Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as software robotics, refers to a technology that automates repetitive, rule-based digital tasks such as re-entering data, copying, pasting, etc.
Traditionally, another form of process automation was more commonly used, namely, business process automations (BPAs). This software is geared to automate routine business tasks and requires a software developer to produce a list of actions into the back-end system in order to automate a specific task.
Though operationally diverse, these systems are incredibly useful in maximizing an organization’s efficiency by delegating the mundane tasks to machines and leaving the more complex ones to humans. Gartner even commented on the technology by stating it is the “fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market”.
Now that we’ve briefly discussed what robotic process automations are, let’s dive a little bit deeper into the types that exist.
Unattended bots, as the name suggests, do not need human help to complete their work, they get on with their tasks independently. These bots take care of processes that do not require any judgement, such as updating a database with customer details.
Attended bots work alongside people on tasks that need human involvement. These bots step in and help people complete repetitive tasks (such as filling in forms or providing clients with helpful links in real-time) more quickly.
These bots can be viewed as a type of personal assistant to employees and can even be programmed to meet the personalised needs of each employee.
In a nutshell: RPAs operate by integrating with your applications by acquiring information from your IT systems.
As previously mentioned, BPAs required programmers to construct individual “IF” rules to each process the user would like to automate.
However, nowadays, RPAs can develop these lists by ‘watching’ a user carry out the task in the application’s graphical user interface (GUI) and automate the tasks by simply repeating them in the same way they would have been done by the user.
Both traditional and modern process automations yield similar automations after their configuration, the only difference is the effort needed in order to set them up. While RPAs learn tasks on their own, BPAs require guided instructions.
Because RPAs can work by directly replicating tasks onto a user's graphical user interface, they can effectively sit on top of existing systems and seamlessly navigate between apps and programs.
BPAs on the other hand, do not operate on the front end, meaning they need to be manually integrated within a system in order to navigate with different programs and applications.
Therefore, the main difference between the two lies in the fact that RPAs operate in the front-end while BPAs operate in the back-end.
There are many benefits to using robotic process automations:
Once artificial intelligence is used to power RPA systems, technologies such as optical character recognition, machine learning and text analytics can be leveraged.
While traditional RPAs excel in using information only from a structured database, cognitive automation can leverage unstructured data as well.
Cognitive automation is the term given to describe the conjunction of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. Cognitive based RPAs leverage optical character recognition and machine learning technologies to automate more complex business tasks. Machine learning is the fundamental aspect that enables the system to learn to solve problems and expand its capabilities on its own, without needing to be trained to do so.
Many jobs can be described as rule-based and repetitive, therefore they can easily be automated. Here are just a few situations under which RPAs are utilized:
Banking: Banks use RPAs to automate processes such as customer inquiries, reconciliations and for generating reports.
Healthcare: In healthcare, even more so than in banks, accuracy is fundamentally important as people’s lives are literally at stake. This is why RPAs are used in order to streamline processes such as insurance claims, payment cycles, prescription management and so on.
Retail: There are a few areas within the retail industry that can be easily automated in order to not only secure higher customer satisfaction rates but also smoothen out business operations. These processes can range from fraud detection and warehouse management to processing customer feedback.
Currently, although RPAs are an excellent way to automate processes, they fall short in terms of scalability. Therefore, the future of RPAs relates to its connection with machine learning and other advanced artificial intelligent technologies that provide scalable solutions.
There is already a peaking interest in combining RPAs with artificial intelligence, namely intelligent automation. This interest will continue to grow as AI technologies offer many more opportunities for automating processes.