What is Robotic Process Automation?
Posted on: July 8, 2015 | By: Phil McGaw
Robotic Process Automation is designed to provide an organisation with an agile virtual workforce that follows rule-based business processes and interacts with the systems in the same way that users currently do.
RPA has the capability for automating processes that would otherwise be executed manually by humans or by having to customise existing IT systems. When adopted alongside traditional IT development, RPA extends the reach of technology with a higher level of automation, a significantly lower level of investment and greater speed to deployment.
There are a number of benefits and advantages associated with the adoption of a Robotic Process Automation capability:
Highly Versatile, Flexible, and Architected to enhance IT security
RPA is designed to interact with the user interface of existing applications. A software ‘robot’ securely logs into an application and manipulates the presentation layer in the same way that a user would but in a controlled environment. This has two clear advantages:
• It operates within the same boundaries as a user (e.g. security controls and access rights) and is non-invasive which means it will never compromise the integrity of the application.
• It is entirely technology agnostic and can be used with any application, be it Java, Windows forms, Web forms or thin client technologies such as Citrix.
The implication is that Robotic Process Automation is a capability that can be leveraged across any industry and applied in almost any functional capacity where there is data driven, rule-based processing activity.
Increased Operational Agility
The end-to-end delivery lifecycle for automating processes using Robotic Process Automation is very short compared to traditional software development methodologies. Often a process from the inception stage of a project is designed and configured to be production strength, tested, deployed and operational within six to eight weeks.
Robotic Process Automation also provides operational flexibility since the robots are considered a ‘virtual workforce’. Once a robot has been ‘trained’ in a particular process, that same process can be instantly deployed to all available robots. Whilst training a robot may take longer than training a single human, once the process knowledge is available to one robot, it is available to all. The result is complete and unconstrained scalability.
This benefit is compounded when considering three other characteristics of a RPA capability:
• A library of automations is built up to form a central repository of shared and re-usable components that form an extensible and maintainable foundation of Robotic Automation Processes.
• An effective platform for Robotic Process Automation allows for the reuse of system interaction points or objects, enabling new processes to be assembled very quickly.
• Automations are scheduled and managed centrally to allow the overall operational workload to be balanced across all available robot runtime resources.
With Robotic Process Automation, operational demand is managed far more effectively as the virtual workforce is re-directed to address real time peaks and troughs in demand with no training or recruitment overhead.
A key objective of a Robotic Process Automation capability is to allow the business to respond rapidly to changing priorities and customer demands, without increasing the stress on overloaded IT schedules. This confers a dual benefit to an Enterprise organisation: the IT community is freed up to concentrate on the transformative and strategic initiatives that require extensive investment; whilst the business community is empowered to manage, shape and deliver business imperatives driving improved efficiency, effectiveness and customer service.
Furthermore, when RPA is established as a formal capability within an organisation (e.g. as a CoE), Robotic Process Automation supports a framework that enhances both business and IT compliance by:
• Deploying governance processes that can be flexed to accommodate the specific needs of individual organisations across any industry.
• Preventing the occurrence of so-called ‘grey-IT’ i.e. the implementation of tactical, bespoke, time-saving solutions that, at an enterprise level drive inconsistent practices using brittle and unstable solutions which indirectly introduce complexity and operational risk into the organisation. E.g. an excel spreadsheet collecting data from a database and manipulating it with macros.
Increased quality, consistency and productivity
Significant operational issues are frequently caused by poor process adherence. The root cause is usually a result of:
• Data integrity challenges across a complex application landscape.
• A high degree of variability in manual transactional processing.
Robotic Process Automation provides a level of consistency, best practice and stability by eliminating human error which delivers a downstream cost avoidance benefit and enables people to focus on higher value decision-making and customer contact.
The virtual workforce also operates differently to a human counterpart. Robots do not get tired or bored, and in terms of pure transactional processing, it is possible to achieve far more efficiency out of a robot for routine and repetitive rule-based work compared to a human equivalent.
This allows humans to focus on higher value activities which require communication, empathy, judgement-based problem solving.
A robot can run 24/7 and will execute the most tedious and repetitive activities with precision and without interruption. Certain activities such as data validation, reconciliation, or retrieval of specific information from a large data sample will typically be executed with far greater speed and granularity than a human could possibly achieve. The result is a rate of productivity that is a minimum of double, and up to ten times, that of a human equivalent.
Business Insight through Robotic Analytics
In contrast with human processing activity, every transaction executed by a robot is recorded centrally to provide a full audit trail which is rich in latent process insights.
This activity – the recording and the granting of access to such data – is carefully controlled and configured in order to respect the data governance requirements associated with handling sensitive or regulatory information.
The impact is that RPA can generate a large amount of operational and business data that can be converted into valuable business insight via analytics. A new level of operational process insight is unlocked through the ability of the robots to record every action they take, every piece of data they enter and retrieve from the systems of record and every process rule that is fired.