Robotic Process Automation, rather like artificial intelligence, is a term and technology that typically evokes a dual-edged reaction. This tension comes from the positivity regarding its potential to generate business advantages, and concerns that such automation benefits could come at a job security cost to the human employee whose remit has been pruned.
There’s also a common misconception about the role and remit of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – pitching it as a kind of plug-and-play productivity panacea, rather than as a valuable asset in a broader drive toward business process automation.
In this blog post we will take a closer look at the potential benefits of RPA and how best to set yourself up to realize them. Additionally, we will help position automation software and technology properly within the sphere of digital transformation and remove any concerns that the human worker is under threat from the RPA robot.
Let’s start with the basics: just what is RPA? As mentioned above, RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. Broadly speaking, RPA software is used for the automation of repetitive, high volume, routine (often tedious) tasks.
An RPA solution deploys ‘bots’ to carry out these manual tasks – such as data entry and validation, claims processing, or report generation – at a speed and scale quite beyond the capabilities of a flesh-and-blood counterpart.
But an RPA bot does not think for itself. It requires carefully defined rules and can only do exactly what it’s told. The increasing availability of, and interaction with, generative AI and machine learning makes intelligent automation – a more ‘cognitive’ approach to more complex tasks and processes – more of a reality. Ultimately, however, an RPA system won’t direct the automation of business operations on its own. It’s a workhorse technology, not a commander.
Nevertheless, properly implemented, the benefits of RPA are extensive and available across most industries and business functions. Let’s take a look.
In processing repetitive tasks rapidly and accurately, RPA technology can contribute much to organizations’ business process automation initiatives. We’ve summarized the most notable RPA benefits below.
Arguably the most important and almost certainly the most frequently cited RPA benefit is the acceleration of business processes. Using software robots to plough through the many mundane administrative tasks common to every business 24/7 simply gets the job done a lot more quickly, efficiently and accurately – even when carrying out tasks across multiple legacy systems.
Every human resource is vital to an organization’s success – you’ve probably heard a version of this in your company induction, handbook or from Human Resources themselves. RPA helps validate this in a very practical sense. Freed from many tedious tasks by RPA, employees’ time can be spent engaged in more fulfilling, more strategic work that not only stretches their skillsets, but delivers more tangible value to business performance.
Rather than signaling a cull in full-time equivalents, implementing RPA can be a catalyst for greater employee engagement and productive deployment. And while any business process automation can shake-up how labor is organized and structured, RPA is more often an opportunity than a threat to the individual – lifting them out of responsibilities for which they’re very often overqualified.
These productivity and efficiency gains enable organizations’ to achieve more with fewer resources. Software robots require no lunch breaks, have no home time and retain unswerving focus at all times. Automation of routine processes enables businesses to reduce labor costs, even in the face of business growth and allowing for RPA implementation and governance.
Additionally, by enabling the human employee contingent to focus on tasks requiring judgment and empathy, software robots also enhance productivity across more strategic business operations. This enables businesses to realize a faster return on their automation investments.
A robot process isn’t prone to fatigue or clerical errors, the bots don’t get tired or distracted – they’re consistent and accurate (as long as the rules that govern them are accurately implemented and updated when circumstances change). Automated tasks and processes performed by software bots deliver vastly lower error rates compared with human operators. Removal of mistakes from high volume processes reduces the time and money required for rework and rectification of process errors. More accurate, efficient business operations can also have a positive impact on customer experience.
Even the most mundane tasks must be carried out within the regulatory frameworks governing each industry. Properly configured, an RPA tool can help ensure compliance by design within every process it touches. Each automated step is governed by regulations, corporate rules and any other legal mandates. This minimizes risk exposure while also avoiding costs associated with compliance breaches. Additionally, every process run by RPA, even where it involves multiple functions and systems, can be audited more easily via a single RPA hub.
Implementing RPA can build a number of layers of cybersecurity into an organization’s processes. Firstly, RPA automation can reduce the number of human touchpoints with sensitive data (particularly customer data) – thereby eradicating the possibility of inadvertent data breaches. Secondly, detailed activity logging enables a clear audit trail for bot data interactions.
