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What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Michael Rahm, Director, Product Marketing
March 16, 2020

As a quick Google search will tell you, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a hot topic. In fact, RPA is quickly becoming a major component of automation strategies for organizations around the world.

So, what is RPA and why should you care?

RPA is a technology best suited for specific use cases, such as automating repetitive and rule-based tasks performed by people or connecting to legacy systems that don't use modern APIs.

According to industry analyst Gartner:

"RPA tools are designed to mimic the same "manual" path taken through applications by a human using a combination of user interface (UI) interactions or by using connectors to client servers, mainframes or HTML code. An RPA tool operates by mapping a process in the RPA tool for the software "robot" to follow computer pathways between screens and various data repositories. An RPA tool can be triggered manually or automatically, move or populate data between prescribed locations, document audit trails, conduct calculations, perform actions, and trigger downstream activities."

RPA in the Real World

For a real world example, imagine you just placed an order through your favorite online retailer. Shipping the order requires a person to access a third-party shipping vendor's website and perform the following steps:

    • Login to order management system.

    • Search and open order details.

    • Login to the shipping vendor's website.

    • Copy and paste all the required data from the order management system to the shipping vendor's website.

    • Ship the order and copy tracking number from the shipping vendor's website back into the order management system.

    • Mark order as shipped in order management system.

Imagine a person or team of people having to do this hundreds or thousands of times per day!

These high-volume, repetitive tasks can be mind-numbing and error-prone.

Humans get weary, eyes get heavy, mistakes happen, people need breaks.

Not the software robots of RPA. RPA gives you a 24X7X365 digital workforce that mimics the steps people perform but with higher accuracy and much faster.

How? Imagine a digital robot logging into systems, and using the graphical user interface, just as a human would, only at lightning speeds with no mistakes and no breaks needed. Now, you get the picture of how RPA software works.

The Value of RPA

But, what does RPA deliver from a value standpoint?

    • Efficiency.

    • Speed.

    • Quality.

    • Cost savings.

    • Productivity.

By using RPA, organizations can simplify work, speed service delivery, and do more with less. And it all happens while freeing employees to focus on the work that matters most.

While RPA is great for task automation, not all use cases are a good fit. In fact, Gartner recently introduced the term "hyperautomation" which is the confluence of technologies like low-code, RPA, BPM, and others to deliver true enterprise automation. Understanding your use case upfront and the limitations that it could place on RPA is paramount.

Want to learn more? Download the latest RPA whitepaper from Appian and see how RPA works with other technologies to accelerate your digital transformation journey.

Do you need automation beyond RPA? Read the Gartner Hyperautomation report to better understand the key technologies needed for end-to-end automation.