So what’s robotic process automation anyways? I think it’s time for a refresher to remind us that automation has made leaps and bounds compared to when it first began. We need to continually keep the new abilities and possibilities that automation offers top-of-mind to ensure we are maximizing its full potential. For instance, when people think of automation they often imagine an employee who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, and works 24/7 to process transactions, manipulate data, trigger responses and communicate with digital systems.

Old news, right? We’ve had sophisticated software on computers with chips that operate at hyper-speed for years (think flash trading).

Now imagine this scenario being pushed further — that you can almost immediately add or subtract resources in real time, exactly as your needs ebb and flow, and that these workers can either be actual machines performing physical tasks or computers programmed to execute core business transactions.

Such a workforce combines the flexibility and capability of software with a physical interface, and it’s called RPA:

Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Software “robots” (or soft bots) which mimic rule-based human actions but do not require active human intelligence to manage variability or decision-making.

RPA software programs are faster and more accurate than humans. They have super-human stamina, offering 24/7 productivity with no processing handoffs due to shift changes. They can be scaled up quickly to handle seasonal or unanticipated spikes in work volume. And if they need to be shut down temporarily, they can simply “go to sleep.” A great example can be seen below — a Medicare Advantage Provider couldn’t keep up with claims, but RPA could:

RPA works hand-in-robotic-hand with business process management (BPM), an approach to achieving maximum corporate performance through optimizing business processes, to help standardize workflows and quantify the business value of improvement efforts.

Benefits of RPA

Forward-looking enterprises seeking to drive long-term value will find many advantages to implementing RPA. In industries ranging from banking and insurance to healthcare and the life sciences, robotics offer companies benefits that include:

  • Fast ROI: Robotics tools are fast, easy and relatively inexpensive to implement — development in six to eight weeks is typical — for faster realization of return on investment. Outsourcing consultancy Everest Group reports that RPA can reduce costs by up to 65%. And RPA’s ability to log data at the transactional level enables ongoing decision-making that is fast, accurate and predictive.
  • Flexibility: Depending on project requirements, robotic tools can be developed either in “batch mode” to complete end-to-end processes or when human intervention is indispensable, in “assisted mode.”
  • Security: RPA can be integrated with multiple applications at the presentation layer, ensuring that clients’ applications are not modified or enhanced by the robot. It also carries no risk of unauthorized data access: Since the business function leverages the already-available underlying application, access authorization concepts are automatically inherited.

Selecting Processes for Transformation

Major business functions that offer opportunities for process improvement through RPA include supply chain management, sales, finance and accounting, and human resources.

RPA is ideal for preventing error rates, reducing variability, improving cycle time, and increasing productivity in processes that follow a standard procedure with minimal deviation. Software robots can perform repetitive, monotonous, high-volume tasks, freeing workers to focus on activities that require higher-order thinking.

High-volume bulk processing functions within tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or core databases are ideal candidates for RPA, as are desktop applications and workflows that require information gathering from multiple sources. For tasks too small and diverse for IT changes, RPA offers an alternative to outsourcing and offshoring.

Lastly, another great way to prioritize what should be automated first is with this simple tip from my colleague, Dan Hudson:

Moving Forward

To identify target areas for transformation and to discover actionable insights, organizations should gather user analytics for each process under consideration, including time intelligence (where workers are spending the most time completing each process), application intelligence (which applications cost users the most time), and activity intelligence (which activities drive production work).

After RPA is deployed, it is important to measure performance to sustain improvements. New processes should be measured at a granular level for time, costs, productivity, quality and capital, then compared to the same data for the processes they replaced.

Future Potential

As one of the key disruptive technologies of the next decade, RPA offers abundant opportunities for companies that choose to seize them.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that automation software could take on the work equivalent of up to 140 million jobs by 2025. But the technology will also require highly skilled workers to supervise, maintain and improve it.

One thought should be automatic, though: Organizations that successfully implement RPA will outpace those that don’t. RPA can give companies the competitive edge they need in an already crowded market, and that’s truly valuable. Are you using RPA in your business? If not, let’s chat and get things rolling!