More and more companies are turning to robotic process automation (RPA) to eliminate tedious tasks and free up company employees to do higher-value work. […]
What is robotic process automation? (RPA) is an application of technology driven by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, an organization can configure software or a “robot” to capture and interpret applications used to process a transaction, manipulate data, trigger feedback, and communicate with other digital systems.
RPA scenarios range from generating an automated response to an email to deploying thousands of bots, each programmed to automate tasks in an ERP system.
Many CIOs are turning to RPA to streamline business operations and reduce costs. Organizations can automate mundane, rules-based business processes, freeing employees to spend more time serving customers or other higher-value tasks.
Others see RPA as a stepping stone to intelligent automation (IA) using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be trained to make judgments about future outcomes.
What are the benefits of RPA?
RPA offers companies the opportunity to reduce labor costs and human error. According to intelligent automation specialists Kofax, the principle is simple: Let your employees do what they do best and use robots to complete tasks that get in your way.
Bots are typically inexpensive and easy to implement, as they don't require custom software or deep system integration. These traits are critical as organizations strive to grow without incurring significant costs or creating friction among employees.
According to Kofax, software robots, properly configured, can increase a team's work capacity by 35% to 50%. For example, simple, repetitive tasks like copying and pasting information between business systems can be sped up by 30-50% through the use of robots. Automating such tasks can also improve accuracy by eliminating human error such as mixing up numbers during data entry.
Organizations can also amplify their automation efforts by combining RPA with cognitive technologies like ML, speech recognition, and natural language processing to automate higher-order tasks that historically required human perception and judgment skills.
Such RPA implementations, where more than 15-20 steps can be automated, are part of a value-added chain known as intelligent automation (IA).
What are the best RPA tools?
The RPA market is a mix of new, purpose-built tools and older tools that have been updated with new features to support automation. Some were originally business process management (BPM) tools. Some vendors position their tools as "workflow automation" or "work process management."
According to Forrester Research, the overall RPA software market will grow from $2.4 billion in 2021 to $6.5 billion in 2025.
Leading RPA tool providers include:
AppianAutomation AnywhereAutomationEdgeBlue PrismCyclone RoboticsDatamaticsEdgeVerve SystemsHelpSystemsIBMKofaxKryonLaiyeMicrosoftNICENintexNTT-ATPegasystemsSamsung SDSServicetraceWorkFusion
In practice, what are the selection criteria for RPA tools?
There are 10 key factors to consider when choosing RPA tools:
Straightforward bot configurationLow-code featuresManned or unmannedMachine learningException handling and human validationIntegration with enterprise applicationsOrchestration and managementCloud botsDiscovery and evaluation of processes and tasksScalability
10 tips for effective robotic process automation
Implementing RPA can be challenging, both because of the potential complexity of existing business processes and the amount of change management required that may be required for RPA to be successful. The following tips can help orient your business:
Define and manage expectations
Quick wins are possible with RPA, but getting RPA to work at scale is another matter. Many RPA glitches are due to poor expectation management. Bold claims about RPA from vendors and implementation consultants didn't help either. For this reason, it's important for CIOs to approach the matter with a cautiously optimistic attitude.
Consider the impact on operations
RPA is often touted as a mechanism to increase ROI or reduce costs. But it can also be used to improve the customer experience. companies such as B. Airlines employ thousands of customer service agents, yet customers are still waiting in line for their call to be answered. A chatbot could help shorten this waiting time a bit.
Involve IT early and often
Poor design and change management can wreak havoc
Many implementations fail because design and execution are poorly managed, says Sanjay Srivastava, Genpact's chief digital officer. In the rush to implement something, some companies overlook the exchange of communications between the different bots, which can disrupt a business process.
"Before you implement, you have to think about the operating model," says Srivastava. "You have to think about how you want the different bots to work together." Some CIOs also neglect the changes that the new operation will have on a company's business processes. CIOs need to plan ahead to avoid business disruption.
Don't fall into the data pot
A bank that uses thousands of bots to automate manual data entry or monitor software operations generates a plethora of data. This can lure CIOs and their business partners into a fatal scenario of trying to exploit the data. According to Srivastava, it's not uncommon for companies to apply ML to the data generated by their bots and then put a chatbot in front of them so that users can easily query the data.
Suddenly the RPA project became an ML project that wasn't properly classified as an ML project. “Things are constantly evolving and CIOs are struggling to keep up,” says Srivastava. He recommends that CIOs view RPA as a long-term project, rather than piecemeal projects that escalate into something cumbersome.
Project governance is the be-all and end-all
Another problem that arises with RPA is a failure to plan for certain roadblocks, says Srivastava. An employee at a Genpact customer changed the company's password policy, but nobody programmed the bots to adapt, resulting in data leakage.
CIOs must constantly look for bottlenecks where their RPA solution can bog down, or at the very least install a monitoring and alerting system to watch out for roadblocks that are hampering performance. "You can't just let them loose and run around, you have to direct and control them," says Srivastava.
Setting up a single bot, let alone thousands, presents a lot of governance challenges. A Deloitte client spent multiple sessions trying to determine whether their bot was male or female – a valid gender question, but one that also needs to consider HR, ethics and other areas of compliance for the company.
Establishment of an RPA competence center
Among the most successful RPA implementations is a center of excellence with people accountable for making the program a success within the organization. However, not every company has the budget for it. An RPA Center of Excellence develops business cases, calculates potential cost optimization and ROI, and measures progress against those goals.
Don't forget the impact on your employees
Some companies are so fixated on implementing new solutions that they don't involve HR, which can become a nightmare for employees whose daily processes and workflows are disrupted.
Integrate RPA into your entire development flow
CIOs need to automate the entire development cycle or they won't be able to deploy their bots to a big launch.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for implementing RPA, but Srivastava says it requires a smart automation ethos that needs to be part of organizations' long-term strategy. “Automation must find an answer—all ifs, thens, and maybes—to complete business processes faster, with better quality, and at scale,” says Srivastava.
*Clint Boulton is senior writer for CIO.com covering IT management, the role of the CIO and digital transformation.