An RPA Primer: 3 Simple Steps to Automate Your Organization
At Automation Anywhere, we get a lot of questions on the background of automation. How does it work? Why do I need it? How do I get started? Is it hard to use? Is it safe for my business?
To help address those questions, we've decided to create a primer to explain the very fundamental elements of office automation. Whether you’re a C-level executive or an accounting clerk, we want to help you understand the potential value for your organization.
In this three-part series, we'll be breaking down all things Robotic Process Automation (RPA), starting with an overview of RPA and then getting more advanced over the next two articles. Here's what you can expect:
- Part 1: What is RPA and why do I need it?
- Part 2: What RPA components do I need to get started? How do I build and manage RPA bots?
- Part 3: Advanced features — cognitive automation and artificial intelligence (AI)
Let’s get started.
What is Robotic Process Automation and why do I need it?
Copy. Paste. Repeat. Do this 10,000 times.
The digital age has brought us many wonderful things, but it’s also brought us digital drudgery. Where we once filled out forms in triplicate with NCR paper, we now copy and paste the information using mind-numbing, repetitive keystrokes.
Similar to the way physical robots are doing many of the very repetitive — and often very dangerous — jobs that humans once had to perform, there is now a robotic process to save us from the very repetitive (though not really dangerous) digital office jobs. It’s called Robotic Process Automation.
RPA is a way of automating your repetitive processes so that they do the manual work for you. It's the programming of software robots, or bots, to do the work. It’s similar to how you might write a macro in Excel to automatically populate cells in a spreadsheet. But with RPA, you can create automation across programs and platforms.
For example, if I work in customer service and must copy and paste data from the customer resource management (CRM) system into a spreadsheet to create a report, the process can be automated with bots. Once programmed correctly, bots will never make mistakes; they're 100% accurate. They never have bad days, and they work around the clock. These bots free humans to do more high-value work, such as provide additional service to customers.
Bots can be broken down into two fundamental categories: attended and unattended. Unattended bots are designed to run in the background, where they automatically complete back-office functions at scale with minimal employee intervention. Attended bots require interaction; they respond to employee-triggered actions by automatically completing certain tasks to simplify a workflow.
What can I automate?
Virtually any repetitive task or process can be automated — from automating simple copy-and-paste commands all the way to intelligent, AI bots that can tell when a customer is upset and escalate the issue to a human. (We’ll talk more about cognitive robots in an upcoming edition.)
Basic commands, such as opening an application, signing in (username and password), cutting and pasting, calculating, and saving and closing, can all be automated. Applications such as CRM systems, back-office systems — including accounting, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and supply chain, as well as customer databases — and more can all be automated.
Where can I automate?
Anyone, in virtually any industry, can benefit from automation. RPA is especially useful in heavily regulated industries such as healthcare and banking and finance. Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 606, and the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can impose stiff penalties for noncompliance. RPA will ensure compliance reporting is done correctly and according to regulatory guidelines.
Let’s see how RPA and bots can help you in your work life, using real-world examples.
Accounting and finance
A fairly obvious application for RPA is in the banking and financial services industry (sometimes referred to as BFSI) — and for good reason. It’s heavily regulated, and accuracy is very important when dealing in monetary issues. Let’s look at an example where automation can enable regulatory compliance, specifically a new regulation named ASC 606, a revenue recognition guideline for contracts. In the scenario below, information from a new sales deal is automatically updated from the Salesforce.com CRM into the NetSuite financial application.
By automating the process, you’re not only ensuring regulatory compliance, but you’re also saving time and money by having bots rather than humans do this repetitive work.
Life sciences industry
The life sciences industry includes sectors such as pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, and many other healthcare-related organizations. Since the industry's products literally involve life or death, they're heavily regulated. Many of these regulations involve a ton of reporting and, thus, a ton of work. In fact, one biotech company estimated it spent 240,000 hours per year filling out regulatory forms. This is the equivalent of 120 person-years of work — i.e., 120 full-time employees.
Let’s see how automation can help Llfe sciences companies do their reporting.
The old way
Complaint reporting, the manual way, involves several steps:
- A customer calls about a product issue.
- The details (highlighted in yellow) are recorded by a representative into the company CRM.
- The complaint information, including the representative’s name, product information, etc., must be captured into a specific form and in a specific way — for example, into an eQMS Complaint Module.
- Copying this data involves manually copying and pasting the data from the CRM to the eQMS. This is not only very labor-intensive, but it's also prone to errors. And errors aren’t good in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals.
This process is euphemistically referred to as a “swivel chair interface,” where the office worker manually copies information from one system and pastes it into another system.
The automated way
When the data transfer process is automated, the copying and pasting is done behind the scenes by a bot. This happens very quickly and accurately:
- Data is copied by the bot.
- Data is pasted by the bot.
- The process is repeated.
As you can see, automating these very complex reporting forms not only saves a ton of time, but it also eliminates errors.
Automation can be applied to virtually any process and in virtually any industry. We’ve seen RPA implemented in organizations from startups to Fortune 500 companies. You don’t need to be a computer scientist to create bots. In fact, in one of our Bot Games contests, the top bot was created by a business user — not a software developer. And now you can even get prebuilt bots from the Bot Store.
RPA is the revolution of the 21st century. Like the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century and the computing revolution in the mid-20th century, this revolution frees humans from manual labor and makes our lives better and easier. And, indirectly, we became more prosperous as a result.
In fact, a University of London study found that workers in an automation-augmented workplace scored 33% higher on human workplace factors over their non-augmented counterparts.
In addition, companies are saving massive amounts of time and money with automation. A study by SDET stated, “98% of IT business leaders say that automating processes is essential to driving business benefits.”
But you don’t need studies to tell you that you should automate. It’s common sense. And in reality, it’s actually quite easy.