Robotic process automation (RPA) is a form of automation that uses bots to perform high-volume, repetitive tasks that don’t require analytical skills or cognitive reasoning. What can these RPA bots do? They can handle functions like typing and making keystrokes, clicking, opening browser windows, logging into systems, copying and pasting, and recognizing icons and images.
Companies use RPA to alleviate the burden of time-consuming processes from their employees. Typically, these processes involve monotonous work or repetitive tasks that employees don’t enjoy. Using software bots frees employees to focus on higher-value cognitive work and reduces errors.
In addition to that benefit, RPA can help businesses improve process efficiency, increase productivity, and reduce expenses. According to a Deloitte survey, companies that adopted RPA practices reported ROI payback in less than 12 months.
When RPA is built into workflows as part of a broader automation strategy that includes other automation capabilities, such as AI- and machine learning-powered intelligent document processing (IDP), business rules, or smart services, it becomes an even more powerful tool for process improvement.
The benefits of automation via RPA aren’t limited to just one industry or department, either. Here are just a few examples:
Procurement: Inventory reconciliation through RPA can help multinational companies achieve more than 70% reduction in reconciliation cycle time. (Supply Chain Brain)
Accounting: The average amount of avoidable rework in accounting departments can take up to 30% of a full-time employee’s overall time. (Gartner)
IT: A 2020 Gartner report on IT cost optimization found that the introduction or augmentation of automation can help organizations achieve 10%–15% net savings in ongoing IT services project costs. (Supply Chain Brain)
Sales: An estimated 80% of the purchase order process can be automated. (Supply Chain Brain)
RPA is a key capability in your digital transformation initiatives, allowing you to:
Automate manual and repetitive tasks easily and quickly.
Connect with legacy systems that don’t have an application programming interface (API).
Improve efficiency, reduce costs, optimize processes, and enhance workflows.
Reduce errors and risk.
Let’s examine eight business benefits of RPA in more detail:
“The digital transformation of companies has a clear ally in the automation of processes with RPA. The need to automate, digitize, and achieve operational efficiencies involves the implementation of software robots that accelerate and ensure the quality of processes and free people to attend to more strategic and higher valued tasks.”
[ How else could RPA benefit your organization? Read our related article: 6 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Real-World Examples. ]
People often get RPA and BPA confused. While RPA describes just one tool (bots automating simple tasks), business process automation (BPA) actually describes the entire body of automation tools and methods that you might use in your automation journey. You might also come across the term “digital process automation”—this is just another way to refer to BPA.
RPA is a type of automation that falls under BPA, rather than a replacement or a competitor to it. RPA is also just one type of automation out of many. Think of BPA as the umbrella over your complete automation capabilities. RPA stands under that umbrella alongside AI-powered IDP, smart services, and business rules. These are all pieces of a complete automation suite, and they work best to improve your business processes when you use them in tandem.
You’ve seen many of the advantages of RPA already, including speed, refocused time for employees, and reduced error. But RPA does have a few disadvantages, and the first is important: it’s not designed to be the only tool in your automation lifecycle. When companies treat RPA as a catch-all for every automation need, it breaks down.
RPA performs well in situations that meet the criteria below, but when you move outside of these criteria, RPA won’t be a good fit. So, what can RPA be used for?
Tasks with few variations or exceptions. If conditions are likely to vary or evolve rapidly, rather than happening in the same way every time, RPA will struggle to conduct the process. Repeatable and consistent tasks are best for this type of bot.
High-volume tasks. You’ll get most value from building a bot to work on a high-volume task. You could justify using RPA for a low-volume task that needs a high level of accuracy, but if the task doesn’t take the human worker very long anyway, it might not be worth building a bot for.
Rules-based tasks. Bots need structure to guide the decisions they’ll execute. Focus on implementing RPA for tasks that follow a logical flow: if X, then Y. If that logic won’t work for your task, RPA isn’t a good fit.
Tasks existing in well-defined processes, systems, and workflows. RPA needs stable tasks, and similarly, RPA needs a stable environment. Too many changes to the surrounding system will burden the development team with making changes to the bot, limiting its time-saving value.
Tasks with structured data and readable inputs. RPA has to work with structured data, because unusual formats or data-like images, rich text, or rich media can confuse a bot.
Rather than stretching RPA outside of these boundaries, choose from an array of other automation tools, like business rules, IDP, and low-code automation to work in partnership with RPA.
One other consideration for RPA: If you build RPA within a traditional development environment, updates to an application can make a bot useless. With an eye for long-term maintenance, consider a low-code platform with built-in automation capabilities to improve sustainability and resilience.
[ Which emerging automation trends deserve your attention now? Get the Gartner Hyperautomation 2022 Trends Report. ]