What’s behind the meteoric rise of RPA?
November 28, 2019
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is starting to take the business world by storm, thanks to its ability to transform productivity, customer experience, employee job satisfaction, improve quality and reduce costs.
It is a relatively new technology that was born in the world of finance and insurance – industries drowning in high volumes of repetitive, mind numbing manual tasks and processes.
RPA ‘bots’ have the ability to perform complex digital processes in the same way that a human user might, logging into systems and using the same user interfaces, to automate tasks across a wide range of business activities – with or without human intervention.
They can read and extract data from documents, create files and folders, copy and paste, fill in forms, manipulate data in Excel, apply decision making criteria and much more. The bots work 24×7 and can rapidly complete a wide variety of mundane tasks that are present in most business processes and activities.
Rather than re-hash all the marketing material and industry hype, I thought I’d describe our experience with UIPath and the value we realised from our first small ‘proof of concept’ – or ‘proof of value’ as UIPath likes to call it.
At DX, our RPA journey began a year ago when we stood up a small team from our graduate academy, consisting of a business analyst and two UIPath-certified automation engineers who, after the business processes were mapped and a process suitable for automation identified, started to attack one of the most tedious, error-prone, repetitive, time consuming – and yet critical – processes in the business.
The process encapsulates our invoicing for milestone-based, fixed price project work. The primary outcome we were looking for was to reduce invoicing errors – which cause friction with customers, delay the payment of accounts and result in significant amounts of re-work to correct, damaging our reputation and costing the business time and money. Additionally, we were looking to eliminate one of the most tedious and stressful parts of the job for our operations and finance teams, freeing them up for more important and meaningful work.
The team implemented a ‘bot’ that scans through the content of the ‘statements of work’ signed off by our customers, pulling out all of the pertinent information; interrogating the project’s milestones, calculating the days of effort, determining whether a milestone can be invoiced before logging into the accounting system where it generates and issues invoices – but only when the milestone payment is due. Manual work that used to touch four people across two teams now happens in the background quickly and accurately every time.
This one bot significantly improved quality; it eliminated keying errors – which due to the tedious, repetitive nature of the manual task had been almost unavoidable. It returned approximately 15 hours’ worth of work each week to the team, but almost certainly more when you consider the time that it takes to dispute, investigate, correct and re-issue invoices. Further, it put an end to a problem that was having a detrimental effect on the customer experience.
The project opened our eyes to the potential of RPA. Its flexibility, power and the speed at which it can deliver significant value is unparalleled. Automating this relatively simple process made a significant impact in our business; you can imagine how powerful it can be for organisations in the insurance industry for example – where they might be processing thousands of claims per day. Or in government, where high volume, established and repetitive business processes abound.
So what’s behind RPA’s meteoric rise? The fact that it is quick to implement, flexible and capable of delivering business-altering outcomes faster and more cost effectively than any other technology or approach.
It is a light-weight and flexible alternative to deep, complex and time-consuming IT integration projects. Further, it brings the ability to start laying the foundations of algorithmic decision making, enhances data integrity and helps to provide a foundation for an organisation’s Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence strategies.
Of course it’s not a perfect set-and-forget solution; systems and processes change so the bots must be monitored and maintained to ensure they’re working correctly. A co-ordinated approach to their management and expansion across an organisation must be considered carefully.
RPA represents the next leap in competitive advantage; its potential impact on the future of work is hard to predict and very exciting. I wouldn’t be surprised for it to prove even more transformational than cloud computing over the coming few years.