What is RPA?
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is an emerging technology involving bots that mimic human actions to complete repetitive tasks.
Those that are new to the RPA industry, could think of intelligent humanoid robotic companions when they hear robotic process automation. However, we may never see physical humanoid robots in white-collar jobs since knowledge work is becoming ever more digitized. Digital work is making physical bodies redundant in non-sales positions. RPA bots are digital workers that are capable of using our keyboards and mouses just like we do. And that opens a wide range of possibilities for automation.
What is RPA software?
RPA software is a popular tool that uses screen scraping, software integrations other technologies to build specialized digital agents that can automate administrative tasks. RPA software helps businesses with legacy systems to automate their workflows. Wikipedia defines RPA as "an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers."
Why are RPA tools important now?
We can provide three main reasons that led RPA to be the most common solution to automate common office tasks:
- Compared to the past, workers use more tools today. Automating interactions between the tools with simple macros is not practical.
- Advances in computer vision and integration with standard enterprise software allowed RPA tools to automate processes in many business environments.
- Outsourcing no longer creates additional benefits since most outsourcing benefits are reaped.
What are different types of RPA tools?
RPA tools can be categorized into three main types:
- Attended RPA: These bots are summoned by the user. It is commonly used in customer-facing functions like customer service.
- Unattended RPA: These bots perform tasks in batches based on automatic/timed triggers.
- Hybrid RPA: This type is a combination of both attended and unattended RPA tools.
What are the main benefits of RPA software?
Manual processes are inefficient, error-prone and cause employee dissatisfaction. RPA tools can change that through automation. The main benefits of RPA software are:
- Faster customer-facing processes to increase customer satisfaction
- Having employees to focus on higher value-added activities as it will improve both business results and employee satisfaction
- Decreased errors and manual data edits, increased quality of data, reduced compliance risks, and simplified auditing processes since RPA bots leave digital log files of all their activities
What are potential pitfalls with RPA software?
We can group common pitfalls of RPA software under three categories:
- Organizational pitfalls: Lack of commitment either from management or the team itself can delay RPA projects, just like any other projects.
- Process pitfalls: Choosing an unnecessarily complicated process will have a limited impact. For instance, introducing RPA in areas such as expense auditing where specialized solutions exist, may lead to extreme effort without achieving results.
- Technical pitfalls: Selecting an inefficient/problematic RPA tool can slow down your processes.
What are typical RPA use cases?
Almost all business processes can be automated with RPA. These processes include industry (e.g., telecommunication, financial services) or business function (e.g., marketing, sales) specific processes that can be automated with RPA. Some examples that exist in almost all industries are:
- Application processing
- Data migration and entry
- Periodic report preparation and dissemination
What are RPA software alternatives?
As RPA enables a higher degree of program automation, it is not the only way of automating processes that cut across numerous systems. The alternatives to RPA are:
- IT transformation: The development of new IT architectures might increase automation levels. However, this approach might take years.
- Business Process Management Platforms (BPMS): BPMSs can be integrated into business applications to increase the amount of "straight-through processing" that is available in processes.
- Business Process Outsourcing: Companies can benefit from outsourcing by labor arbitration and economies of scale of outsourcing providers. Nevertheless, with the increased convergence of developed and developing economies, the value of labor arbitrage is declining.
- Specialized Plug&Play Solutions: Specialized tools that can easily be integrated into systems would provide efficient and easy-to-integrate solutions.
How to choose the right RPA tool?
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to choose the right RPA tool:
- Understand and compare RPA tools to identify the tool you need
- Choose the processes to be automated so you can be specific in your requirements
- Check if vendors in your shortlist are operating in your area
- Reduce the number of vendors in your shortlist by communicating them
- Use this checklist to prepare your criteria for objective RPA vendor assessment
- The total cost of ownership including initial setup cost, ongoing vendor license fees, maintenance cost
- Ease of programming and control
- Ease of use from an end-user perspective
- Features like system requirements, integrations, screen scraping capabilities, cognitive automation capabilities
- Vendor experience
- Vendor support
- Existing vendor relationship
What is the cost of RPA implementation?
The cost of implementing RPA varies from one vendor to another. For example, UiPath, one of the leading vendors, has published starting price of $3990 per year and per user, depending on the automation level. Automation Anywhere published a starting price of $995 per user. However, RPA industry has grown quite fast thanks to their deep discounts. Especially in volume purchases, companies should expect to get deep discounts.
We can categorize RPA implementation costs under three categories:
- Development cost: This cost is incurred once to make the RPA solution fully operational. Research, planning, consulting, deployment, and testing costs are all part of this category.
- Maintenance cost: You will need to have fixed costs to maintain the performance of your RPA tool and your infrastructure. An example is the necessary updates of your business PCs.
- Bot license cost: The factors like RPA type (attended or attended) or being cloud-based/in-house affect the license cost. For example, cloud-based deployment can cost less, whereas in-house implementation may be more reasonable for a long-term commitment.
- Infrastructure cost: Cost of infrastructure to host bots and monitoring services, and data storage expenses are part of this category.
How much ROI does RPA software offer?
In a B2B.com article, RPA experts promise an ROI from 30% to more than %300 in the first year.
Though ROI is important, the level of savings are even more important for users. Of course, increasing scale of RPA implementation would offer higher savings. Deloitte gives an example that a company that deploys 500 bots with a cost of $20 million can make a saving of $100 million, as the bots will handle the tasks of 1000 employees. Considering other RPA benefits like error reduction and increased customer satisfaction, RPA tools offer a compelling amount of ROI for your business.
What are the RPA solutions of future?
While they focus on the two most expensive portions of RPA deployment that are design & development and maintenance, these future RPA solutions include:
- No code RPA: Helping businesses rely on cheaper resources and minimize RPA development time
- Self-learning RPA: Automating process modeling using system logs and videos of users working on projects
- Cognitive RPA: Enriching RPA with advanced features like image processing and Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Can I use RPA even if my company uses Citrix?
Yes, most RPA programs use machine vision technologies to capture data from your screen to enable automation via Citrix