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What is RPA

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02 September 2022
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What is RPA


Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology application that automates business processes using business logic and structured inputs. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a "robot," to capture and interpret applications for transaction processing, data manipulation, response triggering, and communication with other digital systems. RPA scenarios range from sending an automated email response to deploying thousands of bots, each programmed to automate jobs in an ERP system.

RPA is being used by many CIOs to streamline enterprise operations and reduce costs. Businesses can automate routine rule-based business processes, freeing up business users' time to focus on customer service or other higher-value tasks. Others see RPA as a stopgap measure on the way to intelligent automation (IA) via machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be trained to predict future outcomes.

What are the advantages of RPA?


RPA enables organizations to cut staffing costs and eliminate human error. According to intelligent automation specialist Kofax, the principle is simple: let humans do what they do best while robots handle the tasks that get in the way.

Bots are typically low-cost and simple to set up, requiring no custom software or extensive system integration. Such characteristics are critical as organizations seek to expand without incurring significant costs or causing employee friction.

Software robots can increase a team's work capacity by 35% to 50% when properly configured. For example, simple, repetitive tasks like copying and pasting information between business systems can be sped up by 30% to 50% when completed by robots. By eliminating opportunities for human error, such as transposing numbers during data entry, automating such tasks can improve accuracy.

Enterprises can also boost their automation efforts by combining RPA with cognitive technologies such as machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing, automating higher-order tasks that previously required human perceptual and judgment abilities.

Such RPA implementations, which can automate up to 20 steps, are part of a value chain known as intelligent automation (IA).

10 suggestions for efficient robotic process automation


1.    Establish and manage expectations.

Quick wins are possible with RPA, but getting RPA to scale is a different story. Many RPA hiccups are caused by poor expectation management. RPA vendors' and implementation consultants' bold claims haven't helped. That is why CIOs must approach the situation with a cautiously optimistic attitude.

2.    Consider the commercial impact.

RPA is frequently promoted as a means of increasing return on investment or lowering costs. However, it can also be used to enhance the customer experience. For example, airlines employ thousands of customer service agents, but customers are still waiting in line to have their calls answered. A chatbot could help with some of the waiting.

3.    Involve IT early and frequently.

COOs were among the first to embrace RPA. In many cases, they purchased RPA only to run into difficulties during implementation, prompting them to seek IT assistance (and forgiveness). "Citizen developers" with no technical knowledge are now using cloud software to implement RPA directly in their business units. Frequently, the CIO will intervene and obstruct them. To ensure they get the resources they need, business leaders must involve IT from the start.

4.    Poor design and change management can be disastrous.

Many implementations fail because design and change are poorly managed, according to Genpact's chief digital officer, Sanjay Srivastava. In the rush to deploy something, some businesses overlook communication exchanges between bots, which can break a business process. "Before you implement, you must consider the operating model design," says Srivastava. "You must plan how you expect the various bots to interact." Alternatively, some CIOs will fail to negotiate the implications of new operations on an organization's business processes. To avoid business disruption, CIOs must plan for this well in advance.

5.    Avoid going down the data rabbit hole.

When a bank deploys thousands of bots to automate manual data entry or to monitor software operations, a massive amount of data is generated. This can lead CIOs and their business counterparts into an unfortunate situation in which they seek to leverage the data. According to Srivastava, it is not uncommon for companies to run ML on the data generated by their bots, then layer on a chatbot to allow users to query the data. Suddenly, the RPA project evolved into an ML project that was not properly scoped as an ML project. "The puck keeps moving," Srivastava says, and CIOs are struggling to keep up. He advises CIOs to view RPA as a long-term arc, rather than as a series of small projects that grow into something cumbersome.

6.    Project governance is critical.

Another issue that arises in RPA is the failure to plan for certain roadblocks, according to Srivastava. A Genpact client employee changed the company's password policy, but no one programmed the bots to adjust, resulting in data loss. CIOs must constantly monitor for chokepoints where their RPA solution can stall, or install a monitoring and alert system to keep an eye out for performance issues. "You can't just set them free and let them run around," Srivastava says. "You need command and control."

7.    Control ensures compliance.

There are numerous governance issues to consider when launching a single bot, let alone thousands. One Deloitte client spent several meetings attempting to determine whether its bot was male or female, a valid gender question that must be balanced against human resources, ethics, and other areas of business compliance.

8.    Establish an RPA excellence center.

The most successful RPA implementations include a center of excellence staffed by people responsible for ensuring the success of efficiency programs within the organization. However, not every business has the funds for this. The RPA center of excellence creates business cases, calculates potential cost savings and ROI, and tracks progress toward those objectives.

9.    Keep in mind the impact on people.

Some organizations are so focused on implementation that they fail to include HR, which can result in nightmare scenarios for employees whose daily processes and workflows are disrupted.

10.    Integrate RPA throughout the development lifecycle.

CIOs must automate the entire development lifecycle or risk having their bots killed during a major launch.
Finally, there is no silver bullet for implementing RPA, but it does necessitate an intelligent automation ethos that must be part of enterprises' long-term journey. "All of the ifs, then, and what must be answered by automation in order to complete business processes faster, with better quality, and at scale".

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