What is RPA, and how can businesses use it to their benefit?
As the world enters the fourth industrial revolution, businesses of every size in every industry are seeking out new and innovative ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Sage advice has long held that repeatable, routine processes should be automated at scale to make those things happen. This is the ultimate goal of robotic process automation (RPA).
RPA refers to a subset of information technology designed to mimic the ways people interact with software to perform repetitive, high-volume tasks. This includes software programs that can log into other applications, enter data, make calculations, and complete tasks with little or no human intervention.
The first RPA systems relied entirely on preprogrammed commands to carry out simple tasks. However, today’s solutions introduce artificial intelligence and machine learning for capturing context and automating a wider range of processes, including much more complex ones. For example, the software might use natural language processing (NLP) to detect specific types of data, such as invoicing terms or names and addresses.
In this article, we will explore why RPA has grown in popularity and what it takes for businesses to implement it to their benefit.
What are the business benefits of RPA?
RPA is the inevitable next step in the evolution of enterprise IT, where hyperconnectivity meets big data and artificial intelligence to streamline operations and drive better user experiences – all while reducing costs. Here are some of the ways RPA can improve your business:
- Reduced costs – by automating repeatable tasks at practically any scale, the amount of manual work required can be drastically reduced, thus saving costs on staffing. RPA can also reduce or eliminate the risk of costly human error and allocate resources more efficiently while minimizing waste.
- Improved productivity – RPA is not all about replacing people, but rather empowering them to do their jobs better. Employees who can spend their time focusing on the more rewarding tasks and responsibilities, rather than tedious and repetitive processes, will attain higher productivity and morale.
- Better quality – by reducing risk and errors and collecting vast amounts of data during routine operations, RPA can set a new quality standard. It streamlines auditability and improves compliance and consistency with industry-standard processes. This will also have a direct positive impact on customer experience.
- High scalability – the rapid evolution of technology and growing customer demand have proven difficult for many businesses to keep apace with. Automating high-value, high-volume operations is often the only practical way to grow a business without adding risk and losing customers to lengthy delays.
- Stronger security – RPA functions on a granular level, in which each bot performs a specific task or set of tasks, thus eliminating the risk of data leakage from one part to another. Moreover, access to data and systems are all controlled and documented, making compliance and auditability a breeze.
- Enhanced analytics – by integrating RPA with business intelligence (BI) systems, you can gather a wealth of valuable process data for analytical purposes. This may include, for example, work volume patterns, errors and exceptions, and cycle times. This data can be translated into valuable insights to drive informed decision-making.
Which industries can benefit from RPA?
Almost any organization in any industry can benefit from RPA systems, especially those that deal with multiple repetitive, high-volume workloads. Here are some examples:
- Financial services – loan application approvals, migration of data between banking applications, managing customer accounts, and processing insurance claims.
- Real estate – property valuations, buildings and facilities management, mortgage rate estimates, and transfer of maintenance requests.
- Retail – extracting product data from manufacturer’s websites, automatically updating online inventories, importing customer data, and carrying out competitive research.
- Healthcare – migrating patient data, managing admission and discharge, processing insurance claims, scheduling repeat medications, and prescribing drugs.
- Manufacturing – predictive maintenance of manufacturing hardware, bill of materials, logistics data automation, and inventory control and ordering.
The above are just some of the processes where RPA can be applied to fully automate tasks at virtually any scale. Some of these can be applied in any type of business too. For example, RPA is a powerful tool for customer service representatives in every industry, since it provides quick solutions for known problems, while escalating tickets that require human intervention.
Any data-heavy operation is a good potential candidate for RPA. For most businesses, finance is the most data-heavy department – one that traditionally demands a huge amount of data entry. However, RPA can automate myriad routine financial processes from payroll to invoice processing to sales orders.
How does RPA change the way we work?
It is a common misconception that technologies like RPA are going to take all our jobs. In fact, while automation is expected to render some 85 million jobs obsolete globally by 2025, it will also create 97 million new ones. That is an additional 12 million jobs!
Rather than fearing the rise of the machines, most businesses and their employees should be ready to embrace modern solutions like RPA as a way to augment their capabilities. Leaders can make more informed decisions based on data-driven insights. Customer service reps will be able to focus on support requests that require a human touch, rather than overburdening themselves with trivial matters. Procurement teams will be able to focus on their key strategic suppliers, instead of getting bogged down managing hundreds of smaller ones. Finance teams will be able to manage critical financial matters with the confidence of knowing that they have technology on their side to iron out any manual errors. The list goes on.
Robotic process automation offers a proven solution to some of the most pressing challenges today’s businesses face. That being said, implementing RPA isn’t something you can expect to achieve overnight.
A successful project requires hiring the right RPA developers. These highly-skilled and sought-after subject matter experts bring key problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to help identify specific business needs and design automated processes around them. RPA developers are also responsible for setting up, testing, monitoring, and maintaining automated workflows for ongoing quality assurance and continuous improvement.
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