A software bot, short for "robot", is nothing more than a piece (or pieces) of code. And yet, how that code is put together makes all the difference in the bot's functionality.

Chances are, you're already familiar with at least a couple of types of bots. You come into contact with several of these software applications every time you get online. Chatbots, the little messaging applications that pop up in the corner of your screen, are one frequently used example.

Virtual assistants like Siri are software bots that use artificial intelligence and complex code to have human-like interactions. Social networks use bots to assist in communication.

Creating software bots for business applications used to be a task for software development teams, but technology brings change. Now, thanks to software technology like RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, it's much easier to create bots that perform automated tasks.

RPA provides a no-code, or codeless, user interface which allows almost anyone to "build a bot" to perform simple tasks. In turn, this allows businesses to streamline repetitive processes faster, with less room for error.

What can software bots do for me?

Already, software bots are a major part of your life. They work behind the scenes most of the time, going about their business of making life easier. They're document collators and virtual assistants, data collectors and website scanners.

No matter what they're designed to do, however, the benefits remain. Specific advantages include:

Increased ProductivityIncreased Productivity

Software bots allow individuals to be more effective in almost any area of business. Since they're able to automate the various steps required to perform the mundane tasks like invoice processing, for example, human workers are free to do more complex tasks. This increases the productivity of a single worker exponentially.

Better AccuracyBetter Accuracy

While software bots are only as good as their programming, they're very good at what they do once programmed. In fact, their accuracy is one of the many reasons you'll find them in the business processes of well known social media platforms like Facebook Messenger and business communication platforms like Slack.

Decreased CostsDecreased Costs

Increased productivity and better accuracy have a direct correlation to decreased costs. Employees are able to get more done, reducing the cost of overtime. Business processes are more accurate, which reduces costly errors in payroll and client accounts, among others.

Ease of UseEase of Use

Although basic training in automation is suggested in order to understand how to build them, RPA software applications provide an intuitive user interface. For many business processes, it's simply a matter of recording the end user's keystrokes so the software bot can mimic the actions. It's then is able to efficiently fulfill the task on demand.

Increased Employee SatisfactionIncreased Employee Satisfaction

Bots eliminate hours of mind-numbing, repetitive, stress-inducing activities. Since humans can automate the simpler, more mundane functions of their jobs, they’re free to work on more meaningful jobs requiring decision-making, creativity and judgment. This vital difference increases worker satisfaction.

Better FlexibilityBetter Flexibility

Software bots are created in such a way that they can work across multiple platforms and systems. -So you don’t have to have all the information you’re trying to collect on a single computer, or a single system, for example. This allows companies large and small the ability to operate with a business as usual attitude, while still implementing, managing and upgrading bots for stronger performance.

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Who is using software bots?

At the onset of bot technology, they were used to automate basic office tasks. While they're still used for that purpose, the software bots of yester-year are almost unrecognizable compared to their origins, and are widely used across industries and for many other purposes. Here are some key ways that the automation innovation is being leveraged:

Data MiningData Mining

Google is one of the first companies to take the use of software bots to the limit and expand on it. The search engine uses bots as data miners to index and catalogue the billions of websites that have been created.

Web crawlers scan web pages using a mix of machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation. They look for keywords to discern the information on the page based on language processing and contextual clues. That information is then compared to proprietary algorithms to give you the results you get today when you search for a term.

While a business certainly doesn't need that level of complexity, that data mining functionality can be brought to business applications. For example, bots can be created to scan for specific keywords and pull document packets together, or deliver specific information based on a designated keystroke.

Customer ServiceCustomer Service

Ranging from the simple to the complex, chatbots are changing the face of the customer service sector. At one end of the spectrum, they're able to provide simple answers to simple questions as a pre-qualifying tool. At the other end, these AI-powered software bots can competently talk with multiple customers at the same time.

With the potential customer as the end-user, bots can provide answers, in real-time, to any questions the user may have about a product or service. With the customer service representative as the end user, the bots can provide robust information about the customers for a stronger customer experience.

eCommerceeCommerce

A retail store may have hundreds, thousands, or even millions of products. Software bots can be created to organize and catalogue products, keep track of inventory and build datasheets. They can be built to make pricing updates and manage orders.

They can also be used to scan for a break in patterns, such as those employed by credit card companies to flag potential account fraud. If you've ever been called by your credit card company to ask about a recent purchase, chances are that a software bot flagged your account for review. Something you purchased was out of the normal pattern for your buyer behavior.

HealthcareHealthcare

The healthcare industry is aggressively using software bots, and in several ways. Not only can they track patient care and provide digital prescriptions, but also help with patient engagement and alert medical teams of patient emergencies. They can be used to streamline administrative tasks, such as creating new patient charts or updating old ones.

LegalLegal

Many law firms are well versed in using software bots to reduce the man hours spent on mundane tasks. Acting as virtual paralegals, they can be built to generate any number of legal documents with the click of a button. Contracts, NDAs, and privacy policies are just a few examples. Rather than replace their human counterpart, the software bots free them up to do work that involves higher thinking, such as conduction legal and factual research.

Supply ChainSupply Chain

Supply chain and logistics uses software bots and automation to keep track of load data and data analysis. Bots help reduce shipping cost via automated data entry. They can produce barcodes and keep track of warehouse inventory. All of this can be done in the fraction of the time that a human worker would be able to do, with a much smaller margin of error.

Frequently asked questions about software bots

"Bot" is short for "robot". It can mean a physical robot, such as the Roomba vacuum, or it can be a software bot, such as a virtual assistant.
Bots are used to automate tasks. What tasks they automate depends on the coding. However, the applications of software bots are almost endless, from business applications to gaming and communications.
No, although the two aren't mutually exclusive. Most bots are created to do a specific task. Their actions are dependent on the code used rather than machine learning. Some software bots use artificial intelligence, such as Google Assistant, but it's not a prerequisite.
While use cases do include tasks traditionally done by humans, it's not likely that software bots will replace human users. Rather, they're more likely to be a helpful counterpart as part of the Digital Workforce. The aim is to free human workers from mundane, repetitive tasks, allowing us to focus on other tasks that require our ingenuity and creativity.
Depending on their purpose, software bots are coded to use various technologies and software applications such as natural language processing and APIs. In business processes, they can automate anything from simple one or two-step processes (add an entered name to a specific set of documents) to complex workflows including twenty or more steps.

How do I get started with software bots?

Software bots can be created using Robotic Process Automation software. Choosing the right RPA software is critical to the success of your automation projects.

A quality RPA development platform will provide a no-code way to create the bot, a way to run bots on your organization's system, and a way to manage the scheduling and control of the bots. With these three key pieces, it's as easy as pushing record, stop and play on your phone.

Once created, software bots can be shared and managed across the organization, allowing for a more streamlined operation. Rather than mind numbing tasks, employees have a pleasant one-off user experience to automate the task, and are then able to move on to other tasks that take more thought.

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