry about the future of RPA and its importance.
What is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an application technology that is governed by business rules and structured inputs aimed at automating business operations using robots (bots) in order to reduce human intervention.
Indeed, as Mahesh Kapakayala, RPA Consultant at Jaguar Land Rover, RPA software can be configured as a Bot that could interact with existing applications of the Business, emulate human actions to perform a sequence of process steps (without human intervention). A Bot does exactly what it has been taught to do over and over again the same set of actions without errors. The process activities performed by the Bot could be processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses, and communicating with other digital systems.
RPA is the automation of repetitive, rule-based tasks that have typically been labor-intensive with low value add, Michael Thorpe, RPA Lead at Octopus Investments notes. Hence, RPA allows the Robot to be taken out of the human worker, freeing them up to complete higher value add tasks.
The value of RPA in business
RPA helps leverage a business to reduce staffing costs and remove the cost of human errors.
Mahesh points out that bots are relatively low cost and could be implemented much quicker than a traditional application/software implementation. Bots don’t need application integration, which enables businesses to focus on growth without substantially increasing manpower or spending more on IT integration.
Moreover, Michael believes RPA is one of the most important tools available to businesses as it challenges the traditional approach to manual tasks. Not only does it provide an efficient and comparatively cheap way of completing repetitive tasks, but it also allows employees to take ownership of their careers and spend more time doing things that will help them grow and learn in their careers, rather than complete monotonous, often boring tasks that generate little value to their professional growth.
Besides, RPA allows people who sit within the business, an opportunity to learn a more technical skill and expose them to an energy technology sector that can give them opportunities outside of those within their current organization. This is something that used to be rare and often required significant investment in time and additional investigation.
Complimentary to this, RPA offers those within the business to help deliver solutions that can have an immediate impact on the areas that they understand. Those in these teams typically have a better understanding as to exactly what is needed as opposed to those who may work in a project team. Michael states that you will get around 50-75% of what you ask for in a project, while an RPA solution will give closer to 90% on day 1, with further iteration possible in the future.
Implementing RPA into a business?
According to Michael, the most important thing to ensure the automation program is set up for long-term success is to have executive level buy-in. A business needs to make sure that its RPA program is intended to be a long-term, strategic solution, and not something transient. When you start thinking about a process agnostic digital workforce that can be called upon, you start to think differently about the tool you have.
He adds that it is vital to have the right people in your Centre of Excellence. RPA is a low code technology; however, you still need people with an element of technical knowledge and understanding. You need to make sure that you give those in the team the right amount of training and time to continue to learn and develop.
Thus, he suggests to always have a dedicated team focus on this for a period of months, rather than trying to pick up processes to develop alongside their day job. If you try to multitask, it takes longer to see the return on investment and can make justification to Exec level management far more difficult.
Once you have an automation project signed off, spend time agreeing on a 12–18-month roadmap of processes to automate. This timeline and the processes in it might change, but it’s important to know what you’re working towards and be able to demonstrate this to senior stakeholders when challenged. As to what processes to choose, focus on the low-hanging fruit. Look for processes that are labor-intensive, have high volumes, have backlogs or even just ask people what tasks they try to avoid doing (these conversations always managed to win over the skeptics).
Finally, once you start delivering processes, make sure you shout about your successes. As part of your Automation roadmap, think about MI collation and presentation so you have some high-quality collateral to back up your claims. Do everything you can to bring those hard figures to life.
For Mahesh, the keys for a successful RPA implementation are to:
- Identify processes that have a higher impact on business operations either in terms of manual effort (using more HeadCount) or which less process efficient due to manual errors, data integration.
- Assess Automation feasibility and ROI to the Business
- Define process standards, procedures, and guidelines
- Ensure data is fit for automation (structured data)
- Manage Development and Deployment of Bot in a controlled manner
- Handle change management – help teams’ confluence with Bot, the new way of working
- Ensure compliance of process with compliance and security guidelines
- Communicate with both upstream and downstream stakeholders
The benefits of RPA…
The benefits of RPA are vast but at a high level, it’s a low cost and efficient technology to help generate additional value to an organization, Mahesh points out. Indeed, he states that it offers the business an opportunity to take ownership of their own needs rather than going down the typical project and development route.
