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What Is Robotic Process Automation? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Welcome back wonderful readers! This is the fourth blog of my miniseries on emerging technologies. In this blog I’m gonna talk about Robotics Process Automation (RPA). So, let’s begin without any wait!

You might have spent never-ending hours, during your work, on performing repetitive, mundane, and tedious tasks. Right? But, no more! Now you need to sit back, relax, chill, and let the machine perform repetitive, mundane, and tedious tasks. It’s happening with RPA; the RPA is here to dazzle you! Now you can have more time to focus on the vital stuff, while the software robots driven by RPA technology can perform repetitive, mundane, and tedious tasks for you. It’s time to grab your coffee or tea or juice, whatever you like, with some doughnuts may be because we’re gonna indulge in the delightful world of RPA. I can understand that RPA is gonna take a lot of monotonous work from you but, don’t worry, together we can survive the RPA Armageddon (just kidding).

How To Define RPA?

So, what exactly is RPA? RPA is actually a sophisticated, powerful, customizable, and scalable software technology to perform routine, time-consuming, rules-based, mundane, and tedious tasks. Like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and 5G, RPA is another sensational emerging technology that has enormous potential to help people and businesses in attaining more agility, efficiency, and competitiveness in this era of constant technological disruption. You might be wondering, that’s fine but, what about the investment and return on investment (ROI)? So, here’s another exciting part! RPA can sit on existing applications thereby eliminating need for any new software development. Hence, RPA is cost effective and computerizes business processes only at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions.

What Is The Impact Of RPA?

We, the humans have working hours and we work during those hours. And why not? We’re emotional & social creatures and in addition to work, we need personal & family time as well. And, of course, we get tired as well so can’t work like 24/7/365 right? But, see the technology never sleeps and gets tired. Once deployed, it can operate for like 24/7/365. RPA technology is deployed in the business’s existing digital environment using software that actually creates software robots called the “bots”. These bots never get tired and perform the monotonous & rule-based work 24/7/365 with minimal to no involvement of human beings. The monotonous tasks which the bots can carry out include billing, maintaining data, handling transactions, and responding to queries/inquiries. But these are just the basic tasks, advanced bots possessing cognitive technology can also go beyond this and can even imitate the ways in which human beings interact with machines/software.

Applications Of RPA

Now let’s look at some real-life applications of RPA for better understanding and getting hold of things.

1). RPA In Finance

Finance is the backbone of any business and it’s at the helm of it when it comes to decision support and provision of valuable insights. Nonetheless, there are many tasks in finance function that are monotonous, error-prone, time-consuming, and don’t generate any revenue directly. Although many of the monotonous tasks are digitalized these days using different software/applications but, still there are avenues where automation is required or you can say that automation is required in more intelligent & smarter ways. What is better than the use of RPA here? It’s certainly a perfect choice to say good bye to monotonous tasks and embrace more intelligent & smarter ways of performing work.

For example, processing of an invoice is one of the most time consuming and tedious tasks in finance function. Usually there is a workflow whereby a number of steps are performed before processing the payment such as agreeing invoice with purchase order (PO) etc., and the invoice often need to be checked, reviewed, and approved by different people before payment. By deploying RPA technology, any matching exercise like matching invoice with PO can be performed by bots. Once the invoice and details on PO are agreed, the invoice can automatically be channeled to the precise person for approval without the need of many intermediaries.

This is just one simple example. Imagine if RPA is used in the finance function for other manual and tedious tasks as well, the finance people can be trained and diverted towards more productive and innovative tasks. This would not only enhance the skill sets of the workforce but, would also help the business in attaining growth, productivity, and efficiency.

2). RPA In Reshaping The Hiring Process

Hiring of people doesn’t come cheap. As per the estimates of Society for Human Resources (SHRM), the average cost of hiring per person is whopping $4,700 (obviously there are non-financial costs involved as well). Most of this cost is attributable to tedious and bureaucratic tasks. Why not use RPA to shun this high cost? But how? The bots can fetch applications not just during working hours but, 24/7 and that too with adeptness. After fetching applications, the bots could also go further and screen resumes & candidates’ profiles. Moreover, the bots can also perform tasks such as:

  • Sending auto reply emails and texts to candidates;
  • Collecting, processing & organizing candidate information, and storing the information in Application Tracking System (ATS); and
  • Scheduling interviews with the hiring manager(s).

The value of RPA in HR’s hiring process is phenomenal and it provides forward-thinking businesses and talent acquisition managers the additional tools to enhance the hiring process.

3).RPA In Inventory Management

Inventory management in retail businesses or factory warehouses is usually a labor-intensive work and has its challenges as well such as dealing with inventory obsolescence, stock-out, high storage cost etc. So, why not use RPA and drive benefits from it?

