What is RPA? A Guide to Robotic Process Automation

by Ian Barkin

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a critical component of the ‘Future of Work’ toolkit. If you’re new to the concept of Robotic Process Automation you may be wondering what the term actually means. We’ve created this blog post to help you understand RPA and learn about the many ways it can add value in your enterprise. By the end of this article, we hope to have given you concrete information about what RPA is, and answers about the ways RPA can be used.

A Definition of RPA

Symphony defines RPA as any capability (software and services) that allows you to transact in any IT application or website, typically in the same way a human would, to automate complex, rule-based work. In other words, RPA software allows developers to tailor complex automations to a company’s processes. When an RPA robot is at work, it performs tasks just like a human would: logging in, operating applications, entering data, performing complex calculations and logging out.

What Can RPA Do?

Because RPA is software-based, it can be used to perform various tasks. These include maintenance of records, queries, calculations, and transactions. Additionally, any application commonly used by your company can be operated by RPA. For example, Citrix, .NET, HTML, and Java are all technologies commonly supported by RPA. Compatible systems include Mainframe Terminals, SAP, Oracle, Blackline, and many more. Programmable automation means that RPA can be configured to perform almost any rule-based task.

Benefits of RPA

RPA can help digitally transform your business and unlock value by providing:

  • Higher Quality Services: Better accuracy and better customer service.
  • Greater Compliance: Business processes can be set to operate in accordance with the necessary regulations and standards.
  • Increased Speed: Processes can be completed at unprecedented speeds.
  • Increased Agility: Reduced overhead and more flexible business resources.
  • Comprehensive Insights: Improved efficiency by digitizing and auditing process data.
  • Reduced Costs: Manual or repetitive tasks are carried out by RPA software at a fraction of the cost
  • Employee Experience: Increased staff productivity and reduced attrition.

All these factors can set your company apart from competitors and are highly valuable in terms of shaping your business’s digital operations strategy.

RPA For Your Company

RPA can be applied to all sorts of rules-based process in a wide range of sectors, including process automation of office tasks, IT support, and assisted automation in customer service. With such a variety of areas that RPA is known to be successful in, it’s no wonder that so many companies are taking advantage of the technology.

If you’re worried about RPA being able to suit your company’s needs, don’t be. WorkSocial has worked with clients across a wide range of industries including banking, healthcare, logistics, consumer products, food & beverage, entertainment and more; and on as wide a scope of processes as HR, Finance, Supply Chain, Procurement and beyond. So we can assure you that RPA easily translates to many different industries and functions. Contact us at shantanumohan@deloitte.com if you’d like to discuss how RPA might apply to your particular industry or business function.

Where Should You Start?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but Symphony does suggest a few important steps. First, get educated. This often begins with online research (like you’ve done to find this blog). Then, speak to experts who’ve gained experience through doing. There are a lot of RPA tools out there (seemingly more every day). Get objective and experienced advice. Finally, have a change management plan. Successful RPA deployments require a broad set of stakeholders involved. Of most importance, and we can’t stress this enough, plan to engage IT sooner than later – they are your ally and partner on this journey. Plan to identify areas of highest impact and benefit. And plan to have budgets and resources necessary to make substantive progress in 2017.

How Can You Learn More?

Want more information on the details of RPA? We’ve got it. Check out our blog for insights from our experts. We also have a technical blog series on RPA to teach you about the most important features to look out for when selecting an RPA tool. We hope this article, as well as our other posts, help you to get a better understanding of Robotic Process Automation and how it can be an important component of your digital transformation toolkit.

 

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Beyond off-shoring: Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

In recent years, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have often been discussed in the same forums.

BPO and off-shoring have been widely used by businesses to reduce back office and operational costs through the use of low-cost labour markets.

Now RPA is being seen as the way to continue the drive for business process efficiency and cost reduction. At the same time, RPA is acting as a fundamental disruptor to the conventional wisdom of labour arbitrage.

So what exactly is RPA?

Forget the idea of walking into an office and seeing humans replaced by rows of androids; the “robots” of RPA are invisible. They sit inside your systems, moving between different applications, inputting, checking, updating and processing far faster than any human could.

Sometimes they’re only “hired” to work an hour a day, or overnight, by a particular business unit – so a single robot could be shared with another department or even organisation.

Like workflow-building applications, RPA software can lead to an immediate increase in process efficiency, accuracy, compliance and speed of completion – all while removing manual errors and increasing customer satisfaction.

