An overview of robotic process automation (RPA): the first step toward business automation

  • March 02, 2020
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There’ve always been tasks in business that are repetitive and time consuming. How many times have you had to sit through cleaning up email, sorting through lists or downloading extensive files? The tasks become somewhat mind-numbing, causing one to lose focus on important items. The result is a compounded loss of efficiency, as well as errors that occur on “autopilot.”

Originally, the solution was to create scripts to repeatedly complete tasks via software. However, this approach showed limitations as scripts are rules-based and have limited adaptability. In recent years, scripting has advanced significantly to pave the way for Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA adds capability through logic and additional structured inputs to mimic more complicated human tasks.

The advanced features of RPA benefit an enterprise by reducing routine tasks and allowing employees to focus on complex business problems. This, in turn, enables significant cost savings throughout the organization and reduces the need for manual workflows. Additional indirect benefits may be gained when the workforce is more engaged with the business and spends less time on basic tasks. Additionally, removing the human element from remedial tasks takes away the element of human error, enabling more consistency. In a world of increasing regulation and dependence on data accuracy, reducing operational risk can be a key factor toward success.

One special feature about RPA is the simplicity and ease of application. RPA is designed for business users and can be implemented to improve operational efficiency within a relatively short time period. Most RPA software is process-focused and designed with the business user in mind. This reduces the burden on the business user to grasp the technical details, enabling the maintenance of bots on their own. The simplicity of the application increases the likelihood of adoption and success when implemented correctly.

Due to the natural focus of RPA, there are certain processes and application focus areas that are obvious beneficiaries, including:

  • Auditing and reconciliation — Automated checks and matching with various formats are ideal for software bots, which can ensure consistency and accuracy. The added features of optical character recognition (OCR) increase the capabilities of RPA, allowing for various types of documents to be compared.
  • Data extraction — Manual data extraction in systems not linked to larger data tools is repetitive and mundane. Data extraction and manual data entry are great for bots with basic pattern recognition and create immediate cost savings.
  • Payroll management — Payroll is a tedious process that must be completed on a regularly scheduled basis. Payroll software can help with most tasks, but RPA can go a step further and integrate with other systems and help with more complicated processes like employee onboarding.
  • Customer service — Customer service functions are good examples of man-machine systems. Simple service tasks such as creating customer profiles, billing data updates and profile updates can be automated with RPA. This allows for the care representatives to focus on more human-specific skills, creating value for their clients and reducing wait times.

RPA isn’t limited to helping with mundane tasks. In fact, thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) advancements, the software is handling more significant and sophisticated processes across industries. RPA’s ability to integrate with disparate systems – combined with its relative simplicity and ease of implementation – means it can help organizations transition to more advanced levels of business automation as part of a comprehensive solution. It’s important to understand where your business is along its automation and AI journey to correctly identify the right solution for the organization and its goals.

As more and more businesses rely on rapidly evolving automation software to enhance their productivity, the way we approach tasks will continue to change. Employees will spend less time on mundane and repetitive tasks. As a result, professional skillsets will evolve and employees will spend more time on higher-level functions that contribute to business growth.

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