Furthermore, Michael adds that most business processes have repetitive tasks that are performed on a daily basis, for example downloading excel files from outlook and populating that information into SAP. This process has a defined set of actions that do not require any cognitive capabilities, a Bot can be trained to perform these actions.
Bots are 100% process compliant, can perform rules-based repetitive tasks on structured data exceedingly well with any errors, and could be scaled on demand. This then provides businesses the flexibility to reduce the cost of FTEs and retain humans to work more on higher-value work/exceptions.
…And the drawbacks
One of the most difficult things to deal with is getting the balance right, Michael shared.
Indeed, he underlines that he has too often seen organizations have RPA as an additional task for a team rather than committing to a full-time Centre of Excellence. The issue with this is that you won’t see the return on investment quickly enough. Besides, when learning a new skill if you aren’t able to consolidate your learning, you’re going to forget it.
More often than never, businesses pick the wrong processes. They focus on the popular or high-profile processes rather than those that are most suitable. The problem with this is that you end up with a higher number of exceptions and the return on investment takes a hit. There’s no harm in looking at smaller processes to get things going and then pick the bigger processes once you have more knowledge of the tool.
Finally, he continues, there can be challenges with IT and the wider Product groups. Typically, this can come because you are offering an alternative to the traditional ‘change’ routes. Equally, you are often having to ask for exceptions to group policy and security config that people don’t like, and often don’t fully understand. This is why it’s so important to get the IT heads on board from day 1.
Mahesh emphasizes that RPA is not effective if the nature of the process changes quite often and if large amounts of the data will remain unstructured. If the business rules change quite often or the process is complex which requires a decision, automating such processes will fail will over a period of time. Even minor changes to the setup can cause disruptions to the Bot.
Bots are not capable of detecting obvious errors the way humans can do. If data is incorrect, Bot will not call it out but will pass it on. Whereas RPA is effective in the short term it doesn’t replace the need to digitize and make processes more efficient or for Business transformation. It is a quick fix as opposed to doing things correctly from the start (end-to-end process automation).
The importance of RPA
Michael believes that RPA will grow in importance in the future for a number of reasons.
Firstly, understanding. It’s no longer an unknown technology. So many large organizations have Digital Workforces and so the worry and uncertainty around them have gone. Secondly, there is a real drive to add ‘Intelligent’ ahead of ‘Automation’. Whilst we aren’t quite at the widespread adoption of ‘intelligent Automation’ just yet, these cognitive elements are getting better and more available each week.
Once we have more use cases then we will see the early adopters of RPA start to take the next step and begin to ‘add the human back into the robot’. Thirdly – the net cost of RPA is decreasing. There are now community versions available free of charge, additional software given as part of the platforms, and training available for free. The barriers to entry are disappearing
Furthermore, Mahesh highlights that the global pandemic and the economic crisis has put a lot of organizations in a state of flux, made them change business processes, and has also highlighted the need for more automation through RPA.
Hence, companies will need to work with limited resources and RPA is a good way to do reduce costs, build resilient processes, and support teams. RPA is not a short-term phenomenon, and it will grow in importance beyond the pandemic supporting businesses.
The future of RPA
Mahesh believes that RPA technology will continue to play a pivotal role in automating and integrating all possible business processes to drive lasting value for the organization.
Using Intelligent Automation – RPA with complementary technologies like Read & Interpret, Process Mining, Machine Learning, NLP, Virtual Bots, and Workflow Orchestration Business can automate more and more complex processes with even unstructured data. IA will allow automation more sophisticated and complex work, augmenting human capabilities and enhancing decision-making across organizations.
Michael also thinks RPA will be more accessible and affordable and with this, you will start to see even more widespread adoption. He believes that it will be interesting when you start to see smaller organizations start to use it.
Low-level accountants or financial advisers who may have a small, family-run office employing an admin assistant or two. They could use RPA to dramatically cut their costs, but the issue is who do they use to build the processes for them. I think there’s a gap in the market for people to help these smaller companies.
He adds that we will start to see a more modular approach to the tools. You may get a base edition for free but then have to pay extra for additional modules and functionality. This is something that I believe Automation Anywhere has been doing for some time.
Special thanks to Michael Thorpe and Mahesh Kapakayala for their useful insights!