What Is Robotic Process Automation ?

May 20, 2020
What Is Robotic Process Automation ?

Businesses are always looking for better ways to cut costs and drive innovation. Robotic process automation (RPA) is a type of business process automation that allows enterprises to streamline everyday tasks, enabling employees to focus on more complex, creative, and valuable work. When implemented properly, RPA can greatly improve operational efficiency and give businesses a powerful competitive advantage.

What Is Robotic Process Automation?

The goal of RPA is to automate business processes. People can use RPA technology to program a robot to conduct various actions such as collecting and sorting data, processing payments, sending notifications to customers and business partners, and communicating with other systems in the organization’s network. In many cases, the robot takes the form of computer software and performs actions solely in the digital sphere. Manufacturing companies use automated robots to perform physical tasks on a large scale.

Robots can even be configured hierarchically, with a lead robot delegating tasks to hundreds or even thousands of its team members, each designed to automate its own set of tasks.

What Are the Benefits of RPA?

When designed and implemented properly, RPA can give a business competitive advantages on multiple fronts.

Reduce Costs
RPA can reduce costs in the form of staffing and error resolution. Many clerical tasks such as sending order confirmation, providing shipping details, processing payments, and answering common questions can be delegated to a hyperautomation process. For businesses that operate in large volumes like banks and online vendors, the savings can stack up substantially. Robots can work 24/7 without rest and commit virtually zero errors outside of power failures or issues with the network or hardware.

Though complex tasks may be more costly to implement, most robots require a low upfront investment. They are easy to program and integrate seamlessly with the organization’s existing software and systems.

For most digital tasks, one operational robot can become thousands at minimal additional cost. Businesses can scale their RPA efforts quickly to respond to upsurges in demand. There is also high potential for upgrades. Machine learning, translating, and speech recognition are all highly functional and viable technologies that businesses can integrate into their automated systems. Robots can follow a chain of instructions with dozens of steps, processing data accurately, communicating with other robots and employees, and becoming more efficient at tasks through machine learning. This type of intelligent automation brings benefits throughout the organization, allowing for…

Improved Productivity and Innovation
The greatest selling point of RPA is one that is difficult to quantify. By removing the burden of repetitive, draining tasks, robots give employees more time and energy to innovate and create growth for the business. Without the mental bog of answering emails and inputting customer data, employees are better equipped to bring new ideas to the table. They have more time to build relationships with customers, coworkers, and potential business partners.

More Employee Loyalty
With the unpleasant tasks taken care of, employees may find themselves in a less stressful, more positive environment. They are more motivated to put forth their best efforts, inspired to learn more about the organization, handle more rewarding responsibilities, and nurture their careers. Their talent then becomes a sustainable competitive advantage for the business.

What Are the Downsides of RPA?

Despite its numerous potential benefits, RPA may not be an ideal fit for every business. One of the main issues is simply programming and implementing the system to perform its intended functions. It takes substantial time and capital to design, test, and deploy a robot, let alone thousands, into the organization’s workflow. It is highly unlikely for a business to seamlessly integrate RPA, meaning they must invest more resources into troubleshooting and resolving customer complaints.

Another issue is the fast-paced, dynamic nature of software and business. New applications replace old ones, and updates can add or remove functionalities at a breakneck pace. Even a small change in an application that the robot communicates with can prevent it from performing its job. Depending on the scale and prevalence of these disruptions, the costs of reprogramming the robots can quickly become overwhelming.

Most importantly, intelligent automation may eliminate an organization’s most important asset: people. Robots may replace many jobs, even those requiring higher-order knowledge and skills. Many employees won’t have the opportunity to learn about their business and bring new ideas into the fold. Business that heavily embrace RPA also jeopardize the loyalty of their workforce, risking both losing talent to less automated competitors and alienating new hires.

Should You Implement RPA?

The answer depends on the nature of your business. Weigh the costs and benefits. Does it fit your budget? Do you have the IT capabilities to design and implement RPA properly? Are you prepared for the risks? How will the changes affect your employees in the coming year or the next five years? Get feedback from your entire organization before making a decision.