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Want to learn in a few minutes about Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? Is RPA an intimidating technology? No worries, you will learn about the benefits of using RPA and build a good foundational understanding of RPA.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA, or Robotic Process Automation is a branch of process automation. Processes are automated with “bots” (shorthand for “software bots”). Bots in this case are software programs that execute and complete one or more tasks without needing human intervention. You will find that these bots are at the center of process automation.

The platform vendors (Automation Anywhere, BluePrism, Microsoft, UI Path, etc.) provide an environment where these bots can run, be audited, and report their progress. Different platforms offer slightly different features. Who you choose as your platform will impact your journey in your digital transformation. Who you chose will yield benefits or limitations for what you can do in the long run, especially when you get to an advanced level of automation.

Choosing a process to automate

Think of the processes you can automate. You first start by what is repetitive and requires little decision-making throughout the process. The “low hanging fruit”. As you choose more processes to automate, you will start seeing these pockets of potential performance gain, or increased complexities that you can take on. For now, let’s focus on a small, repetitive, and simple process.

The workers for which we are automating a process are typically knowledge workers. They sit in front of a computer most of the day. We use bots to automate any process that repetitive and follows a discrete set of rules. Knowledge workers could increase their performance if we allow them to focus on the other portion of the process. This other part of the process requires decision making, or creative skills. As a result, workers will be able to process more in the same amount of time. The bot does the repetitive part for them.

OK, but where do I use RPA?

Let’s focus now on a specific case that uses a specific and discrete set of rules. After someone enters an invoice to one system, our user needs to make sure that the accounts payable person will see it in their queue in the accounts payable system.

For years, you’ve had a person that exports from one system and then imports into the other system. These could be reports or an MS Excel spreadsheet for export and specific amounts entered manually into another system. While a viable solution for years, it is still not ideal. Yet, you have one person who needs to execute this process every day and avoid making (costly) mistakes.

But, what happens when this person is on vacation, or all of a sudden is out sick for a couple of days? You need to have someone else be their backup. That someone else is taken from their day-to-day in order to cover for the process that needs to be executed daily. The window for errors is increased with a person who is not intimately familiarized with this process.

Call IT for Help?

If you wanted to automate the data transfer with enhancements to your existing systems, you would have to make changes to both. On a daily basis, one reports the data to a file and the other imports the data. You would need your IT Department’s help, with the experts for the two systems to run this project. Is there a backlog from your IT Department? How long is that backlog? How long will it take to make changes to existing legacy systems? Do you have a license to make changes to these systems? Will IT need to run integration tests (the answer is “yes, always”) to make sure that no bugs were introduced? How long will these tests take to run?

Why Robotic Process Automation?

With Robotic Process Automation in place, especially after your IT Department selects and approves the specific platform, you can build this process automation in your business area. You can then hand it to IT for a final review and implementation. This places a lower burden on IT, allowing them to serve you better and faster. Total time from idea to production of this bot: a matter of days. The implementation happens outside of the existing systems, so they don’t need to change. The process duplicates the exact same steps that the user had to follow. The tests for this bot are much smaller than a systems change.

The End Result

You are now freeing up time from your knowledge worker. Your knowledge worker is free to help with other top priorities. You removed the need for a backup resource. All of this in a matter of days!

And there is one more bonus: This bot does not make any mistakes, ever!