The Tech Behind Business Process Automation

By Posted 2yr(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes

Ever wondered how your 9 to 5 would look like if you could do away with all those tedious, manual processes?

Or how your organization could find a better way to deal with large workloads, reduce costs and follow industry compliance requirements?

Perhaps it’s time to get acquainted with robotic process automation (RPA) and learn how companies can use it to gain strategic and financial benefits.

Let’s take a closer look at what RPA does, the processes and industries it adds value to, and the things to keep in mind when implementing an RPA project.

What is RPA?

The term automation might be a little bit misleading when it comes to what RPA can actually do for the regular corporate worker.

First of all, it’s important to understand that while RPA may include machine learning or AI elements, it primarily deals with simple tasks, the kind that don’t require knowledge or insight to be carried out, and that can be easily codified. At the end of the day, RPA is governed by structured inputs and rules that are strictly followed.

And this clearly sets it apart from machine learning and artificially intelligent technologies that can be trained to make their own judgments about unstructured inputs. AI-powered automation tech can deal with natural language (like Alexa and Siri do), reasoning or figuring out context and meaning while RPA does not.

Types of RPA

There are several different types of robotic process automation out there, ranging from incredibly specialized and custom-built to screen-scraping tools.

Programmable RPA solutions are the oldest and simplest tool on the market. These bots are configured to do the tasks in a specific workflow by interacting with different systems through integrations and screen scraping.

The bots can run from an employee’s desktop or from the cloud, and will let you know whenever they run into issues they haven’t been programmed to deal with, so that a human employee can take over. On top of executing the task you set them up for, these RPA solutions also come with analytics capabilities and integrations with legacy applications.

Self-learning RPA tools watch employees in action, understand processes, and take over when they’ve learned the process. However, they will ask for human input if they encounter entirely new data.

Finally, cognitive automation bots deal with both structured and unstructured data and bring some machine learning tech and natural language processing to the table. Although this type of RPA solutions claim to be able to automate as much as 70-80% of corporate knowledge tasks, the technology behind them in not quite ripe yet.

Also, learning takes time. This is true for machines too - a bot needs to be fed months of data for it to become an effective learner and do things on its own. 

RPA mimics the steps that a human worker has to do across platforms and applications and works best on rule-based processes that involve structured data. 

Benefits of RPA

What can companies gain from implementing RPA solutions?

First of all, increased efficiency, greater accuracy, and quick scalability based on customer demand.

This translates to more invoices or claims being processed (bots don't call in sick), more accurate manual data input, and enhanced scalability because there is no need for training in order to implement changes or manage a higher volume of work.

But there are also a series of perks that aren't visible at a first glance:

1. Increased compliance: no more data gaps and an up-to-date log of all actions completed by the bots throughout automation.

This allows employees to identify and manage any compliance issues and consistently run internal audits, which is especially important for companies in highly-regulated industries, like insurance or finance.

2. No need to give up legacy systems: RPA interacts with systems and applications just like a human would, therefore companies do not need to make changes to existing legacy systems, IT doesn't have to be constantly involved, and employees don't need to have coding skills to use RPA tools.

3. Improved customer service: companies that receive a lot of customer requests can leverage RPA tools to free staff from the burden of repetitive tasks, like issuing a purchase order or processing a claim, so they can deal with more complex requests.

With RPA, high volume tasks get done in a timely manner while employees can focus on providing tasks that require human touch when needed.

Companies that receive a lot of customer requests can leverage RPA tools to free staff from repetitive tasks, like issuing a purchase order or processing a claim, so they can deal with more complex requests.

Challenges in implementing RPA

It's no easy task to integrate a new technology into a company's current setup.

Below are a few examples of the obstacles that companies may face when implementing RPA solutions:

Employee resistance to adoption: implementing a new technology brings about changes that can create nightmare scenarios for employees - daily workflows are disrupted, responsibilities shift, and employees stress over job security. Therefore, it's important that company leaders keep HR and employees in the loop regarding what is going to happen and what is expected of staff during the implementation phase.

Choosing the right processes to automate: RPA solutions work their magic when it comes to repetitive tasks that don't require a lot of human judgment, like copy and paste tasks.

Being aware of RPA limitations: it won't fix a company's operational problems. Companies need to have realistic expectations about what RPA can do for them, and understand that functionality, implementation and results can vary from one company to another.