Actual results will vary for each organisation and for different processes, but RPA programs typically deliver cost savings of 25% to 45%. Pay-back periods are often measured in weeks, instead of the months and years required for some software development projects.

In the context of BPO, RPA can enable the business to bring processes back onshore at the same — or reduced — cost, with the advantage of gaining increased control over those processes. Instead of the vanilla, one-size-fits-all approach of BPO, the business can tweak processes according to local needs.

Which processes suit RPA?

All the usual suspects can benefit from RPA: mundane, repetitive, frequent, high volume tasks; rule-based vs. judgement-based decisions; manually intensive and error-prone processes.

However, because it’s so quick and easy to make changes, RPA is also highly suited to processes that regularly change and adapt – especially those that are too costly or complex to re-engineer in the traditional way within the short term.

Good candidates for RPA are processes that intake structured data and transfer it across multiple systems – as well as time-consuming, low-volume activities that require frequent “system hopping,” for example, HR onboarding.

Why RPA?

Apart from the availability and emerging value of RPA technology, there are some strong business drivers for adoption.

Backshore to reduce total costs

Over the last couple of decades, many enterprises have exhausted their options — including global labour arbitrage and lower telecommunication costs — for achieving back-office cost efficiencies.

It’s often overlooked that big outsourcing contracts demand constant management and legal oversight. This additional overhead is borne by the client and rarely factored into the true cost of an outsourcing deal.

We’re starting to hear the terms “on-shoring” and “back-shoring” used more often… and RPA can be the enabler. Because robots cost around a third of an off-shore worker and can work around the clock, even tasks that have been relatively cheaply outsourced can be brought back under control again, for less cost.

Bypass the IT project backlog

It’s not feasible for IT departments to deliver on the “long-tail” of minor change requests from the business, while continuing to deliver on medium- to long-term technology programs and new, cutting-edge innovation.

Priorities are set, and sometimes it takes too long for seemingly simple amendments. This means the business can’t respond to market change or customer demands fast enough to remain competitive.

Many change requests – whilst critical to process improvement – are not cost-efficient to deliver through traditional system enhancement and system-integration solutions. Some lead to knock-on effects on existing system functionality.

RPA focuses on the business process and leaves the existing IT systems alone. As such it is essentially a tactical “non-IT” solution that can be built and deployed quickly for immediate benefits.

Let process experts take control

RPA technology works on top of existing IT architecture at the presentation layer of business applications. Developers build robots through point-and-click functionality, using a graphical interface similar to MS Visio.

People with no specific knowledge of software programming language – but who have process expertise and an analytical bent – can be trained within a few weeks to automate processes using an RPA tool.

How to start with RPA

It’s fine to jump straight into an RPA pilot without an overarching strategy. However, while discreet pilots may deliver local wins to individual departments, it could leave you with potentially broken or sub-optimal end-to-end processes. Additionally, the wider organisational implications of having robots in production may be overlooked.

Design the RPA operating model

To truly transform your organisation through the use of robotics, you’ll need to be clear on your overall RPA strategy.

Establish an enterprise-level RPA operating model that covers the breadth of organisational, process and technology components needed to establish RPA as a sustainable capability within an organisation.

Manage the demand

Your return on RPA investment will vary according to the processes you choose to automate.

Pick the pilots and initial projects you automate carefully, so the entire organisation can see the potential benefits and start thinking about which processes to automate next.

If you don’t apply enough due diligence upfront to identify the best processes for RPA — and build in the necessary automated error-handing rules — the results may disappoint. This can result in reduced interest in the business for future RPA initiatives, with subsequent lost opportunities for more efficient, resilient and faster processes.

Get the right support

Without a good understanding of how RPA fits within your existing IT architecture, project management, software development and process improvement methodologies, it may not get the necessary executive support to spread through the right levels within the organisation.

While IT departments will be glad to shed responsibility for application updates, they will need to be reassured that RPA won’t “break things.” They’ll also need to know about the security aspects of linking multiple applications along your “robot process line.”

Start small on your RPA journey

RPA is not the end of the workplace as we know it. The winners in the digital world will develop an effective “digital pairing” strategy – where robots perform the mundane tasks while humans manage exceptions and orchestrate the robots to interact with each other through end-to-end digital, process orchestration.

Start small on your RPA journey. Spend time conducting technology proof-of-concepts on a few different processes, so you’ll understand the nature of processes that are most suitable for RPA.

Once you’re convinced of the technology and its benefits, leave the technology behind and start developing an enterprise-wide strategy to use robotics throughout your operations.

