Robotic process automation

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the emerging technologies in today’s digital hyper connected world and is projected to become $5 billion market globally by year 2020. Considering the importance of RPA and that it can be applied to any industry, it is important to understand the concepts of RPA. This article is written to understand RPA especially for beginners and for developers who are inclined to develop software robots. Topics covered are as below:

  1. What is robotic process automation?
  2. When to use RPA and other Automation methods
  3. Types of RPA Automation
  4. Types of Robots
  5. RPA software architecture
  6. Benefits of using RPA
  7. Approach to build a RPA solution
  8. List of RPA software’s

What is robotic process automation?

Robotic process automation (RPA) can be defined as a software or technology that perform sequence of tasks like human and mimic the way people interact with software applications without human intervention. In RPA technology, Robots are not physical robots working on computers and performing tasks like humans, but they are software’s that can perform repeatable tasks which usually monotonous tasks that take more time for people to accomplish. With RPA, all the monotonous clerical jobs that people are doing can be performed by robots and people can work on more interesting opportunities and complex scenarios those which involve customer interaction and decision making.

Figure 1 – RPA software mimic human tasks

Applications that can be automated

  • Windows applications
  • Browser based applications
  • Mainframe applications
  • Java based applications
  • Cloud, VM Ware, Citrix, ERP, CRM applications

When to use RPA and other Automation methods

There is a growing need for individuals and companies to understand a bigger picture of businesses and look through RPA lens to automate the businesses as much as possible. Below are suitable candidates for RPA.

  • Processes that are mature, less complex and structured
  • Rule based, repetitive, predictive processes and tasks that involve high volumes of structured data
  • Most of the administrative tasks and back office activities that are frequently executed can be automated using RPA, such as opening emails attachments and filling e-forms, data entry etc.
  • Any organization that has many different, complicated systems that need to mesh together.

RPA combined with cognitive technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence is being used for judgement based tasks as well. As a result businesses become more scalable, more flexible and more agile, less human interventions. RPA has shown 40 to 80% reduction in processing time.

Compared to traditional automation, the RPA combines automation with artificial intelligence. It has an edge over traditional automation because it can learn, take decisions and respond to problems like humans. For example, a Robot monitors the pattern of events and activities and learns by observing and the set of actions are triggered for future operations when similar situations arise.

If the business process involves huge number of transactions per day and the process involves accessing application of different era’s example mainframe system, client server software, web applications, and if right API’s are available for integration then API based automation will yield better performance compared to RPA.

RPA is different from a scheduler where a script runs and generated reports etc, but BOT executes by interacting with multiple systems and takes decisions like a human.

Types of RPA Automation

Desk top Automation – a technology that can remember the key strokes of a process and store them and later make them available to the operator. When the RPA tool is run, it will automatically add data onto necessary fields to the applicable screens.

Attended Automation – the software assists the front office staff and prompts the contact centre agents during customer interactions and takes call notes. This is example of cognitive technologies along with RPA.

Types of Robot (also called BOTs)

Back office robots – Back office robots run unattended manner independent of any human intervention. They automatically execute the business processes and will be in batch mode. Mostly used in manual, repetitive, highly rule based back office activities not requiring any human intervention, example customer order management.

Front office robot (FOR) – is a robot that works side by side with human agents and assists them to automatically complete the processes. They are used in manual, repetitive, highly rule based activities containing decision points that require human intervention. Example – service desks, helpdesks, call centers

Other types of BOT – Task BOT is used for repetitive tasks and Meta BOT is used to retrieve data from multiple systems. IQ BOT is used if the BOT has to take decisions dynamically using AI and Cognitive learning.

RPA Architecture

The robot software (BOT) has two components.

  1. The business objects which interact with the user interface . RPA software’s have in built capability for business objects to connect to various user interfaces (windows/HTML etc). Each object has a set of particular action to interact with the application.
  2. The process that has the logic or steps to execute the robot. Developer uses the development tools are used to convert the tasks and actions to processes. The process invokes a particular object to execute an action.

The RPA software operates from a central server and the created BOT is stored in the RPA database. After the Robot is created and tested, the RPA software uploads the robot of the RPA server. Management tools are used to view the robot details like schedule a robot, view audit logs, configuring and monitoring, Few RPA software have a feature to record and BOTs can be created in the form of scripts by recording the actions of user interactions with applications.

