BlogRobotic Process Automation (RPA): Understanding the Ins and Outs

Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Understanding the Ins and Outs

juli 18, 2019, Mobile Expense Management, Mobility / Service Support, Uitgaven

The term “robotic” is often correlated with the viral videos from Boston Dynamics featuring robots running, flipping and acclimating to various environmental factors. While these videos illustrate one aspect of how robots are changing the way physical work is done, the reality is that robots are becoming more ingrained in other areas like software, where they are used to mimic the actions of the user at the interface level. In fact, robotic augmentation is the most dominant and successful form of robotic automation (this is where robots are used to assist humans). Industries, such as manufacturing, have leveraged robotic augmentation to achieve significant improvements in performance and reductions in production costs, while also improving the quality and timeliness to complete or assist with repetitive manual tasks.

In this first of our two-part blog series, we will present a layman’s overview of what Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is, along with the many benefits and organization value it provides.

What is RPA?

In the IT industry, Robotic Process Automation, (RPA) represents a specific use-case application of how software is leveraged to automate portions of, or an entire manual rule-based process, to either greatly reduce or completely replace manual intervention.  The most common business application of RPA is managing the exchange and synchronization of data between disparate systems or recreating hardcopy data to electronic form. Over the last several decades, the business applications of RPA have expanded well beyond the original screen-scraping scripts, which were time consuming to set up and required expensive and often scarce programming resources to maintain.  RPA has proven to be a reliable method to not only reduce costs, but also improve quality and eliminate potential security liabilities.

Leveraging RPA

RPA is often deployed in situations where other types of more advanced integrations such as APIs, business process management (BPM) software or commercialized integration platform as a service (iPaaS) functions are either not possible, too expensive or take too much time to complete. Some general examples of where RPA is often deployed include:

  • Automating well-defined manual tasks or an entire structured workflow process
  • Reducing or removing manual resources consumed by high volumes of batch processes such as data loads, exports or rekeying data from hardcopy documents or between disparate systems
  • Linking disparate systems where direct integration via APIs or shared data repositories are not options
  • Submitting electronic transactions such as disputes, payments, incidents and orders to supplier systems
  • Resubmission of failed processes

Evaluating Process Candidates for RPA

There are multiple ways to automate interfaces between systems and web portals. RPA provides a means to streamline these activities, reduce costs of data entry and integration, and rapidly interact with customers, suppliers and governments.  RPA can only work if there is a well-defined structured business process that can be transcribed into a series of sequential programmatic steps.

The first step to creating an RPA-enabled process involves deconstructing and simplifying the sequence of tasks or an entire workflow into a chronology of micro tasks.  Organizations should also conduct analysis on their workflow processes in order to measure and quantify error rates and processing times while evaluating and identifying opportunities to progressively reduce the reliance on manual intervention.

The end goal is to develop a transparent and auditable automation process. It is imperative to institutionalize strong version control schedules with published product roadmaps that facilitate communication between developers and stakeholders to enable continuous improvement of RPA-enabled processes and to reduce processing cost.

The most appealing characteristics of candidates for RPA are: rules-driven, initiated by some type of electronic trigger or scheduler, involve manual calculation, repetitive in nature, data intensive, susceptible to high error rates, can be performed anytime, and have electronic endpoints. Processes that are highly personalized, require dynamic changes, are context sensitive or require initiation by voice or some form of bio-metric feedback are not viable candidates.

Value of RPA-Enabled Processes

Scheduled RPA workflows provide a means to create a 24×7 “virtual workforce” that completes structured processes by mimicking the user’s interactions such as authentication and navigating manual path(s) taken to traverse applications or web portals.  RPA processes may perform a variety of actions including automatically moving or populating data between prescribed data disparate repositories or files between directory locations, conduct calculations or trigger downstream activities based on the results of some event.  Some universal benefits organizations often derived from RPA-enabled processes include:

  • Improved accuracy – A well-architected RPA algorithm will provide the right result, decision or calculation the first time.
  • Enforced consistency – The hardened RPA process will start from identical inputs and context, follow the same process and enable the right result, decision or calculation every time and at the same cost.
  • Automated audit trail – RPA programs generate detailed documentation logs that may be essential for regulatory compliance or even SLA reporting.
  • Enhanced productivity – RPA workflows free up manual resources for more value-added tasks and customer-facing processes.
  • Superior elasticity – RPA programs can programmatically adjust capacity to manage spikes and troughs in demand.
  • Enriched staff morale – Using RPA to automate repetitive error-prone tasks allows organizations to redeploy resources to more motivating and compelling activities, customer interactions and upscale career opportunities.
  • Superior Reliability – RPA programs are essentially available 24/7 sans maintenance windows

The Bottom Line

Organizations can derive immense value from RPA to manage their information and communications technology business operations. In part two of this series, we will discuss specific use cases of how RPA can be deployed to automate the lifecycle for Telecom Expense Management (TEM) and Managed Mobility Services (MMS).  Organizations can leverage this information to assess the ability of their TEM and MMS providers to effectively scale to meet their dynamic business requirements and guarantee the quality and data security of completed work.