As you consider strategies and priorities that are going to ensure business efficiency and give a competitive advantage, Business Process Automation needs to be on the agenda. Below we discuss why its critical to your digital transformation planning and how you can get started.
How much of your typical workday is spent filling in forms, moving files around, copying data from one place to another, or re-typing stuff that exists one place into another place? What about your teams and your peers?
At most businesses these kinds of monotonous tasks take significant chunks of time — time that could be better spent elsewhere, if only we could get rid of this repetitive, brain-numbing work.
Imagine a world where forms fill themselves, data automatically routes from one field to another, files move where they need to go without anyone picking up a mouse, and so on. That’s the power of robotic process automation, or RPA.
RPA is a powerful technology that can deliver impressive gains in efficiency and accuracy for many common business processes. It may sound ultra-advanced and out of reach, but the truth is it’s fairly approachable.
Is RPA a good fit for your business? We’ll help you determine what RPA technology can accomplish for your organisation.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology process that uses software to complete repetitive, predictable computer-based tasks so humans don’t have to. RPA mimics or repeats the steps that humans could take, like copying and pasting, moving information around, typing commands, and so forth—but at a speed and accuracy level that far exceeds what human team members can accomplish.
Despite an ominous-sounding name, RPA isn’t all that complicated a technology. RPA works by taking a set of predefined commands and then executing them. These may be customised commands and workflows that you develop, or they could be prebuilt, “off-the-shelf” RPA solutions that require little to no development.
Let’s look at it another way. Just like you can train an employee to scan a form, find the right data points, and input them into another system, you can train a “bot” (a software instance or script running on a computer or a virtual machine) to do the same thing.
As long as the information is consistent and predictable, the bot will happily crunch away at that data nonstop. It never gets tired, doesn’t transpose letters or digits, and doesn’t complain about how mind-numbing the work is.
There are two types or categories of RPA robots: attended and unattended. The former must be triggered by a human, while the latter can run automatically without a human pulling the trigger. For more on this point, read RPA attended vs unattended robots.
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While we at Canon Business Services love to see organisations flourish as they implement RPA, there are some common pitfalls you should consider.
The first pitfall is connected to the A in RPA: automation. When team members hear the term, they immediately envision layoffs — potentially of their own positions — and may oppose or sabotage the initiative in a misguided sense of self-preservation.
While it’s certainly true that RPA eliminates most or all of certain repetitive tasks and processes, it’s usually a mistake to assume this means massive cuts to headcount. By eliminating or reducing time-consuming manual processes, organisations can free team members to innovate and create (though they may need reskilling to get there).
RPA can be impressively powerful in each individual instance. But large organisations may struggle to scale an RPA initiative well or quickly. Every RPA bot is susceptible to broader system or network changes, which can throw a bot offline until a relevant update is implemented. This isn’t so hard to track down when you’re operating 4 or 5 RPA bot instances. It gets much harder when you’re running 100 or more.
Don’t let these pitfalls discourage you from leveraging the power of RPA, though: CBS has overcome key pitfalls with many of our successful clients by identifying their unique challenges early in their automation journey and engineering solutions to those challenges.
Our automation accelerator workshop is key to helping develop a clear path forward that overcomes these common hurdles.
Many businesses are turning to RPA to improve their customer service, using attended bots to retrieve and capture customer data so human agents can focus on solving customer problems.
In healthcare, RPA can automate medical record data management, claims processing, ERP processes, and more. It also can help ensure regulatory compliance (since fewer human eyeballs see sensitive medical data).
Our own parent company, Canon, transformed banking operations using RPA, reaching an impressive level where 98% of business processes succeeded without manual intervention. Check out Canon’s financial services RPA case study to go deeper.
Businesses that successfully implement RPA reap a range of benefits, including these.
RPA bots aren’t limited by the speed of human typing or thought, so they can complete many repetitive tasks faster than humans.
Along the same lines, RPA bots don’t get tired and start making mistakes. They don’t go home at 5pm, and they don’t go on vacation.
When humans get tired or bored — like when they’re doing the same boring task over and over — they make mistakes. RPA bots don’t make those types of mistakes.
RPA gives you the power to take on more: more clients, more contracts, more whatever you need processed. Your human team or hiring challenges no longer bottleneck your processes.
The kinds of tasks that RPA can remove from your employees’ workloads are repetitive, boring tasks that no one enjoys doing for hours a day. Most employees view these tasks as a burden, so removing that burden improves morale. Giving employees more strategic and valuable work to do tends to grow pride and fulfilment in their work.
There are three main approaches to implementing RPA. The first is scripting RPA bots yourself, but we’ll assume since you’re here that this isn’t the right option for you.
Second is using RPA software. There are numerous software solutions and RPA tools that can implement pre-existing RPA scripts. This off-the-shelf approach works if 1) your RPA needs are fairly limited or 2) you have the in-house skills to modify and adapt off-the-shelf solutions to your needs.
Last is managed RPA, where your business partners with an IT managed services company that is skilled in designing and implementing RPA solutions. If your needs are more complex or your in-house capabilities a little thin, managed RPA is the optimal solution.
Simple RPA systems don’t use artificial intelligence (AI); they simply follow a series of steps or commands and do what they’re told. AI tools can do more than that, analysing complex or unstructured data and making judgment calls and predictions. There is a range of complexity here, though: as a company matures in its digital transformation, RPA processes can grow significantly more complex, even approaching or blurring the line between RPA and its more advanced cousin, business process automation (BPA).
It’s an oversimplification to say that RPA will never use AI, but you’ll certainly see more uses of AI and machine learning in the more complex world of BPA. Where many RPA tools can be implemented with little or no development, most BPA solutions are custom-tailored to both an organisation’s needs and its current technological estate.
RPA does serve an important AI-related purpose, though: it serves as a foundation or a readiness factor for organisations that want to begin using or expand their use of AI technologies. The work required to map, optimise, and automate processes using RPA will create better organisation and develop new ways of thinking about processes and data. All of this is the necessary groundwork for AI-based complex decision making.