Demand for robotic process automation (RPA) solutions continues to escalate. Research firm Forrester predicts that RPA market growth will reach USD 2.9 billion in 2021, up from just USD 250 million in 2016. But before you put software robotics front and centre of your business optimisation strategy, there’s a caveat. According to the same Forrester report, “to be sustained, RPA must offer more than plugging gaps in legacy systems”. Like any technology, RPA has its capabilities and shortcomings – and these need to be understood in the context of your business as well as the broader process automation landscape.
What is RPA?
At present, RPA is an automation solution that is ideally suited to rules-based, high-volume business activities. Rather than allowing this type of repetitive work to eat into valuable human resource hours, software robots (or ‘bots’) can automate these tasks – much faster, more consistently and often more accurately than humans can.
Like humans, bots work on the user interface layer of an existing software application. Provided the process is digital, repetitive and highly definable, it can be delegated to an RPA solution. This means that people are free to focus on other areas of their roles that require unique human skills, such as complex decision-making, relationship-building, negotiation, creativity, judgement, strategic thinking and so forth.
How can bots benefit your business?
Many organisations adopt RPA technology to drive down operational costs. Traditionally, companies have reduced their labour expenditures by outsourcing processes that can be handled at a lower cost by external service providers. Now, some of this work can be executed by a digital workforce that the company has more control over – and one that can work around the clock.
RPA technology also offers the same degree of flexibility as outsourced labour, as output can be scaled up or down quickly as needed. Additionally, when tasks are handled by software rather than humans (whether they’re employees or outsourced workers), companies can reduce the potential costly consequences of human errors, thus controlling costs further.
In these ways, RPA can have a positive impact on your business, provided this technology is well selected and strategically applied.
Understanding RPA in the wider process automation context
If you are looking to conduct business in a more lean, competitive and profitable way, RPA is not a complete, ready-to-run solution. No one vendor can possibly anticipate all your process optimisation requirements. It’s therefore essential to understand RPA in context – as part of a wider automation and business optimisation toolset that’s available to your company.
This calls for a process-first approach to automation, which involves making sure that your processes are well-designed before powering them with an RPA solution. Ahead of making any technology decisions, it’s worthwhile breaking your processes down into essential steps; and identifying areas for improvement, such as manual tasks that could be digitised, redundancies that could be eliminated, and bottlenecks that drain time and money.
Once each process has been streamlined, you can assign roles and responsibilities – deciding whether human workers, bots or another type of automation tool is best suited to each activity.
Where can bots add value to your business?
RPA can generally integrate with various legacy systems and information repositories. This can be very useful in industries that handle high volumes of data, documentation and reporting, such as the insurance and banking sectors. Here, bots can be configured to rapidly gather, cleanse and compile data from multiple sources. This can, for example, significantly reduce the amount of time and human effort required to process insurance claims, handle account reconciliations or carry out certain customer on-boarding processes in financial services.
When weighing up RPA use cases, it’s important to understand the current limitations of this technology, too. Experts predict that as AI technologies develop, more intelligent software robotics will be possible, with more advanced machine learning, data analysis and natural language processing abilities. Until then, however, RPA implementation is not well-suited to business processes that are difficult to define and standardise, or those that require unstructured data handling and frequent human intervention.
Choosing the right vendor
As a company actively seeking to implement RPA, how do you evaluate vendors and choose the best tools to power process excellence across your enterprise?
While each company has its own requirements, here are some guidelines:
Is the vendor offering a level of support that will help you to implement your RPA solution as smoothly as possible, with minimal process downtime?
Does the solution offer user-friendly tools for your developers and IT-savvy end users to easily configure and custom-built their own automation solutions? Ideally these user interfaces should be graphical and intuitive.
- Agility and scalability:
Does the vendor have a product development plan aimed at future-proofing your processes? Will you be able to easily incorporate emerging technologies into your automation platform? Also, can the RPA solution be rapidly scaled to suit changing business needs?
In regulated industries, it’s advisable to choose a solution that offers a clear, auditable, digital log of all process activity. You may need to prove how, when, where and by whom your processes have been executed.
Optimising the impact of process automation
Without the buy-in of end users, IT, senior management and other impacted functions, it’s unlikely that any automation solution will lead to true business transformation. Beyond training users on the new system, all stakeholders need to understand the capabilities of the chosen automation solution. This way, they’ll be better positioned to drive true process transformation and gain maximum value from this technology.
A process automation expert like Velocity IT can help by aligning users’ expectations with the benefits of RPA and other automation solutions. Our experience in this technology area – and extensive knowledge of the process-first approach to automation – can help you to enhance acceptance of the new software and increase its positive impact on your business.
For more guidance on this topic, visit RPA page.