It is then time to look at your business process portfolio and evaluate how the introduction of robotics can change the rationale for insource vs. outsource or the onshoring vs. offshoring of these processes.

You can choose to go on the robotics journey alone or bring in an experienced partner.

 

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Robot Gets Citizenship, Robo Surgeons and China’s Algorithms

Happy middle of the week, Algorology subscriber!

This week has been crazy, from machines getting citizenship to beating human surgeons.

Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to a female robot 👩

A non-human woman named Sophia has become a citizen of SA, making it the first country to grant a robot the right to citizenship.

Crazy? Huh

Elon Musk immediately replied to this:

“Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Obviously, he isn’t fooled by Sophia’s delicate features, fully expecting her to go the Skynet route and murder everyone.

But what does this mean in a legal way? Is a robot now a fully participating member of society?

Can I sue Sophia?

Does she have the same rights as me?

Can Sophia go to jail for killing someone?

Can Sophia sue creators for being abusive?

Can she sue me? Can she sue you? 😨

I don’t think I’m ready for this mentally. This is too damn fast.

What do you think?

Would love to get some lawyers in the thread here too, tag a colleague if relevant.

Autonomous Robot surgeon beats human surgeons 👨‍⚕️

Imagine that you’re on the operating table, waiting for surgeons to cut a tumor out of your flesh.

You want their cuts to be as precise and accurate as possible.

Leaving behind no tumor fragments that might cause the cancer to recur, yet also not removing too much healthy tissue 😬

Rather than an expert human surgeon, you might want the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) hovering over you.

In a recent set of experiments, STAR’s inventors showed that it makes more precise cuts than expert surgeons, and damages less of the surrounding flesh.

This is huge.

The researchers presented their results at the recent robotics conference IROS 2017.

“I really believe that this is the future of surgery,” says study coauthor Axel Krieger , an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland.

Krieger says the next step is to train STAR to deal with tumors that have complex 3D shapes, which will require new cameras for visual tracking and more sophisticated surgical planning software.

I’m super excited about the future of healthcare and its advances.

Though a bit scared of robots cutting my flesh 😲

Are you? Check out the discussion here:
https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6328983445301272577

China’s Algorithmic Big Brother is Watching 😡

They didn’t let me board a plane

I was considered “untrustworthy” and government refused my right to travel. As a low-rating citizen I couldn’t do many things I used to.

I couldn’t reserve a table at my favorite restaurant.

I couldn’t enroll my kids in high-paying private schools.

I couldn’t even upgrade my internet speed.

The algorithms determined my low score based on my online/offline activity & social circle of my low score friends.

Sounds like a futuristic Big Brother out of control?

No, it’s already a reality in China, where the government is using Social Credit System to rate the trustworthiness of billions.

The government is using it as a way to measure and enhance trust and to build a culture of sincerity.

Participating is voluntary for now. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behavior of every single citizen will be tracked/scored.

While this is a scary & radical implementation of the algorithmic monitoring, it actually gives us a glimpse into the future of our society.

We will be soon perceived as data points monitored, assisted and guided by algorithms.

How do we make this process as transparent as possible? To prevent an algorithmic chaos with data bias and errors.

Join discussion here.

If you’ve enjoyed this digest and want to thank me for it – the best way to do it is through forwarding this email to a few of your friends/colleagues so I can engage more people in the relevant discussions. Thanks ❤️

If you received the forwarded email – make sure to signup here: www.algorology.com

WorkSocial contributes robotics learning into Jersey City

The world needs a way to develop a wide variety of robots integrated with an IoT platform to improve people’s lives.

IoT has accelerated co-creation between companies and has helped create new value. But in order to leverage the full potential of IoT, data processing must go beyond cyberspace. New and innovative services in the real world will depend on our ability to combine data with physical operations. That’s why robotics will play such a crucial role moving forward, as they become our bridge between the real and virtual worlds.

At Workocial, we’ve curated a wide range of robotic vendors to teach RPA.  WorkSocial is now a breeding ground of various RPA applications.  By leveraging our expertise building communities and operational technologies (OT) we have created a buzz. But we’re not just developing technologies without reason – its the future.

We’re implementing technologies that with socially grow Jersey City.

By integrating robotics into an IoT platform using that technology in social infrastructures, we’re actively promoting initiatives to improve people’s lives.

Companies like Hitachi & Panasonic are getting interested in our platform.

We’re focusing on co-creation of a community where learning meets business problems.

Call us at (201) 210-8255. Lets talk about hosting your next training or hackathon.

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