What is RPA? Brief Introduction about RPA
The term “Robotic Process Automation” may conjure images of machines on a shop floor building cars or be repairing aircraft engines, but the “robots” involved in robotic process automation aren’t robots in the physical sense. Rather, they are software that resides on a PC and interacts directly with business applications. By mimicking the way people use applications and following simple rules, software robots automate routine business processes, such as gathering and comparing data from different systems, adjusting insurance claims, or processing orders.
RPA’s Contributions to Business Processes
Robotic process automation tools have matured quietly over the last decade, and now they’re finding a place in many organizations. Forward-thinking business leaders are paying attention to robotic process automation because the technology holds the potential to computerize a variety of manual processes. As a result, it can help address business process complexity increase efficiencies, and dramatically reduce costs.
Central Components of RPA
According to a research by Deloitte, the fully loaded operating cost of a software robot is consistently and significantly less than the onshore or even offshore labour cost that it is displacing. The technology cut a medical insurer’s cost to process claim adjustments by 44 per cent. After applying robotic process automation to 14 core processes, a business process outsourcing provider achieved 30 per cent cost savings per process, while improving service quality and accuracy.
What’s more, robotic process automation presents an effective, lower-cost alternative to major technology implementations aimed at standardizing business processes and facilitating integration among disparate systems. So instead of implementing an enterprise solution or business process management system, both of which require substantial investments, companies can deploy software robots that perform routine business processes across multiple systems, while simultaneously avoiding much of the laborious process redesign effort associated with large-scale IT initiatives.
Robotic process automation products broadly comprise three fundamental elements: a set of developer tools, a robot controller, and the software robots.
The developer tools are used to define jobs—the sequences of step-by-step instructions a robot follows to perform a particular business process. The instructions, which need to be very detailed, may include business rules or conditional logic, such as if/then decisions. Developer tools often feature drag-and-drop functionality and simple configuration wizards so that business users without coding experience can employ them. However, these tools are not as simple as writing “macros” and do require users to focus on spotting exceptions, which may impede the automated process if not addressed up front. Some tools include a “process recorder” that speeds up the definition of a process by capturing a sequence of user actions. Others feature interactive diagrams that make visualizing complex processes easier. Developer tools are used only in modelling the processes and making changes to them; they are not required to actually run the processes.
The robot controller plays three essential roles. By serving as a master repository for defined jobs, the robot controller facilitates version control. It safely stores credentials for business applications and provides them to robots only when required, ideally in encrypted form. The robot controller also assigns appropriate roles and permissions to users, and provides controls and workflows to govern the processes of creating, updating, testing, reviewing, approving, and deploying jobs to the robot workforce. Finally, it assigns jobs to single or grouped robots, and monitors and reports on their activities.
RPA in Business Applications
Software robots (also known as “clients” or “agents”) carry out instructions and interact directly with business applications to process transactions. The list of actions a robot is capable of performing can stretch to over 600 in some products, and additional actions can often be custom-coded. Some robots keep detailed logs of their actions and decisions for compliance and audit purposes, as well as to help companies identify additional process improvement opportunities.
The advantages of using robotic process automation are quite clear, and more and more companies are validating these benefits as they undertake pilot projects. However, as with any technology solution, software robots are prone to their own sources of failure. For instance, if an error creeps into the instructions provided to the software robots, they will then execute a flawed process and potentially replicate it hundreds or thousands of times until someone spots the problem. Sound process design up front can prevent such a scenario.
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Also, if an organization rolls out RPA on a large scale, deliberate and systematic governance of robotic processes is critical to confirm that they are indeed executing per design and that any interdependencies with other robotic or manual processes are taken into account.
Once companies have carefully determined which processes are appropriate for RPA, software robots can typically be deployed in weeks. With the robots in place, users can then assign new processes to them in about the same amount of time.
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