You’ve read the hype, but what is RPA really? Here's the decoder ring...

December 18, 2018

If you are managing business processes in a company, and need to drive transformation then you’ve probably heard of Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  And while there is a lot of “stuff” out there on RPA, if you’ve never seen it, you might be wondering what it really is.  I know I was.

The reality is despite the deployment of many, and many sophisticated applications to automate business processes, there continue to efficiency, quality and cost pinch points where typically, human intervention is required to either capture data for a system, or to pass data from one system to another.  This is because historically there wasn’t an ROI for building the bridge between the systems, or rather, the best ROI continued to be to do the work manually.  You might have tried labor arbitrage to reduce the cost by moving the work to near or offshore locations, but you still had people making that final link.

RPA, at is simplest form, is deploying software that can be easily programmed to do those basic tasks across applications, just as your people do.  The system is coded to replicate those actions – so it is not that there is a physical robot pounding away on a keyboard, but rather a virtual robot replicating the effect of pounding away, resulting in the same work being processed (the robot works “behind the keyboard” if you will).  And implementation, with a leading RPA platform like Automation Anywhere, is relatively easy.  

The key is ensuring the process is understood well enough, and precisely enough that it can be coded.  That analysis might take a week or two for a simple process, but then expect the coding to take a fraction of that time.  Implementations are typically described in days and weeks, not weeks and months (or years) for typical large transformative technology implementations (with no impact to the underlying applications).  RPA allows you go one step at a time, with small incremental investments creating incremental ROI.  Quickly, the earn back (calculated in weeks and months again, not years) can be of a magnitude where RPA is more than paying for additional automations, all within the same budget period.

The best candidate for RPA is where the data is structured, the process is repetitive and predictable, with inputs and outputs well defined.  A nice added benefit is this is typically the same kind of work your people hate doing because it is monotonous.  Implementing “bots” as they are called, or “cobots” (new terminology emerging but an excellent way of positioning RPA – that it is a collaborative layer of technology to support people getting their jobs done), can improve your people’s morale.  How often does technology do that!

You can move up the sophistication chain by implementing cognitive bots and analytics, but those are topics for another blog.

So, if you are running business process, and need or want to drive transformation, get through the hype because RPA is real.  And to be honest, if you aren’t looking at it already, you might already be behind.

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