Getting Started with
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
From increased reliance on new technology to growing demands for remote work, digital transformation is a must for modern businesses. And RPA is a great place to start.
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INTRO TO RPA
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is technology designed to perform automated, repetitive, and predefined business tasks. These software programs, often called “bots,” offer businesses a digital workforce that improves the human work experience.
Thanks to fast implementation and substantial cost reductions, RPA tools help businesses create a happier and higher-performing workforce.
A Brief History of RPA
The earliest foundations of automation technology can be traced back to 1952, when Arthur Samuel created the first computer program to learn while it ran—it played a game of checkers. But it wasn’t until the introduction of screen scraping software in the 1990s, which was used to extract data from a variety of sources, that the groundwork for modern RPA was truly laid.
Around the same time, workflow became a primary business focus, and new tools were soon developed for workflow automation. These tools replaced paper-based tasks with automated, electronic-form processes. Next came the addition of modelling and business rules, which allowed for the establishment and analysis of business processes, which soon ushered in business process management (BPM) and subsequent BPM tools. These early technologies paved the way for RPA and artificial intelligence, which both became mainstream through the 2000s.
Today, RPA sees near-universal adoption by businesses across the globe, with some estimates predicting it to be a $7.2B industry by 2025.
Types of RPA
From increased reliance on new technology to growing demands for remote work, digital transformation is a must for modern businesses. And RPA is a great place to start. When referring to RPA, we generally talk about RPA bots (both attended and unattended) and intelligent automation, which incorporates artificial intelligence.
Bots that work in a process that involves humans
Attended bots are best for processes that involve decision-based work completed by a person. This typically includes front-office activities, like assigning a bot to retrieve a file from one system while a customer service rep fields calls and works in another system.
Bots that work in a process that is independent of humans
Unattended bots are best for highly repetitive work that requires volume, precision and speed. Unattended bots are usually for back-office, task-heavy operations, like entering high volumes of batched data into applications.
The combination of RPA and artificial intelligence
RPA is designed to improve processes by executing specific tasks using specific instructions. But, sometimes operations need to be scaled beyond tasks. This is when intelligent automation is best. By combining RPA and AI algorithms, businesses gain what’s called cognitive automation, which allows the technology to begin to “think” for itself and mimic human behavior. This maximizes the benefits of automation with analytics and insights, which further supports the human workforce.
Benefits of RPA for Today’s Businesses
System Agnostic, No Coding Required
Unlike API technology, which must be built into a system’s back-end, RPA is used on a system’s front-end, using the interface of a program the same way a human would (entering data, clicking tabs, etc.), but with better speed and proficiency. This makes RPA a perfect go-between for all systems and a huge gain for modern businesses, which typically rely on multiple legacy systems and technologies.
Huge Opportunities for ROI
The cost of human error is significant. Error-prone, time-intensive processes are the perfect candidates for RPA. Tasks like high-volume data entry, form fills, order processing and more can be completed by RPA bots with error-free results and faster production than humans can deliver. This, in turn, allows the human workforce to focus on things like customer-facing work and other high-order thinking.
Improving the Employee Experience
Humans aren’t robots. Our best work isn’t pushing buttons and filling boxes. It’s building things and creating relationships. When people are supported by automation, they are freed up to do their best work. In other words, with automation, the company creates a working environment built specifically to support the people it employs. This fosters trust, open lines of communication, a commitment to quality, and a sense of ownership.
RPA Use Cases
One of the best ways to understand the value of RPA is by looking at common use cases. The following examples are some of the most popular applications, but they’re certainly not the only ones. From improved sales reporting to simplified onboarding to optimized accounting and so much more, the benefits of RPA can reach virtually every department in every industry.
Accessing multiple systems and dashboards to manually process invoices takes up valuable employee time. Worse, these ineffective methods can cause delayed payments, inaccurate accounting, and increased days sales outstanding (DSO).
RPA for accounting solves all of these problems. RPA bots can quickly and easily access multiple systems to extract and transfer data, like pulling sales details from one program and inputting the data into another. This not only improves the rate at which invoices are sent, but also the rate payments are received, all while reducing errors and improving productivity.
From reading invoices one-by-one to accessing multiple programs to reconciling bills against orders to manually entering data, the tedious work in accounts payable can be a huge draw on valuable employee time.
RPA bots can quickly and easily scan, read and cross-check every invoice with every purchase order, providing a more efficient way to verify orders, catch duplications and prevent errors.
HR: Community Building for High-Value Employees
Recruiting top-tier talent and keeping a good churn rate are the primary focuses for any HR executive. When high-value employees do move on, maintaining positive relationships with them is a key aspect of smart networking and reputation building.
RPA bots can be programmed to send customized touch-base emails, reaching out periodically to keep in touch. Bots can also be used to scan social media and other online platforms for job-related announcements, initiating an alert for HR—and serving up the perfect conversation starter.
HR: Diversity Compliance
Diversity in the workplace is a known driver for productivity, problem solving, reduced turnover and company reputation. As such, it’s also a key focus area for recruiting and HR. RPA becomes a powerful tool for recruiters, scanning thousands of applications in a fraction of the time a person could read them. RPA bots can also scan HR systems for statistics and demographics to help support diversity initiatives within the current workforce.
