When we hear the word ‘Robotic’ – the first impression that comes to our mind is a humanized machine with limbs working for us with a single aim of replacing the manpower. Though a reference to ‘Robots’ and ‘Automation’ is there, but RPA (Robotic Process Automation) can be considered more as ‘Software Robots’ or ‘bots’. These bots help industries around the world, and in all the sectors to achieve greater efficiencies by replacing monotonous, time-consuming, human-oriented processes. Businesses today are opting for more and more automation by using automation technologies like RPA and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Let us delve into RPA in more detail.
We are in a world of digital transformation where ‘being digital’ is more of a necessity than a choice. A survey by IDC pegs the expenditure by the companies around the World to a massive $2.3 trillion by the year 2023. This worldwide spending will be on the services and the technologies that enable the digital transformation of – all business practices and processes, products, supply-chain management, banking, and financial services, to name a few. One can even ponder – why spending such a big amount on the digital transformation? The answer is simple – every business thrives to stay ahead of the competitors, reducing their operational costs, and achieving more customer satisfaction. Automation in business processes is inspiring for these businesses as it’s the key to achieve efficiency and increase profits.
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) uses bots for monotonous and time-consuming tasks thus enabling clients to achieve more employee productivity and more job satisfaction. Another recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit provides an elaborative insight into the present state and the future scope of automation in the Industry.
Types of Software Robots (Bots)
A software bot is a program designed to automate simple, repetitive, and routine tasks, which can be performed – effectively and with greater efficiency. These software robots can be classified in the following three categories, depending upon the human interaction required.
- Attended RPA bots – these bots are deployed, in the processes where human intervention is required. These can be termed as ‘Digital Personal Assistant’ of an employee and are personalized as per the requirements and skillset of the employee. They help employees to focus on adding values rather than the process or system; by completing repetitive desktop tasks with more efficiency. An employee can trigger an Attended bot any time, as per the need.
- Unattended RPA bots – these bots do not require any human intervention or help to complete the process. These are server-based bots that fully automate the back-office processes. Some common areas for Unattended RPA bot’s implementation can be – a database update whenever a new Order is placed by the Customer, creating order confirmation/details email, or extracting data from the scanned documents using OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
- The third type of RPA bots – Hybrid bots combine both attended and unattended RPA bots to achieve better process optimization resulting in higher customer satisfaction and employee morale.
Factors to consider before implementing RPA
RPA is not an all-purpose solution for a company’s business problems. When applied correctly, it can enable an organization to achieve all-important efficiency(s) required for growth. Whether to opt for RPA or not, and its success depends upon the following factors.
- The process(es) under consideration should be able to be automated or computerized. An RPA bot can be considered as human observing a screen, performing repetitive tasks. So, the first and obvious question – what manual process(es) or its components could be digitized and then automated?
- The process(es) should be monotonous and stable. A continuously changing processing rule or conditions can result in the ineffective implementation of RPA.
- The process(es) requires the integration of different applications to achieve results. A process where a Human, acts as a ‘swivel’ by combining multiple applications – the output of one system is checked and then used as input for another system – is the best case for RPA application. RPA can even be deployed on a legacy system with ease, which can complete complex, mundane and repetitive tasks within fractions of seconds. This improves the employee’s performance also as he is freed from the swivel chair slowdown problem.
- The process(es) generates a large volume of data. Since inherently ‘Robots’ are faster than ‘Humans’ in general, the gains of automation are more if the number of transactions is high. A low data volume processing system might not be that efficient when compared to the ‘Human Cost’ for the process.
- Since automation ‘frees’ the employees, from the problem of diminishing employee morale and lower job satisfaction can’t be ignored. For achieving better results, a strong employee onboarding is a must. The fear of losing a job – ought to be reciprocated with skills enhancement, necessary knowledge, and effective communication about the RPA and its advantage to the employee. The employee could be utilized for other tasks.
- Another factor to consider before implementing RPA is – after working hour’s jobs. A logistics company, for example, have systems/processes which operate 24X7 basis. So any processes which can be done outside the regular working hours can be bought under RPA.
- If a business is operating in a strict, compliance critical environment, RPA is the best bet. RPA follows the instructions without any deviation and can generate reports or audit trails at all steps, can achieve all compliances with ease.
- The next important factor for the successful implementation of RPA is – achieving synergy between both – Business users (management) and the Technology users (end-user). For achieving this synergy – the business processes need to be chalked out, requirements/inputs from the end-users need to be gathered. How frequently the information generated will be processed, any exception(s) to the proposed rules of execution and their handling, and finally, how the output generated will be documented? The end-user need to comprehend these as well as the end product (robot) that’s being developed.
Stages of RPA Life Cycle
Once an organization decides in principle to go ahead with process automation using bots, the Business Analyst (BA) works with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to document the process. RPA development comprises of – all the details on what application(s) is/are being used, what type of data the end-user will input, and how/when he will initiate processing. All this is then integrated with the business rules, logic, and exceptions to these business rules, and handed over to the RPA developer, who starts with the development process with a tool. The different stages of the RPA life cycle can be broadly classified as follows.
- Identification – In this stage, the Business Analyst teams up with RPA developers and Subject Matter Experts to identify the business process for automation. The process or methodology followed is agile development.
- Analysis – In this stage, A Process Architect analyses and identifies the requirements of the client’s processes. The complexity of these processes is determined and based on this, the degree of automation – is decided. This analysis signifies the benefits of automation under process.
- Design & Development – In this phase, a Process Definition Document (PDD) is created – which highlights the information associated with each step in the process(es). A flowchart – is also created to understand the flow of the process. This PDD is then corroborated by the RPA developers to develop codes/scripts with the required RPA tool & technology.
- Testing – The testing phase is similar to the regular Software Testing process. Depending upon the business process and the extent/type of the automation opted – the bot is tested – by the development team or a separate team. All quality checks are ensured to achieve the results desired.
- Deployment & Maintenance – Once the bot is ready to be deployed, the development team works with the operational team which schedules and assigns the resources for the release from the development environment to the production environment. After deployment, the operations team takes over and if any problem is encountered that is fixed by the development team, tested, and then rolled live.
In the end, the use of these software robots depends upon various factors and the feasibility of the automation process. The bottom line is – companies are opting more and more for these bots for better Customer satisfaction, increased revenues, and efficient business models.
Jayant Ahuja – passionate about technology…