What is robotic process automation?

Karl Fischer, Executive Head: AI & Data Analytics & MD Coastal Region, DVT

Johannesburg, 05 Jul 2019
Read time 4min 10sec
Karl Fischer, Executive Head: AI & Data Analytics & MD Coastal Region, DVT
Karl Fischer, Executive Head: AI & Data Analytics & MD Coastal Region, DVT

RPA, robotic process automation, is a hot topic at the moment and touted as the answer to almost everything. That may reflect confusion in terms of what RPA really is and where it should be applied. If you believe that RPA involves physical robots, then read on.

Let’s begin with a definition of what RPA isn’t. It is not artificial intelligence (AI) or physical robots doing work that a person could be doing.

To put it simply, RPA is a bit of software that acts in the capacity of a person. Think of any business process where someone might be sitting behind a PC capturing information, manual administrative tasks that are repetitive. Examples are account processing or inbound invoices being captured into an ERP system.

That is where RPA comes in.

The benefits for organisations would be to reduce manual workload, increase the speed of capturing information and reduce capturing errors by automating processes. Bots don't get tired, they don’t get sick and they certainly don't drink the last of the coffee.

There are other areas though where RPA has certain benefits for customers. Think about scenarios like risk reduction. For example, if there is sensitive information being processed or captured between systems that might include personal information, then having that done automatically by a system means there is reduced risk of exposure. Human eyes are not seeing the content.

Similarly when it comes to capturing information within stringent time-frames then this would be a good case for RPA in order to make sure that the process is as efficient as possible.

So think of different aspects where RPA could come in. It would be beneficial for any administrative, high-volume transactional processes where there are multiple iterations to be done, consistent processes that don't have a wide variation to them or many exceptions that need to be handled. In these cases, RPA is going to be very useful.

There are a number of platforms out there that offer RPA services. We have chosen a particular one to work with, UIPath, but essentially the services are probably more important than the platform.

The services comprise three areas:

1. RPA consulting;

2. Development; and

3. Support and maintenance.

Consulting is where RPA analysts and business process engineers look at what is happening within an organisation, offer opportunities to identify where you can improve that process or even revolutionise that process. Alongside that, consultants will look at how that translates into opportunities for automation of parts or all of the subject processes.

Following initial analysis, the technical development team can come in and work alongside the analyst and capture the initial process side of things into a platform and then complete an initial automation, test that automation, scale it for production and then support that in a deployment.

Make sure that once you are moving to a live scenario, you're actually getting a chance to see all the real variations that perhaps the business wasn't aware of that take place. Cater for this in a pilot phase (limited use in production), stabilise the process automation that’s put in place, and then hand that over to the support and maintenance team.

To summarise, RPA is not a solution for everything despite what seems to be the perception at the moment. RPA is just that piece of software that is going to act in an administrative process to enable faster, more accurate capture and potentially reduce risk in terms of business processes as well.

This is an exciting space to be in for technology fans right now. It is definitely an opportunity for customers to leverage to achieve rapid efficiency gains and meet customer expectations in terms of faster execution of their business processes.

The final point is that as with any technology investment, you have to be sure you are going to drive out the ROI expected. When you consider that your bot may be able to run 24 hours a day, never off sick, never asking for leave and doing exactly what you ask it to, it might seem an easy-to-achieve outcome. It will not happen that way unless you plan the journey for RPA in your organisation and have a clear backlog of process where you can fully realise the opportunity for automation: take the “machine” out of people’s daily work and have them do the hard stuff, the human stuff.

Editorial contacts
DVT Karen Heydenrych (011) 759 5930
See also