There’s a lot of buzz about the potential for robotic process automation (RPA) to transform how organizations operate and perform. But what is it?
The numbers suggest it is. In April 2021, automation market leader UiPath launched one of the largest software IPOs ever seen in the US (1). Meanwhile, Gartner forecasts some 24% growth in the market during 2022, taking its value to almost $600 billion (2). Why? Because UiPath technology has huge potential to transform the way in which businesses operate.
Yet despite the promise, many organizations know very little about the technology or have only taken tentative steps toward automation adoption. So, what do business leaders need to know about automation? And how can they harness its benefits?
What is robotic process automation?
Let’s start by clarifying what RPA is – and what it isn’t.
RPA is a type of software automation which mimics human activities and tasks on computers or in virtual environments. Pieces of code (‘robots’) interact with systems, data and processes, performing repeatable, manual tasks much more efficiently than humans can. Meaning the humans can refocus on more strategic and meaningful work.
And combining RPA with technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analysis and workflow platforms takes the possibilities to new levels. Known as intelligent automation, this approach can extend the reach of traditional RPA initiatives across more complex business activities creating new opportunities for value generation and competitive differentiation.
However, automation shouldn’t be seen as a panacea for all organizational problems, or a sliver bullet that can fix inefficiencies in isolation. It’s a toolset, used by people – ideally in conjunction with other technologies – to help create.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of RPA solution:
- Unattended RPA
Unattended RPA is the start-point for many automation programs. Generally it runs in virtualized computing environments, churning through batches of tasks that operate across the enterprise.
- Attended RPA
Often deployed on individuals’ computers, attended solutions interact with humans in real time to speed work up. They effectively act as fast, efficient and error-free ‘assistants’ to employees at all levels of the firm. Many organisations elect to train non-technical staff to create their own attended robot solutions as and when they need them, giving rise to the notion of ‘citizen development’.
- Hybrid RPA
Hybrid RPA combines unattended and attended software to meet organizations’ specific needs. Attended robots ‘collaborate’ with people on the more complex, point-in-time and judgement-led elements of a task. Then unattended solutions do the large-scale, back-end processing and heavy lifting.
Powerful benefits of automation
A key advantage of RPA is that it is ‘system agnostic’. It can be applied in parallel with existing systems and wherever there is scope to augment how work is done, meaning that a whole range of operations can be ripe for automation, often without the cost and complexity of upgrading or replacing existing technology investments.
Typical examples include:
- invoice and claims processing
- data migration and entry
- regulatory compliance
- system updates and integration
- customer and employee onboarding
- procurement and contract management
The benefits RPA offers organizations are equally broad. It can help them to:
- save time – robots can work faster than people, and operate 24/7.
- eliminate mistakes – the mundane, repetitive tasks robots carry out are prone to human error, but the robot will never slip up.
- accelerate business outcomes – robots get the job done without the kinds of delays that can impact human workers
- reduce cost – do more with the same resources
- free up employees for higher-value work – robots take care of the humdrum day top day work, allowing humans to focus on what they excel at
- improve customer and employee satisfaction – by streamlining operations and freeing up staff, employees and customers alike will see the benefits
- kick-start digital transformation – it can be used to augment different legacy systems, meaning a quicker, cheaper, and easier installation
- instill operational agility and resilience – it decouples people and geographies from business operations allowing businesses to build in operational agility and resilience.
Let’s illustrate some of these outcomes with a real-life example.
Last year, a well-known UK brand urgently needed to move customers from paper invoicing to a more Covid-safe, digital format. We helped achieve this in just four weeks, quickly deploying an RPA solution between monthly invoice runs. It helps save time, reduce errors, kept team members safely working at home during the pandemic, and reduced reliance on paper.
Given the hype, it’s easy to think of automation as an exciting new field in technology when, in fact, it’s a mature technology with proven benefits.
The business case is clear: implementing RPA effectively will drive results. So what does adopting it entail?
In our experience, there are four initial steps organizations should take:
- Think big, start small
You can’t automate every process at once, but limiting RPA to pockets of the organization won’t unleash its power. Start by identifying high-impact RPA opportunities across your business’s value chains. Then see where you can drive early results, fast – a process that can be accelerated using data mining technologies such as UiPath Process Mining.
- Secure buy-in
As you roll automation out, involve all key stakeholders in your decision-making and planning. These will include senior management (necessary to secure commitment across the business), the IT team, who will most likely install the solution and will need to prioritize this against competing business demands, and not least the functions where RPA is to be deployed. All stakeholders should be made to feel a part of delivering the outcome. Leaving people feeling like they’ve “had automation done to them” risks holding back progress and stifling momentum.
- Design your operating model upfront
It’s crucial that you understand the operating model required to deliver your RPA program, both in the short to medium and longer-term. Designing and implementing a flexible and scalable model with the right mix of people, processes, partners, and technology will put you in a stronger position to scale up your RPA program and maximize return.
- Don’t go it alone
You’ll need expert input on how and where automation can really transform your organization. Bring in partners with proven end-to-end automation expertise at the outset. Make sure they offer a consultative approach, a good cultural fit, and a presence in the countries where your RPA implementation will take place. Don’t make the same old mistakes, take advice from the experts.
Watch our webinar to learn more about how to get started. Or get in touch to discuss how Tqulia Automation can help you reap the benefits.