Imagine training a remote employee on the ins and outs of your business’ HR and payroll software. This may pose a few problems.
The processes they're familiar with aren’t exactly aligned with the processes used in your business. This requires a mental shift for the remote employee.
The steep learning curve of retaining information related to the software.
The remote employee is subject to human error.
Now, imagine being able to share your screen with a virtual assistant – in this case, a computer coded robot. You go through the same ins and outs, only now, the bot is logging every process and retaining the information instantly. This is the basis of RPA.
What is RPA?
Robotic process automation is a business process aimed at automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Robots are programmed to watch human users complete a set of tasks. Then, robots repeat those tasks with extreme accuracy.
RPA isn’t necessarily a new concept. In the early 2000s, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, workflow automation, and screen scraping were explored to reduce time spent on simple tasks.
The combination of these technologies gave way to RPA – a more efficient way of automation.
How does RPA work?
Some of today’s RPA software may leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to handle higher volume, more complex tasks. But even though RPA consists of a number of technologies, it’s still very user-friendly for even the most novice tech users.
Here are a few ways robots are able to mimic tasks:
Drag-and-drop workflows – Nearly every RPA solution today allows business users to program bots with visual editors. These editors contain drag-and-drop features to create custom workflows. These features are so intuitive, essentially any user can program bots with drag-and-drop.
Prebuilt templates – For even easier RPA deployment, some solutions offer prebuilt drag-and-drop workflow templates.
Workflow recording – Some users are more comfortable completing tasks themselves when it comes to training others. In this case, RPA software contains workflow recording so the bot watches the human user in real-time.
Bot scheduling – Robots can be scheduled to complete tasks in advance, or a human can trigger the bot at any time to start the automation process.
Computer vision – With natural language processing software and optical character recognition (OCR), robots can read text and icons during workflow sessions. Computer vision strengthens a robot’s ability to complete tasks accurately.
One important note – RPA software is not a substitute for a business’ IT infrastructure. Instead, RPA sits on top and acts as a complement to existing systems.
Also, most RPA software today offers its own analytics, which shows just how efficient the robot is as its task and any errors it came across.
What can RPA do?
By now we know robots are able to mimic human users and repeat tasks with extreme accuracy, but exactly which tasks are we referring to?
Below are some of the more common tasks robots can automate:
Data extraction and migration – Anyone who has worked in data entry understands just how monotonous it can be. With RPA, structured data can be auto-extracted from emails, internal applications, and other sources. From there, that data can be migrated to necessary areas. For example, auto-populating contact request forms for customers.
Web scraping – Data on the web like stat roundups, pricing options, stock info, and others can be quite valuable. However, acquiring this data manually is impossibly time-consuming, which is why web scraping is one of the more important tasks a bot will automate.
Data management – Consolidating data across multiple sources, ensuring it is standardized and not duplicate is just mind-numbing. Robots can be deployed to manage data with hyper-accuracy. This is especially helpful when dealing with customer data in CRM software.
Customer segmentation – Robots can be programmed to monitor customer activities, identify up-sell opportunities, and assign customers to specific marketing campaigns. This allows for deeper customer segmentation.
The tasks above are just some of the more common and encompass even smaller tasks that we’ll list below using some industry examples.
5 industry examples using RPA
Each industry can benefit in some way from RPA software and implementing an automation strategy. Here are five industry examples where the benefits of RPA is already paying off.
1. Business administration
One of the more headache-inducing tasks in business admin is the procurement process, or the process of planning, monitoring, and purchasing a good or service.
Using RPA software, businesses can automate many of the administrative tasks associated with procurement. For example, robots can be deployed to monitor inventory levels and trigger a response when inventory is low.
Spending too much time on invoice processing? Using RPA with OCR capabilities, robots can scan and extract invoice data accurately and post it to the accounting system.
Shifts at the hospital can be mentally and physically draining, and the last thing a med tech needs is to stay up on repetitive, low-priority tasks.
RPA software can easily keep medical records up to date, automate order entry, decision support, and claim processing. This could free up time for med techs, allowing them to accomplish more throughout the day.
3. Financial services
Accurate credit scoring and fraud detection are some of the more tedious but necessary tasks in the financial services industry. Fortunately, many bots can be deployed at once to comb through accounts and transaction data to detect fraudulent behavior.
In banking, RPA software is successfully reducing the need for pricey human analysts through the automation of account closures, direct debit cancellations, audit reports, and much more.
4. Human resources
There are a variety of benefits RPA can provide for human resources (HR) today. A few of these benefits is the automation of applicant tracking systems, updating records across databases, and creating new documentation in payroll systems.
When it comes to on-boarding, there are benefits as well. For example, more personalized employee training documents distributed at the right times. This can be scheduled or triggered by hiring managers.
RPA can be easily integrated with a business’ accounting software. One of the benefits of this integration is faster invoice processing.
First, bots will be deployed using OCR to scan and extract structured data from invoices. Then, they’ll assemble the data in a template and run it through an ERP system to validate the invoices. Invalidated invoices will be archived for a human operator to send back to the customer.
There are many more industry examples using RPA, can you think of any that are relevant to the day-to-day of your business?
Is RPA right for my business?
The goal of RPA software is to minimize human errors, reduce operational costs, and free up valuable time for employees. If automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks is a priority for your business, then it may be time to consider RPA.
Robots are generally low-cost to deploy, and as we learned earlier, they’re quite simple to program tasks since no deep software knowledge is required.
However, like any piece of software, it’s always advised to have a human operator on-hand to intervene and troubleshoot when necessary. The same goes for RPA software, especially when dealing with mass-automation.
Another thing to touch on is that machine learning and artificial intelligence are not widely incorporated yet with RPA software. Although, most solutions today are prioritizing investments in AI/ML capabilities to ensure bots are performing their tasks more “intelligently” and are able to adapt under more circumstances.
RPA is an important pillar of digital transformation, however, there are many more trends to consider if you’re looking to implement a successful DX strategy. Here are the top 14 digital transformation trends to look out for in 2019.
Devin is a former senior content specialist at G2. Prior to G2, he helped scale early-stage startups out of Chicago's booming tech scene. Outside of work, he enjoys watching his beloved Cubs, playing baseball, and gaming. (he/him/his)