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What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

What does Robotic Process Automation (RPA) entail and where does it fit in the artificial intelligence landscape?

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This blog post was first published on our Swedish blog and you can read the original article here.

What is robotic process automation?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of process automation technology that mimics human behaviour (Robotic) and carries out a sequence of activities that create a meaningful result (Process) without human intervention (Automation).

RPA is used to digitise or automate routine tasks using robotic technology and artificial intelligence.

Robotic process automation is mainly used for repetitive, administrative work that is performed based on a set of given rules and routines. It is only used for tasks in which creativity or intuition is not needed. The robot in this context is a computer program that mimics the execution of tasks a person does on a computer. 

RPA simulates the clicks and keystrokes a human makes, in the same applications that humans use. Automating with RPA means instructing the robot, that is, the program, to perform specific tasks based on a workflow. 

There are specified rules for each step of the workflow, such as moving certain information from one form to a document or copying selected items from one spreadsheet to another. These instructions are built in a relatively easy-to-handle RPA tool. 

That means, no advanced system integrations or communication solutions are needed. Implementing RPA is, therefore, faster and cheaper and easier than traditional automation.

Also read: 5 elements to include in your AI strategy

How can businesses use RPA?

Businesses can leverage robot process automation in different ways. Most use it to automate work tasks that are relatively simple, repetitive, and easy to define. Such processes are often comprised of easily definable structured data and are rule-based. 

Some common examples of ways organisations use RPA effectively are: 

  • Payroll and invoice processing

Payroll and invoicing processes are manual tasks that are perfect for automation. RPA can automate the data input, and process some of the decision-making required for invoice processing.

  • Customer service

Automated customer care systems can sort queries and offer responses to customers quickly and precisely. Customer service is built on rule-based processes, meaning it can be easily automated and streamlined.

  • Storing customer information

RPA can also be helpful in storing, organising and sorting customer information to ensure that all this data is easily accessible. The system will automatically categorise different data, and will display this information.

  • Receiving sales orders

RPA can take the tedious task of entering data into a CRM system off the sales representative’s shoulders. Not to mention that RPA can automate end-to-end sales activity tasks such as invoicing, sales order entry, and so on.

  • Recruitment and processing of HR information

RPA can also streamline the recruitment process by sourcing CVs from different platforms, sorting through spam, and assessing value. It is also great for processing employee data such as payroll, employee history, and so on.

How can a business identify RPA opportunities? Start by identifying areas, tasks and processes that fulfil the following criteria: 

  • Manually moving data from one system to another
  • Manually accessing and gathering data from several sources 
  • Manually updating the same data in several systems
  • Waiting for notifications or specific events to initiate their activities

This can help you shortlist possible processes that might benefit from automation. Then, further pin down whether the process can be clearly defined, and whether it’s driven by specific business rules (without human judgement). Lastly, think about whether the process is done frequently enough. 

The benefits of RPA

Repetitive work can be done quickly, safely and cost-effectively

With RPA, repetitive work can be performed faster, safer and more cost-effectively than if we are to do it ourselves. It takes the workload of tasks such as data entry and data manipulation off human workers, so that they can spend time on tasks proving more business value.

This streamlined process that takes over the time-consuming and repetitive tasks not only saves time and money but also reduces human errors caused by, for example, tiredness and boredom.

RPA works on existing IT infrastructure

RPA works on existing IT infrastructure, meaning it only needs to be trained on how to operate within that infrastructure. What is also brilliant, is that it uses the exact same interface as a person would use when working on a computer. That means almost anything that runs on your computer can be accessed via RPA. 

Because it interfaces with the front-end infrastructure, and uses the same graphic user interface that a human would use to complete the task, it keeps costs to a minimum. 

Can be developed quickly

RPA solutions can be developed quickly because they are not dependent on the systems used.

Where does RPA fit into the artificial intelligence landscape?

There are several differences between AI and RPA. Robotic process automation must be programmed to perform a task, while artificial intelligence can be trained to automate more complex and subjective work through pattern recognition. 

RPA also requires that a human expert has hard-coded a script or workflow in a system. AI, on the other hand, can handle natural language and unstructured data. Unlike RPA, AI can respond to changes in the environment, adapt and learn new ways of working and thinking.

However, unlike other automation forms, RPA is intelligent enough to decide whether or not a process should occur. The technology analyses the data presented to it, and then makes a decision based on the logic parameters a developer has set. Another difference is that, as mentioned above, it does not require a system integration. 

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