Robotic Process Automation, also known as RPA, is the name given to the operation of automating a repetitive computer-based task within a business or office. The task being automated is normally one which would be carried out by humans, such as data-entry.
Whilst some software packages, such as Microsoft Excel, have for many years offered users the ability to automate tasks using macros or key-press recording, this functionality was generally limited to operations that were performed entirely within that single software package. Examples of this would be copying data from one Excel workbook to another.
Where modern RPA systems stand out is in their ability to automate entire task workflows, even if that workflow requires transferring data from one software package to another. These tasks are performed by software robots, commonly referred to as “bots”.
Some of the industries where RPA is used include finance and banking, manufacturing, and healthcare. In fact, any industry that has a requirement to process large amounts of data could probably benefit from it.
How does Robotic Process Automation work?
Robotic Process Automation is especially useful where the software packages involved in the task have no inbuilt way of communicating with each other or importing/exporting data en-mass. An example of this might be extracting names and addresses from PDF files attached to emails, and then entering that information into a company’s customer management system.
Traditionally, this may have required a human to either copy and paste the details manually from the PDF files into the customer management system. Alternatively, they may have had to copy them from PDF into a spreadsheet file that could then be imported into the customer management system. Either way, it could be time-consuming and boring for the human operator, as well as opening up the possibility of human errors such as typos.
As a solution, an RPA task can be created that will automatically:
Open up the email program
Login to the customer management system
Find and open up a PDF email attachment
Extract the required data from the PDF
Enter the extracted data into the customer management system
It will then repeat the above process over and over again, running 24/7 if needs be, until the task is completed. In addition, the required task could be scheduled to run hourly, daily, or weekly, depending on how often such emails arrived.
In addition to just copying data from one place to another, RPA tasks can also include rule-based decision making steps that can again relieve the burden on human operators. For example, an RPA bot might accept or reject loan applications based on an applicant’s credit score, without a human ever being involved in the decision-making process.
Will RPA put people out of jobs?
Whilst it may seem them that Robotic Process Analysis is designed to reduce the number of humans required in a particular business department, its strengths lie in freeing up human operators who can then dedicate their time to more valuable tasks.
In the credit card example above, RPA might be used to accept or reject applications that clearly fall one side or the other of a particular credit score threshold. However, applications where the credit score is in a “grey area” just below that threshold might be directed by the bot to a human operator. That operator can then look at some other factors before making a human decision on whether to accept or reject it.
In this way, rather than reducing the “human touch” within a business, RPA can actually increase it, by giving humans more time to focus on the important tasks. After all, a bored, overworked human with a desk full of loan applications to clear by the end of the day isn’t going to put as much thought into each application as one who is calm and relaxed. Instead, they may just grab the “REJECTED” stamp in order to clear the pile of papers and get home at a decent time.
The beauty of RPA packages is that they make it relatively easy for new bots to be created to compete tasks. This means that rather than requiring experienced software developers, existing employees could be trained to create and run the bots.
What else can RPA do?
In addition to just running the tasks, Robotic Process Automation platforms can also gather analytics from the data they’re handling and present it to data analysts within the company.
Going back to our earlier loan application example, the RPA platform could gather analytic data about the average credit score of applicants, the average loan amount requested, or the percentage of successful applications versus the number of rejections. It could even map number of applications by geographical location, to allow the company to see where the most applicants live, and to allow them to see areas where they might need to step up their marketing campaigns.
As you can see then, there are many ways in which Robotic Process Automation can help a business. The key is really to have an RPA expert carry out a feasibility study on each potential task to see if it can successfully be automated and to see if the return on investment is good enough.
Will all that in mind, you now know a bit more about what RPA Robotic Process Automation is, and how it can help improve a business or company.