More companies around the world are exploring the possibilities of using software bots to perform manual, time-consuming, rules-based office tasks in their lines of business. In a 2016 client study, Deloitte found that 22 percent of the organizations surveyed had already implemented or piloted robotics, while a further 76 percent were planning to investigate the technology within a year.
Robotic process automation (RPA) technology is engineered to automate routine and repetitive tasks that would otherwise be performed by human workers. This presents a range of business benefits for organizations across a broad spectrum of industries.
RPA: KEY BENEFITS
Reduced risk of human error
To err is human. Even the most skilled and motivated employees make mistakes from time to time. Even small errors such as typos, misfiled documents and pressing the wrong button can be time-consuming and costly to correct. RPA technology is designed to carry out the type of procedural tasks that people are usually responsible for in a way that is free from human error. This reduces the costs associated with fixing human slips and lapses in concentration. It also helps to protect the organization against the more serious consequences of human error such as business disruptions, security breaches, compromised staff safety, a loss of revenue and even reputational damage.
By delegating time-consuming tasks to software bots, companies can increase their productivity levels and reduce their labour expenses. According to PwC estimates, 45 percent of work activities can be automated, saving 2 trillion USD in global workforce costs.
Additionally, software bots do not need sick days or annual leave, and they can work 24/7/365 if necessary. When implemented effectively, this technology can increase productivity levels and enhance profitability through better output, speed and quality.
RPA technology makes meta data available that enables organizations to monitor and gain insights into their processes – helping to optimise these further and control costs. Every action that the software takes is logged, leaving a digital audit trail which makes monitoring, continual improvement and compliance easier to manage.
Employees can focus on more strategic tasks
One key criticism of RPA is that it increases unemployment levels as bots take over human roles. However, many experts argue that RPA technology can be leveraged to encourage redeployment rather than unemployment. With software bots handling the labour-intensive, rules-based and often mundane workloads, staff can be free to focus on projects that require unique human capabilities – work that is often more strategic and profitable. In this way, instead of reducing headcount, RPA can enable a business to derive more value from its existing human resources.
Harvard Business Review reports that in organizations where RPA technology is being leveraged, most knowledge workers have been redeployed to fulfil more interesting roles. Instead of feeling threatened by bots, these employees welcomed the technology and even viewed the bots as “team-mates”.
Often, RPA technology does not require specialised (and expensive) software programming skills. Bots can be configured using demonstrative steps, often via a scalable platform with visual drag-and-drop designers that allow users to plan each process graphically. This means that business users outside the IT department can be involved in the design and development of automated processes, extending the benefits of RPA to more lines of business across the organization. Simultaneously, there is no heavy involvement required from the IT department, which allows skilled IT staff to concentrate on other projects that require their attention.
Some organisations are reluctant to replace legacy systems, either due to the cost or the complexity and business downtime that is associated with the roll-out of new IT infrastructures. When a significant IT upgrade is not warranted, RPA technology can be used to extend the lifespan of legacy systems and streamline daily operations.
RPA tools interact with existing systems at the user interface (or presentation layer), in the same way that humans do. Bots are even assigned their own login IDs and passwords. In this way, implementing RPA software is not complex nor disruptive – the core technology platform remains intact.
CHALLENGES TO CONSIDER
RPA technology has plenty of advantages to offer in the business context. That said, like any emerging digital technology, RPA tools also have their disadvantages and limitations.
Not all processes are compatible with RPA
RPA technology is ideal for procedural tasks that are repetitive, rules-based and high volume. In the financial services industry, for example, RPA tools can automate the duplication and migration of data during the account reconciliation process, or the collection and analysis of basic identity information to assist with the customer onboarding process.
When it comes to processes that are non-standardised or require frequent human intervention, however, RPA tools may not be suitable. Software bots are not yet able to make judgement-based decisions, handle unexpected steps in processes or deal with complex customer queries, for example.
RPA technology in itself is therefore not a complete automation solution, but rather a tool that can be used as part of wider digital transformation.
RPA can be a surface-level fix
RPA is designed to operate a process as a human would. It is therefore compatible with a wide range of technologies—many companies use RPA as a tool to derive better efficiencies and productivity from their existing systems. However, there is a risk that some organizations may use RPA technology to prolong the lifespan of outdated systems longer than is advisable.
In some cases, a deeper system fix is required. RPA tools could be used to continue operations while the company explores a longer-term solution, such as a business process automation platform that enables the design and deployment of better business processes – automating these from the ground up.
It is necessary for companies looking to adopt RPA technology to have a clear understanding of what their overarching business and digital transformation goals are. If the business is happy that the existing IT infrastructure and business processes are well-aligned with these goals, then RPA is a relatively fast and user-friendly tool for meeting your automation objectives.
However, if your processes, applications and platforms are outdated, then there is very little that RPA can do to solve this issue. Bots may be able to achieve tasks more accurately and swiftly than humans can, but they still operate on the same legacy system. For these reasons, RPA is often considered as part of a wider automation strategy and not a complete solution.
Register for our Robotic Process Automation Webinar Series now for a clearer understanding of what RPA technology can offer your business and the role it can play in a broader digital transformation.