Taking the robot out of the human: how robotic process automation can help your organisation
3 mins read
Businesses are increasingly needing easy automation solutions that can save valuable time and improve efficiencies.
However, some types of automation can be particularly complex and costly.
This is where robotic process automation (RPA) can help, a solution that more and more enterprises regard as their strategic priority, and a technology projected to create a global market worth $5 billion by 2020.
What is robotic process automation?
RPA is a term used for software tools that partially or fully automate rule-based and repetitive activities that have been historically carried out by humans, such as data entry or simple customer service queries.
They replicate the actions of a human user interacting with an existing software application and therefore are not replacements for the underlying applications themselves. They fill in and update fields that a human user usually would, gathering data from the source and inputting it into the existing application.
When should you use RPA?
RPA is entry-level automation and so is a great starting point for organisations looking at automation transformation. As RPA tools essentially mirror what a person would do in a defined process, it is much easier to implement than other more complicated automation projects. They will not always replace a person but will for a vital part of processes.
An RPA solution is a great substitute for the really repetitive things that some of your staff have to do. The processes RPA replace must be stable, require little integration with existing systems, and easily lend themselves to straight-forward decision trees.
When is using RPA not suitable?
Because data sources and destinations need to be highly structured and unchanging, robotic process automation tools don’t work well when a process is prone to quirks, errors, or exceptions.
They also don’t work well for processes that need the involvement of multiple systems, as they are designed to collect and input data primarily into one system.
Attended and unattended RPA bots
There are two types of RPA bots: attended and unattended. Choosing which to utilise depends on the specific process you are looking to automate.
An attended bot involves human oversight in starting, overlooking, and stopping the process. This allows the human user to check whether the process has run smoothly and can input any changes required. This is usually the right choice where the data can change slightly or have quirks, and the process can fall out of a set decision tree (so most things involving customer interaction).
The unattended bot is different in that it runs automatically without human oversight and is thus useful for processes that don’t change and have no risk of quirks. For example, pulling statistics into a daily emailed report.
What are the benefits of implementing RPA?
In a 2017 study, respondents who used RPA bots reported they outperform expectations on non-financial benefits such as accuracy, timelines, flexibility and improved compliance. Although implementing RPA technology should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, below are some of the main benefits organisations experience:
- Increased efficiencies: RPA isn’t designed to replace people but to give current employees more time to do what they are employed to do, for example solving customers’ problems and not data entry. This increases the efficiency that employees work to on a day-to-day basis.
- Boosted employee happiness: related to the above point, employees feel happier that monotonous and low-value-added tasks are automated and they are solving higher-value tasks that require creativity and decision making. Happier staff means happier customers, better talent attraction, and improved retention rates.
- Easier compliance: by being able to go into the logs of the bot and see exactly what they bot did, when it did it, and the outcome, it is easier for organisations to comply with any relevant regulations they may be working under.
- Reduced human error: data entry tasks that are completed by humans are prone to error. Implementing an RPA can help ensure that outputs are complete, correct, and consistent.
- Deeper understanding of business processes: implementing an RPA naturally involves a deep analysis of your current business processes and communication between departments. This in turn creates a deeper understanding, which can ultimately lead to improvements as a whole.
- High adaptability: because RPA tools are relatively simple in the world of automation, it means if a process needs to be adapted due to changes in the business environment, the RPA can be changed with little complexity.
- Reduced expenditure: compared to other automation process projects, RPA tools are easy to integrate as they don’t require custom software or deep systems integration. Not altering existing infrastructure and systems means reduced costs
An example of an RPA bot in action in healthcare
By interacting with applications just as a human would, there are many examples of actions RPA bots can carry out, such as open complete forms, open email attachments, record data, re-key data, and so on.
However, for a specific example we’ve recently implemented, imagine you work in the health sector and are tasked with sending letters for a care provider. This is performed as a manual process meaning that some recipients are being missed in the process. What is more, errors in the process are sometimes discovered too late to affect change if they are discovered at all. Now, imagine this process to check letters are sent is being supported through RPA. An attended bot is created to assist the employee in the manual process taking names from the database and checking them against letters to be sent. Similarly, a bot now checks the letters are sent and where necessary, the employee sends those that have been missed.
This is the change we implemented and has resulted in risk being reduced using the automated processes to ensure all letters are sent. It also gives the employee a sense of security around compliance. The bot is helping to check no one has been missed. Letters are arriving with the people who need them and the employee is being supported to fulfill their role. Efficiencies have been made and customer satisfaction improved, without having to implement a complex automation tool.
Where do you begin?
It can be challenging deciding what processes would be useful to be automated using RPA, and even when you have an idea, working together between departments to develop a full understanding of how the processes work can be difficult.
Engaging with an experienced technology partner who can facilitate communications between departments and inputting their own expertise can be a great starting point.
Dr Grainne Watson
Head of Product: Digital And Innovation
Grainne has over 10 years' experience developing and implementing strategy with a particular focus on using data to improve business outcomes.