RPA tools including threshold alerts can be used to flag unusual access and even trigger logouts in order to protect against misuse. Finally, every RPA task is carefully prescribed, including built-in safeguards that automatically prevent bot actions that could introduce risk or compromise security.
By providing faster, more fluid back-office or centralized processes, RPA helps ensure faster response times and fewer errors in customer interactions. Also, by freeing up human customer service agents from repetitive administrative duties, RPA enables them to focus on providing thoughtful, personalized customer support. In this way a key RPA benefit is the delivery of enhanced customer service.
RPA systems are inherently scalable, helping the businesses that deploy them to be similarly scalable. With carefully implemented RPA, companies can adapt to changing workloads seamlessly – a software robot can handle significant swings in demands upon its time without missing a beat.Whether this means handling a surge in demand or scaling down during quieter periods, organizations can adjust the number of bots deployed to match their operational needs. This scalability provides businesses with the flexibility to manage resources efficiently, ensuring optimal performance and cost-effectiveness.
Once configured, RPA software can simplify system integration, helping completely non-technical business users to combine, analyze, understand and activate data from across multiple platforms within an organization’s network.
So, it’s evident the benefits of RPA could generate significant competitive advantages for any organization. But for them to be realized, a process of careful due diligence must first be carried out.
In order to derive the greatest value from RPA (and to maximize the benefits detailed above), there are two important considerations.
Firstly, to understand the limitations of any RPA solution. RPA runs on rails, it follows orders, it does as it’s told. Even with the most advanced examples of robotic process automation (where it forms more of a holistic solution package with AI or machine learning), it won’t think or respond dynamically to shifts in circumstance that haven’t been specifically captured in operational parameters. RPA works as part of a broader, data-informed process of business transformation, not as an out-of-the-box plug-and-play solution.
Secondly, and vitally, before even contemplating RPA solutions or suppliers, it is essential to be clear about the goals, expectations and rationale for automation. What processes, when automated, are likely to yield the greatest business benefits and return on investment? How will implementation of RPA impact connected processes and functions? Implementation of RPA needs to be a water-tight, data-informed process with clear checks and balances for progress towards defined goals. Without this sort of preparation, the selection of the right processes to automate is left to chance, presenting considerable risks to an organization.
And if you are considering a managed services approach to RPA implementation, or even an RPA-as-a-Service (RPAaaS) model, any professional partner will need this type of preparation.
This need for a firm data foundation upon which to build an RPA solution has led many organizations to use process mining technology to fully visualize and understand their processes.
Process mining utilizes data from systems' real-time event logs to construct a precise visualization of business processes, including all their variations. This visualization establishes a strong basis for planning business automations with assurance, clearly highlighting any gaps in execution.
As a pioneer in process mining, Celonis has enhanced its coherence, comprehensiveness and intuitiveness through innovations like object-centric process mining (OCPM) and the Process Sphere. These provide end-to-end mappings of intricate business processes, their interactions and even the ability to evaluate automation potential before allocating extensive time or budget.
The Celonis system utilizes process mining to aid businesses in identifying the processes where RPA would most enhance business performance. Importantly, the platform also facilitates monitoring processes after automation implementation to guarantee automations are functioning as intended.
With Celonis, RPA is orchestrated as part of a broader but also simpler approach to process automation. Where RPAs are the best solution, that’s what’s applied. In fact, many Celonis solutions have an automation component, such as the Duplicate Checking app that’s part of the Celonis accounts payable solution.
Companies can use Celonis with their existing automation software or use Celonis Action Flows – a powerful, intuitive tool to automate any business workflow that uses process mining data to trigger RPA robots. With this approach, the entire process landscape of a business can be automated in a single workflow.
Artificial intelligence solutions to business challenges cast a long shadow – including over business process automation. By comparison RPA can feel a little like yesterday’s news. But this is a mistake. As part of an organization’s process management toolbox, RPA underpinned with a solid data foundation can still deliver significant benefits. Over time, increasingly sophisticated machine learning models may provide more of the orchestration that RPA requires to thrive, but the RPA-derived competitive advantages will remain potent.
Any automation that replaces people with machines can feel like a threat, but actually RPA presents the opportunity for employees to deliver more value while enjoying greater job satisfaction. Which doesn’t seem like quite such a scary future.