It’s time to give users a break from legacy systems and mundane tasks, zapping them of the opportunity to be more productive and creative.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a hot topic with strong market growth predicted over the next five years. An increased focus on user experience, both internal and external, as well as the speed-to-market, and relatively low-cost point of RPA solutions are driving this trend.
New advances in RPA, Text Mining, and Natural Language Processing are allowing companies to take advantage of a cost-effective way to address inefficient, manual processes. These technologies help fill the gap for system integration challenges. By behaving as human actors in software programs, Bots mimic human actions to fulfill system integration needs.
Often led by business leaders, RPA solutions serve as tactical measures for process improvement. By leveraging existing system and application user interfaces, RPA solutions also provide workforce and process acceleration without the burden of deep system change, re-engineering, or extensive development and testing resources.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning will continue to grow as automation capabilities increase. Especially given that Academia will continue to push the boundary of the possible while software vendors in this space seek to establish real-world applications for these new cognitive capabilities.
As this trend grows, RPA vendors will, perhaps, be best poised to take advantage of these ever-increasing cognitive capabilities. And organizations will benefit by not only taking advantage of short-term ROI in RPA opportunities today, but also by designing solutions of tomorrow with Robotics in mind.
RPA Questions Answered
You probably still have a lot of questions – and we have your answers below:
#1 – How do you get started with BPM and RPA tools at your company?
Business Process Management (BPM) and RPA toolsets differ in scope and functionality. While BPM is broader in strategy and vision, often spanning multiple organizational units or functions, RPA technology lends itself to a more tactical task acceleration with a smaller focus per implementation.
However, both initiatives start with process discovery. It is critical to understand and visualize an organization’s core business processes to adequately measure and define improvement opportunities. After all, we can’t improve what we can’t see, and we can’t validate improvements that we can’t measure.
In short, start with an area of focus and apply a disciplined approach to process discovery and documentation. This effort provides visibility into an action and a general education for all parties involved as to the scope and possibilities for improvement.
In the case of RPA, once defined, identify those portions of the business process that involve human actors in tasks that meet the following criteria:
- High Volume
- Low Variance
- Low Knowledge Add
- Mundane and Repetitive
- Prone to Human Error
RPA can handle these types of tasks, freeing up human actors for higher knowledge and value-add work.
#2 – How can you use RPA tools to deliver solutions better, faster, and cheaper?
Educate business leaders on the capabilities of RPA software. What it is, and more importantly, what it is not.
RPA solutions use existing application interfaces to perform keyboard and mouse inputs with little to no IT infrastructure or application changes. That means business leaders and users working on these systems on a daily basis are often best suited to identify RPA opportunities for workforce acceleration.
With business leader input, process discovery, and a disciplined approach – which includes building an Enterprise Automation Roadmap – you can begin to rank RPA improvement opportunities as well as define scope and optimal process targets to gain quick wins and ROI.
#3 – How can we link test automation with process automation?
While traditional automated testing tools may seem similar to RPA functionality, most of those testing tools are more rigid and script-driven than modern RPA software. Automated tests are often driven from prescribed input hoping to derive a prescribed output.
RPA technology provides an environment to design Bot process flows that are more flexible and automate between multiple application interfaces. Here are two examples:
- Reading from a spreadsheet to perform standard data entry into a CRM
- Generating routine reports for distribution based on scheduled user action and requested parameters
#4 – How do you achieve success with these tools?
A mature discovery and delivery methodology remains a key success factor in both BPM and RPA projects. Establishing an organized Center of Excellence to help keep these programs on the rails will have a measurable positive impact on project success rates.
Start with a business area that is open to change, ready and willing to embrace technology.
Success begets success. A focused approach to process improvement with a quick-win aptitude produces an organizational environment ready for adoption.
#5 – How do you automate actions – or tasks – from data?
RPA tools allow you to interact with traditional applications such as Word or Excel, or even database interfaces that users would operate for data entry.
Bots can read data from an Excel sheet, or other system interface like an invoice system or even scanned invoice documents using Optical Character Recognition. They use that input data to enter into a corresponding system such as Salesforce or a custom-built system.
When programmed into RPA solutions, these tasks can be executed at a much higher rate of speed and with a much higher rate of accuracy than that of human actors.
Bots don’t copy and paste the wrong data, they don’t get distracted when an email comes in or their phone buzzes, they don’t get tired and complain when working on weekends and nights; in short, they don’t make mistakes.
Not only does that increase throughput, but it improves accuracy and compliance as well.
#6 – How do you integrate RPA into core systems?
RPA technology really solves a gap in system-to-system integrations. All process automation initiatives seek to reduce human touch points and improve communications between systems.
However, all too often we lack the available technological communication mechanisms or Application Programming Interfaces to adequately produce these system-to-system integrations.
Many times, it is far too expensive and risky to look into system code to design, develop, and deploy system changes that expose new APIs. Especially with many core legacy systems – that are so heavily relied on – to rip and replace.
RPA addresses this problem by leveraging these core system interfaces, the same user interfaces and screens that users use today to automate structured steps within a process.
This frees up valuable human resources, accelerating your workforce and giving them time to work on value-add activities.
#7 – What tools do you use and configure to accelerate and automate tasks?
Which tool to use to solve any problem often depends on the problem and challenges you’re trying to address. There are varying degrees of fit-for-purpose RPA solutions and of course varying price points.
Some solutions offer attended Bot capabilities for use cases such as chat bots or helper bots running alongside a user. While others excel at back office, un-attended process automation and scalability.
You should establish fit-for-purpose selection criterion to match your desired use cases and program strategy. A reference to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and Forrester’s Wave on RPA vendors is a good place to start with the following rising to the top in both, among others:
- Automation Anywhere
#8 – How do you scale for RPA and BPM adoption? How do you build repeatable automation solutions?
Repeatable success starts with a repeatable process to program management. A Center of Excellence group helps define these procedures and consolidate a core competency of how to go about process improvement and automation projects.
Maintain a visible list of business process areas of focus in the form of an Enterprise Automation Roadmap. Continue to refer to and refine this roadmap in order to stack rank areas of opportunity and scale solution delivery.
Maintain a library of assets across BPM and RPA solutions. This is important as new process improvement initiatives are evaluated. A single core group can provide visibility into assets already available or make slight changes to increase velocity and standardize.
Develop and iterate on best practices to implementation. Don’t re-invent the wheel every time for standard project patterns like error handling, escalation, monitoring and deployment.
#9 – How do you reassure your workforce that RPA won’t take their jobs?
Workforce reduction is often top of mind as a measure of ROI on RPA projects. However, more often than not, RPA solutions provide the opportunity to grow without growing. Scale your business without linearly adding resources for those repetitive, mundane, yet must-have tasks.
Educate your workforce on the value of robotics for those non-value add tasks. If I told you I could automate taking out the trash, I doubt you’d have a negative reaction.
Organizations are better served by leveraging their human workforce for more knowledge-rich and revenue-generating tasks.
Perhaps RPA needs a name change: Digital Assistant may go over better… I want one of those.
RPA is all about process and workforce acceleration. It’s time to give users a break from those legacy systems and mundane tasks zapping them of the opportunity to be more productive and creative in the organization.
Don’t let a more-than-two-year roadmap for system modernization stand in the way of progress. RPA can provide a gateway to acceleration today and create a better user experience while increasing speed, accuracy and compliance.