While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) may sound like something from the pages of a science fiction novel and a very technology-intensive discipline, but understanding RPA and how it can be utilized is critically important for any business leader. If you are responsible for business operations that rely heavily on repetitive, transactional processes requiring a significant investment in personnel, space and equipment, implementing RPA could be one of the most important strategic decisions you make.

Hand of robot hovering over interface as an example of Robotic Process Automation in action.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA uses software or digital “robots” that work behind the scenes to significantly reduce or eliminate human intervention with business processes. RPA is invisible to users, not requiring the introduction of new user interfaces that require training and stress human resources. These digital robots act in the place of humans to complete work like data entry or mailroom processes that frequently require large teams and management of documents. As a result, these digital mailrooms have become the epitome of efficiency and are a clear benefit of robotic process automation. Finally, RPA allows for the aggregation of metadata taken from documentation to inform reporting systems and analytics.

While RPA duplicates the outcomes of repetitive manual tasks, out is important to realize that it does not necessarily replicate the execution of these tasks.  Robots differ from people in that they are fed a diet of structured data. A human operator can take information in analog form and utilize it directly in the task’s execution.

For example, the operator can read an application form relating to a new customer and make entries into the necessary Line Of Business (LOB) applications to set up the new customer’s account.  While the process of setting up the new account is well documented and highly repetitive, the process definition assumes that the information is in digital form, i.e. it thinks of the inputs in terms of fields, rather than analog documents.

Where such information resides within an analog realm, i.e. unstructured content, RPA requires intelligent content capture to transform this analog unstructured content into digitized structured data in order to fully exploit the information contained within it.

Where do you begin with Robotic Process Automation?

Unless you occupy the C-Suite of your organization and are responsible for long-term strategic planning, you will need to find a sponsor or sponsors from your senior leadership team to assign your exploration of RPA with project status. Look to the leaders of the Operations, Logistics, Innovation and Strategic Support teams you work with as primary stakeholders. You may need additional resources assigned as part of a project team whose members should represent expertise from different areas of the organization. If a project team is not possible, ask leaders to identify Subject Matter Experts (SME) from those areas to answer questions as you explore options.

Once your project team is established, begin by examining the current capabilities of your business. Is it critical to both assess your current technological capabilities and the status of business processes in order to determine your readiness for RPA.

Examine Documented Business Processes.

A key to the success of implementing RPA is to look for quick wins in current business processes. Consult your company’s Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs) for the most current approved business process documentation that describes activities across business units.

Here are some questions to consider in choosing where to start with the implementation of RPA:

  • How many independent business processes exist?
  • Which processes take the most time and cost the company the most in materials and employee resources?
  • Does the current documentation provide an accurate picture of how business processes truly happen?
  • What software solutions are used by your company? How are they integrated?
  • Which business processes highly repetitive and are best suited for automation? Example: manual data entry processing.
  • Which processes could benefit most from intelligent document capture and RPA?
  • How would operations be impacted by RPA implementation in the short term?

Your team should plan to create a concise analysis of processes, formulating a plan for grading current process readiness and quick wins that will make an immediate impact across business units. Ideally, the first process to move to RPA should be able to be done in a sprint and tested for a few weeks, not months. Your analysis can act as a starting point for scheduling on-boarding of other processes and business units to Robotic Process Automation in the future.

Silhouette of a businessman talking to the silhouette of a robot as an example of Robotic Process Automation.

Review Available Software Vendors.

Investigate available software vendors and the costs of each. In the review of the business processes currently in play at your organization, you have likely discovered many that would benefit from intelligent document capture and machine learning. Software vendors like Ephesoft can help narrow down choices with free demonstrations of available solutions, like Ephesoft Transact, and use cases that fit your specific industry. For example, the use case for Robotic Process Automation in the banking industry.

Regardless of the whether your project team is just you or a group of people from various departments, be sure to include developers in the software demonstrations who have worked with current systems and targeted business processes so that they can ask questions that you may not have considered. Taking their opinions into account will help you avoid recommending the wrong choice later.

Perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis.

Once you have gathered data from potential software partners and expert opinions from within your organization, create a comparison of what each solution can do and how it would integrate with existing technology. While costs are important, look for a software that is scalable as your organization grows. It should be able to read and classify a variety and volume of documents quickly, with a high degree of accuracy and a low rate of error or validation. Review available web services that can be integrated quickly and without tens of hours of complex programming that could increase costs and derail plans to get initial RPA testing done quickly.

Now that you have found the perfect enterprise process to prototype RPA technology and the software that best fits the needs of your organization, present the results to your sponsor. Anticipate questions about immediate and long-term cost savings over one year, three years and five years. Indicate what other costs might be associated with the implementation such as related computer hardware, if any. Quantify the investment of the software versus the anticipated savings of expenses related to manpower, space and managing paper documents. Provide details on how documents will be accessed if processed through automation. Discuss how testing and changes will be communicated to all stakeholders currently working within the impacted business units. Change management will be an important consideration in recruiting allies for the successful digital transformation of your business.

Employ RPA for a Quick Win that Demonstrates Results.

Once your sponsor has given the green light and your team has scheduled implementation with your software vendor and development team, move forward with the testing. You or your team will need to set aside time to be hands-on in this process. It may be helpful to be physically present at the location where the processes take place to supervise the transition and answer questions. Measure the results of the test and keep your sponsor updated. If or when processes or results do not proceed as anticipated, record the lessons learned for future implementations. Update existing workflows and documentation for approval and inclusion in company SOPs.

Create a Long-term Project Plan for the Future.

The result of your first implementation of Robotic Process Automation was a success. Now what? It is time to take the data you have gathered on the benefits of RPA tools and apply them to a comprehensive plan for the future of your business.

Your team should be ready to endorse:

  • The results of your prototype implementation, including lessons learned for all future transitions.
  • A roll-out schedule for additional processes to benefit from RPA including dates and business units.
  • Resources needed for the ramp-up of RPA transformation.
  • Tracking mechanisms for cost-savings realized enterprise-wide.

If you are interested in learning more about Robotic Process Automation and how to leverage digital transformation for your organization, go to RPA Solutions.

Read more:

RPA vs. IPA: Intelligent Process Automation is the Next Frontier

Use Cases for RPA in Banking

Document-aware Robots are Here