Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Everything You Need to Know

15 July 2021

The robots are coming. Are you ready? Learn how robotic process automation works and its benefits.

A few years ago, Ken Goldberg, an American inventor and researcher in robotics and automation, made a funny joke that many people didn’t take seriously until recently. 

“Our robots are signing up for online classes,” he said, referring to the need to train robots to make them smarter. 

 “After years of attempts to program robots to perform complex tasks like flying helicopters, we now want them to observe and record motions of human experts so they can become even better,” he continued. 

Fast forward to today, and it seems all robots are taking lessons to become as good as or, in some instances, better than humans. Whether it’s robots that can speak natural languages such as Siri or smart drones such as Amazon’s that make deliveries without much fuss – it shows how far we’ve come. All these advances have one thing at the core – robotic process automation (RPA).

What is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a fusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and software automation. Essentially, RPA transfers to robots (or bots) repetitive tasks traditionally performed by human workers. 

The robots mimic the way humans interact with software and, by doing so, can perform high-volume repeatable tasks. For example, RPA bots can log into applications, enter data, calculate, and complete tasks, such as taking customer orders – as Siri does. 

It’s important to understand the “robotic” in RPA doesn’t exclusively refer to physical robots. Although some robots are physical, most are mere software programs running on everyday computer systems. Robotic software programs are designed to communicate with or even replace existing systems, replicating what humans would otherwise do manually. 

The main difference between robotic software and other software automation tools is that RPA bots are highly trained. Whether it’s data entry or taking customer orders, the bot must be lightning-fast and work with no errors nor delays. 

How Robotic Process Automation Works 

Robotic process automation mirrors the way humans are accustomed to interacting with software applications. The bots merely need to replicate what a human would have done in the same situation when interacting with a computer application.

Indeed, the simplest RPA solutions are created by recording the clicks and keystrokes as users interact with a computer application. Then, the bot only needs to replicate the motions to arrive at the desired results. In case of a problem, the programmer can watch while the bot executes the task to identify the areas that need fine-tuning. 

These basic templates can serve as building blocks for more robust RPA applications. More advanced RPA bots rely on supplementary technologies such as machine vision to interpret icons and layouts on the screen.

Today’s RPA solutions sometimes also rely on recordings to create hybrid RPA bots. Creating hybrid RPA bots typically involves recoding existing workflows and then dynamically generating workflow automation in the back end. 

Aside from machine visualization and recordings, some industries employ process and task mining to develop better robotic process automation solutions. Data mining tools automatically capture business process workflows and often form starting templates for RPA automation in fast-paced business environments.

RPA Benefits 

 Robotic process automation is hugely beneficial in large enterprises, though the advantages are evident even in smaller institutions. 

          1. Increased accuracy

The first main advantage is reduced error. As soon as you adopt robotic process automation, you can say bye to common errors associated with human workers. According to one report on IT Chronicles, about 5% of organizations that adopt RPA do so because of its high accuracy.

          2. Compliance benefits

In industries where standards and regulations are critical, RPA can also save you from costly errors that may breach compliance. Think about manufacturing and health care, for example. These two industries are strictly regulated. It takes just one error to fall out of compliance. RPA can be invaluable in such circumstances. 

          3. Improved productivity  

Among those already using or adopting robotic process automation, productivity is the primary motivator. For instance, in the financial service industry, 19% of organizations using or in the process of adopting RPA are motivated by the high productivity levels. The figure is even higher in the energy and manufacturing sectors. 

          4. Reduced processing cost

According to the Lab Knowledge Work Factory, companies can realize 40% with attended RPA. With unattended RPA, you’re looking at a 45% to 80% in cost reduction. The only downside is that unattended RPA involves greater risk. The bottom line is that you can save so much money on processing costs by ditching human workers for RPA. 

Other key benefits of robotic process automation include improved employee morale, reduced operational risk, and improved data quality. The barrier to entry is also diminished as the robots come perfectly skilled for the job. The best part is that you don’t need to make any changes to accommodate robotic workers!

Real-Life Examples

Although it may seem a futuristic technology, robotic process automation is already in use in many industries worldwide. Common real-world examples include;

  • RPA at Walmart: Walmart’s CIO says the retail chain uses over 500 bots to automate different tasks within the company, including answering employee questions, retrieving audit documents, and freeing up employees. 
  • RPA at American Express: American Express Global Business Travel CIO David Thompson says the company uses robotic process automation to process ticket cancelations and refunds. They are also considering RPA to automate rebooking. 
  • RPA at Unum: Unum insurance adopted robotic process automation nearly six years ago and currently employs nearly 30 attended RPA bots and ten unattended RPA bots. These bots handle everything from policy administration to customer information.  

The Future is Now

Technologies such as robotic process automation may look futuristic in movies, but they are no longer that far-fetched. Dozens of companies already use them, and many others are putting up the infrastructure necessary to bring in these technologies. If you’re to remain competitive, you must begin to make plans for the same. 

Fortunately, Nix Solutions is always at the ready. Contact us today to learn more about robotic process automation and find out how it would help your organization.