Secure Proof of Deliveries (PODs)
No matter the industry, PODs are a primary part of the customer journey. Unfortunately, they are also a huge draw on human resources. Typically, the process for PODs is manual, time-intensive and error-prone. This contributes to more errors, processing delays, a high DSO ratio, and an overworked team. But as a critical process, it’s necessary work.
With RPA, businesses can assign bots to do the menial but necessary work, querying tracking systems and providing the shipping data back to warehouse management systems. The bots not only work around the clock, they deliver perfect results every time, and relieve employees of tedious tracking work—which ultimately improves operations and supports better cash flow.
How to Start with RPA
Before getting started with RPA, set some baseline goals and expectations. These might include financial goals like improving revenue margins or reducing costly errors, or experiential objectives like improving the customer experience or enhancing workplace safety. Regardless of the specific goals, they should be well defined and ladder up to broader company goals. Optimization is the name of the game with RPA, and the best way to achieve it is to have objectives you can continually measure against.
Next, you’ll need to choose a partner. Your RPA partner should have extensive experience and be able to explain exactly what you can expect every step of the way.
When you partner with EPSoft Technologies, you get a smooth implementation process start-to-finish. You’ll work with industry veterans, here to help your team deliver measurable new efficiencies almost immediately with the EPSoft Intelligent Automation Platform.
Once you’re ready to get started, choose the best opportunities for automation within your business. And if you’re working with us, we’ll help with this part. The most successful tasks for automation include these properties:
- Highly structured
- Time intensive
- High volume
- Highly repetitive
- Rules based
Process Mining: How to Gain a Realistic View of Workflows
Process mining is a great way to quickly analyze your business process. This helps you diagnose problems, devise action plans, prevent future problems, and constantly optimize. Statistically speaking, it’s also one of the best ways to ensure the highest ROI.
- Organize. Start by getting a realistic view of your existing workflows. If you have your event logs for your systems, simply upload them to your automation platform. If not, be sure to work with an RPA partner that can get them for you by capturing data directly from your systems.
- Analyze with Process Intelligence. Analyze your process and map it into workflows. One big advantage of the EPSoft Intelligent Automation Platform is that the platform does this step for you. It maps out the workflow and identifies problems, pointing out which parts of the process will benefit most from automation, so you can be sure you’ll gain the biggest ROI. We call it process intelligence, and it offers a big-picture view of every step in your business process with process mining, along with a deep-dive analysis and recommendations for how to make it better.
- Optimize. Business process isn’t static; it’s constantly evolving. Thanks to process mining, you can too. You’ll have a big-picture understanding of your process as a whole, allowing you to plan for the potential impact of changes before they happen, and swiftly make adjustments when inevitable changes occur otherwise.
Common RPA Problems to Avoid
As more businesses use RPA to improve how work gets done, inevitably, there are challenges along the way. In our experience, knowing what to avoid is as important as knowing what to do. Here’s a few common problems we’ve seen, and how we recommend preventing them.
Problem 1: Relying on People for Data
Relying on employees to outline a business process can create confusion, poor documentation, and inaccurate workflows. Without accurate workflows, automation can only help so much. Instead, capture event log data directly from your systems whenever possible.
Problem 2: No Roadmap
While it’s tempting to simply dive in with RPA and start automating so-called “low-hanging fruit” processes, you’ll want a solid plan in place first. Automation presents unique challenges and it’s important to have guidelines along the way to help shape your progress. This roadmap should identify timelines and milestones and align with broader company goals. It should also account for change, providing enough flexibility to make adjustments at any given time.
Problem 3: Automating the Wrong Things
Some things simply shouldn’t be automated. Trying to automate them anyway usually does not end well. Instead, keep people involved in processes that require valuable human judgement, like overseeing atypical payments or drafting sensitive customer service responses. Additionally, look to automate tasks that will bring the biggest impact with the fastest returns—this will not only improve efficiencies but also accelerate digital transformation.
RPA as part of a Broader Digital Strategy
RPA and Digital Transformation
It’s important to understand that digital transformation is not a standardized journey. Success looks different from every perspective, it evolves as you go, and it’s not going to come from a singular project or solution. Rather, it’s the sum of all these solutions together, adapting and working toward a better future.
As a component of digital transformation, RPA is no different. It too is an iterative process that evolves with the business, requires agility and the ability to scale.
When you first get started with RPA, it’s easy to overthink it. Don’t! Start with the parts of your process that are sure to bring the biggest, fastest returns. You’ll feel the effects of new efficiencies immediately, and can parlay the returns into more projects. Before you know it, you’re well on your way to digital transformation.
Elevating Human Potential
Statistically speaking automation is not just a good idea, it’s one of the most cost effective ways to improve your business. According to McKinsey, 81% of predictable physical work, 69% of data processing, and 64% percent of data-collection activities can be automated—reducing costs by up to 60% within the first year, while boosting quality and production speed.
By incorporating the power of AI and business analytics to automation, you transform the way work gets done. True transformation isn’t about replacing people, but rather learning to elevate human potential.