Let’s analyze how a multinational retail business could use RPA for inventory management. The multinational retail business exists in multiple geographical locations and often keeps track of various inventory items across multiple locations. In this case, agile and well-organized inventory management is required to manage stock to fulfill demand across various regions. Further, clear visibility is required into inventory management operations. RPA can substantially help in inventory management by using bots that can monitor inventory levels, generate notifications when inventory levels are low, and automatically place order to replenish inventory when the levels fall below a certain threshold. The bots won’t stop here! They can even assess optimal inventory levels based on historical needs/consumption and can even alter re-order levels based on historical patterns of demand.

4). RPA In Payroll Processing

Payroll processing is another repetitive, time-consuming, and tedious task which is performed every month. If there is large volume of payroll data, the chances of erroneousness get high and any rework can result in delays in salary payments. Does any employee like that his/her salary is delayed? Absolutely not! So why not use bots for validating payroll data such as salary, allowances, time sheets, and tax or any other deductions? Within the payroll function, RPA can help with changes in payroll data, employee attendance management, handling of resignations, any applicable payroll deductions etc.

5). RPA In Customer Service

RPA in customer service is here to take over repetitive and mundane tasks. Don’t worry my wonderful readers, RPA is not here to snatch jobs of customer service representatives. It is here to make customer services advanced and swift, while the customer service representatives could focus more on value adding tasks. The customers are gonna experience human like interaction with the bots. RPA is set to make an extensive impact on customer services. Now, the bots can handle customer inquiries 24/7/365 received either via website or social media.

Various banks, ecommerce companies, call centers etc. are using RPA to automate mundane tasks and enhance customer experience. But, the role of the bots is not only limited to responding to customer inquiries in fact, the bots are smart and can perform tasks which could help customer service people in analyzing trends and data to take informed decisions which can increase sales revenue/volume. For example, the bots can retrieve data such as customer demographics, past complaints, purchase patterns etc. The data can be presented in the form of refined customer reports and customer service people can take required decisions in a timely fashion. See! The bots are involved in pulling data and carrying out mundane tasks, while the customer service people are adding some real value to the business. Some entities around us which are using and deriving value, across customer services, through PRA are Cobmax Call Center in Brazil and Wrk Technologies Inc. in Montreal, Canada.

Benefits Of RPA

The ways in which the work is currently performed are changing fast but, for good. These are truly exciting times for people and businesses alike. With the use of RPA, the benefits seem infinite. Envisage some of the following benefits with RPA:

1). Elimination of manual processes so the employees can focus more on tasks that would add real value to the business. For example, employees can act as virtual managers, monitor bots, and handle any exceptions thereby abating manual interference, errors, and rework. Hence the employees’ focus would shift to more innovation work and business strategy.

2). Automation of tedious tasks would bring efficiencies in business activities which would eventually result in operational cost savings for the business.

3). Deployment cost of RPA is very low, just a fraction of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE). Moreover, RPA works 24/7/365 therefore the return on investment (ROI) is very fast typically well within a year. RPA has coding free interface to define automated processes with almost no requirement for technical integration.

4). Execution at much faster pace with far greater exactness when large amounts of work is performed.

5). Achievement of competitive advantage by delivering products and services to customers swiftly, focusing on customer centric initiatives, and improving customer service & experience.

6). Usage by all IT-literate users rather than just by technical people related to IT development or integration.

7). Better governance & compliance as a result of entrenched rules and internal controls.

8). Advanced reporting capabilities. Thus, provide comprehensive insights and analytics on dashboards for effective decisions.

What Is Cognitive Robotics?

Until now I have talked about RPA which largely relies on basic technologies. RPA is rule-based and doesn’t involve much coding. But, the story of bots doesn’t end here, the world has now moved towards even more advanced robotics called the cognitive robotics/automation. In this blog cognitive robotics is not my topic therefore I’m just sharing a brief overview of cognitive robotics here without going into the details of it.

Cognitive robotics/automation is a hot topic in many technology conferences taking place globally. Cognitive robotics/automation deals with more high-tech concepts such as driverless cars and self-navigating drones. Although striking headway has been made in these high-tech projects but, the costs involved are substantial. In this blog we just talked about RPA in customer services but, let’s say the cognitive robotics in used in customer services, it could even go beyond RPA by providing self-optimizing customer service.

Likewise in financial services industry, cognitive robotics can do loan pricing, provision of financial advice, claims handling etc. In cognitive robotics, designing a machine-learning approach to get the desired outcome is relatively straightforward but, aligning it with legal, regulatory and ethical requirements is a daunting challenge. Moreover, the natural language interfaces and sentiment analysis can understand human emotion but, the ability to naturally converse and sympathize with accuracy is still grey area.

Final Thoughts

With RPA mundane and tedious activities can be performed with accuracy and at a considerably higher speed. In RPA, the bots use regular user interfaces so other software don’t need to be configured for RPA use. Don’t think that the bots enjoy sweeping powers with no accountability. The bots are accountable and there are tools through which their actions can be monitored and audited similar to human actions. With relatively very low cost and rapid execution time, RPA is evolving as a real competitive differentiator and a game-changer. Hence, let’s not grapple with the bots. It’s a better idea to embrace them and work with them for good.

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