What is RPA technology? A step-by-step introduction for beginners

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While RPA might seem like the latest buzzword doing the rounds in the tech industry, the technology itself has been here for over 11 years now, proving its usefulness in delivering the best results and ROI in a short period. Successful implementation of RPA promise organizations more than that, for instance,

  1. Better quality of work
  2. Increase in efficiency
  3. Reduction in cost and resource consumption
  4. Employees enabled by a digital workforce
  5. Better customer engagement

Now you might have many questions about RPA.

What is RPA? Is it worth the investment? Can I use it for automating my job and where do you draw a line while automating your job? Does that mean RPA is here to replace actual employees? What should I know going into RPA? Where is the right place to start with RPA?

Wait, young padawan! And so, the answers shall come to you.

So, precisely that, let me try to answer each of the questions I think might be repeatedly asked about RPA.

So first things first, what is RPA?#so-first-things-first-what-is-rpa

ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION, in short, RPA is basically configuring a software robot to take care of the repetitive or rule-based tasks, that might range from downloading periodic reports, processing documents, scraping data from websites to sending emails, generating support tickets, processing claims, etc. Imagine a pet robot living inside of your computer that could take the inane and repetitive tasks out of your hands.

“I could do the same, what’s different?” you might ask.

Yes, you can. However, RPA takes much lesser time and reduces the possibility of error to a fraction to what it was earlier, giving you more time to focus on more critical and demanding tasks.

However, before we go any further, pure RPA can’t perform tasks that involve the “human touch” or cognitive skills that are required for some tasks, say, responding to particular customer queries or ambiguous tasks outside what RPA can take on.

A simple way to define the scope of RPA would be between complete manual work and tasks that require cognitive capabilities and solvable with artificial intelligence or machine learning.

Moving on, Can you automate your job with RPA?#moving-on-can-you-automate-your-job-with-rpa

To a certain degree, yes, but not entirely.

“Well, if droids could think, there’d be none of us here, would there?”

— Obi-Wan Kenobi

I am pretty sure some of the tasks you are responsible for, are repetitive, rule-based and require close to zero cognitive skills. These are tasks that are easily delegated to RPA and in the process, create time, previously unavailable to you, to focus on more exciting and cognitively challenging tasks. RPA can take care of maintaining the records, creating reports, calculations, and queries for you while you concentrate on identifying opportunities or concerns or improving customer relations. The possibilities are just endless.

The application is better explained with an example (or two), say, you are a customer relations manager who takes care of the queries and customer calls that will come in. With the power of RPA by your side, you can focus on the more specific queries and taking up anomalies that might be causing concerns and RPA can take up tracking support tickets, handling minor issues like resetting passwords or renewing a subscription, etc.

In addition to this, RPA can work 247 and on all 365 days with capturing data, screening for specific words, responding with emails, etc. with the support of templates and conditions. This eventually increases the efficiency, quality of the product all the while reducing the attrition in the long term.

However, does that mean RPA has the ability to replace employees? The answer to that is yes and no. RPA removes a part of the employees’ workload that is repetitive and rule-based, but it cannot replace the need for a human workforce due to its limitations. On the other hand, RPA has the capability to reduce the stress on the employees, reduce attrition, improve their satisfaction and create new job opportunities.

Which brings to the next question, what can be automated with RPA?#which-brings-to-the-next-question-what-can-be-automated-with-rpa

There is massive scope for RPA in organizations from customer engagement, insurance, and banking, finance, human resources, and procurement. RPA help organizations automate functions from checking eligibility, creating and processing reports, auto-filling applications, sending reports, data scraping, fraud detection, monitoring processes and performance, track support tickets for organizations, pay invoices, calculate taxes and carry out complex calculations in organizations in an hour or less.

This would have taken more than a week for employees to get through, keeping in mind the possibility of error and the toll it takes on employees to complete these functions. Implementing RPA becomes a better alternative in the long run due to the significant increase in the efficiency and the quality of the work, the decrease in the cost and the resources consumed and reduce the dependency on staff since robots are available 247, 365 days a year.

So, what should you know going into RPA?#so-what-should-you-know-going-into-rpa

Before jumping into automating the processes with RPA, it is crucial to learn the limitations, identify the ideal process that is perfect for automation, determine the steps of the process and create detailed documentation before going into the development phase. Here are some tips that will come in hand going into an RPA project.

1.Studying scope:#1-studying-scope

We know RPA can be implemented in 9 out of 10 departments in every organization. Studying scope also means you know which processes are automation friendly and which of them are not. Analyzing the dependency of the process to allocate the resources and the effect it will have on the existing operations. Sometimes, the study includes which teams need to be involved in the development and calculating the ROI the organization can expect from implementing RPA.

Organizations have more success in implementing RPA in their organizations when they are done in small parts.

Analyze the processes an average employee is responsible for, next, make a note of the process that might make good use cases for RPA implementation with the objectives, expected ROI and the budget in mind.

2. Identify:#2-identify

Now that we have studied scope, it is time to identify the ideal processes in your organization that RPA can be used for.

Processes that are in consideration for RPA shouldn’t require changes in the underlying systems. The complexity of the process also plays an essential role in determining whether RPA is the best fit. As a general thumb rule, as the complexity or the ambiguity of the process increases, the suitability of the process towards RPA decreases. It is also essential to consider the future, and the potential implementing RPA will have in your organization, for instance, examine the processes you have identified ideal for RPA if these processes are shut down or redundant in, say, 1 year down the line. It is not a good use case for RPA.

4.Involving local team:#4-involving-local-team

No one understands the process better than the person who handles it on a day to day basis. With the help of the local team, the developers can understand the exceptions, the scope and the method of execution easily.

In the end, it is the team effort from the development team and the local that plays a crucial role in the RPA’s success in the organization.

5.Proper onboarding:#5-proper-onboarding

As necessary the development of the process is, the onboarding process is equally important. The organization should consider the change and the effects RPA might bring into the organization. In some cases, investing time to redesign policies and revamp key performance areas is essential.

Training and knowledge transfer is another fundamental requirement for the effective management of RPA. While RPA doesn’t require constant surveillance, it does call for periodic monitoring to know whether the processes are running as planned.

In some cases, unexpected exceptions might crop up after deployment. With proper onboarding and stress testing the RPA robots, these instances can be minimized to a great extent.

You have reached the end of this blog. You are RPA-wiser than you were at the start of the blog.

In the next blog, let’s discuss the RPA tools in the market and some exciting use-cases that might help you decide whether RPA is the best fit for what you are looking for.

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