Figure 2– Typical RPA software architecture

Benefits of RPA Automation

RPA can have a transformative impact on organizations

  • Technical efficiency – the business processes automation can be executed on the existing infrastructure and core technology platform without impacting the overall business.
  • Reduced cycle time /Faster execution – Robots can work 365x24x7 without any human intervention and without breaks, hence the same volume of work done by humans can be accomplished in lesser time. It is estimated that 1min of work for a robot is equal to 15min of work for a person
  • Operational efficiency – Reduces operational challenges due to time zone and language differences
  • Customer relationships – Automation makes processes more error free which increases customer satisfaction and improvement to customer experience
  • Accuracy / Eliminates human errors – Businesses have multiple processes which involve repetitive tasks such as data entry, which is time consuming and prone to human errors.
  • Compliant with industry and audit regulations – RPA works very well for organisation where regulatory compliance is of high importance such as Insurance, banking, healthcare and Pharma because the processes, data and workflow tracking is automated and the documentation or related audit reports is accurate with less human errors.
  • Reduced cost – reduces on workforce cost. A report on emerging disruptive technologies published by McKinsey & Company estimates that as the use of disruptive technologies like RPA grows at the rate it is expected to, as many as 110 to 140 million FTEs could be replaced by automation tools and software by the year 2025.

Approach to build a RPA solution

Within an enterprise, out of all the business process only few business processes systems will be suitable candidates for automated. These candidate have to be aligned well into the overall IT architecture. Below is a structured approach to build a robotic process automation solution

Step 1 – Identify the processes that you can automate. Get an integrated view of existing IT Architecture, Identify processes that are repetitive, manual intensive and rule based. Analyse the processes tasks and grade them according to maturity and complexity

Step 2 – Validate and optimize the existing process. It is important to review the process tasks and improve the process to remove all unnecessary tasks and ensure the process that is identified for automation is highly efficient.

Step 3 – Benchmarking and planning – Measure metrics of existing process and create the metrics and outcomes post automation. Prepare the plan with project schedule, resources and scope of process for automation.

Step 4 – RPA solution selection– Select the RPA software that you will use to implement the process automation. Parameters to shortlist a software include ease of usage, compliance to specific regulatory, Compatibility with existing technology, Platform independent, pricing.

Step 5 – Pilot RPA – Train key resources on RPA, launch the pilot and evaluate success and lessons learnt.

Step 6 – Ramp up and continue building expertise RPA Bots

The time taken to implement a RPA is 2 weeks to 8 weeks depending on the complexity and availability of digital data.

List of RPA Software

There are many RPA software available in the market. Below are the vendors providing RPA software.

Top performers are Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism, Pegasystems, Softomotive, Openspan (Pegasystems new acquisition), Kofax, Work fusion, NICE, GIANT and many more as seen in above Forrester research.

Figure 3 – Forrester Research – Robotic process automation software

Some of the factors that influence our decision in selecting which is the right tool fit for the project.

  • Technology – The technology in which the RPA tool has been built like Microsoft, Java, .Net etc. Considering that now a days enterprises run their tasks using environments such as Citrix or Virtual machines, the selected tool should be platform independent and should be able to support any application and platform.
  • User Interface – The user interface should be easy to use and a more user friendly interface like drag and drop, auto capture, image recognition etc. would speed up the implementation time and learning curve.
  • Management – The software should be sufficient management tools to manage, modify and monitor the robot.
  • Security- Software should have all security controls built in. Solution should have compliance to the industry regulatory like HIPPA for healthcare industry, SOX for financial industry, etc).

Below are the leading robotic process automation vendors providing RPA software and these three software’s that have existed in the market since a long duration.

  • Automation Anywhere –- Has powerful and user friendly automation tools and can handle complex automation processes.
  • UiPath – Has track record of providing good automation and easy to use tools to choose- UiPath Studio, Front Office and Back Office – UiPath Robots, UiPath Orchestrator
  • Blue Prism – The term Robotic process automation came from the labs of blue prism. They are the pioneers in RPA and have and have 100+ customers across the world.

RPA is applicable for any industry banking, retail, telecom, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing and other industries to automate business processes. Business process can be automated for back office tasks like supply chain management, Finance, accounting, HR processes, Inventory, billing, service desk operations and monitoring of infrastructure etc.

Next Article – Examples of RPA software across industries

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