Robot Process Automation (RPA): What is it and what does it mean to your business?

Computers and automated systems continue to change the way we do business and what humankind is capable of. From the printing press to the assembly line to home PCs and mobile devices, technological developments which once would have been unthinkable have now become commonplace parts of the world and the workforce. RPA (Robot Process Automation) now joins the ranks as one of those technologies that might seem unthinkable even now, but will soon become commonplace. If you’re looking for ways to streamline operations, to handle repetitive tasks that have thus far resisted automation for whatever reason, then RPA may be able to close that gap.

First, What is RPA?

RPA or Robot Process Automation uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate repetitive tasks in a way that mimics human behavior. Also known as robot software or bots, these programs can act like actual human users using a software GUI (graphical user interface) to type in information, load and edit files, and so on. Except, there is no human user, and therefore no one needs to actually perform these repetitive tasks. RPA can be pre-programmed and tailored for your enterprise environment to perform tasks and to learn as they go, in accordance with their internal algorithms, how users would respond and what they would say in that situation. 

Real-World RPA Examples

RPA is already in use across a wide range of industries, in ways you’ve probably already seen but may not have given much thought. If you’ve ever interacted with a chatbot while placing an order online or gotten an automated notification that a package is on its way, then you’ve probably seen RPA in action. Applications range from customer service-oriented activities like these to internal applications such as accounting software and standard HR tasks. In all of these cases, RPA takes the place of a human being who would have to interface with several different systems in order to give a simple answer.

For example, in the case of package delivery notifications, what seems simple on the surface actually conceals a multi-layered problem. In order to answer a simple question like “where is my package” a human user would need to keep track of the shipper’s tracking database, the order number on the seller’s internal system, and the customer’s contact information. None of this requires a good deal of thought on a human’s part, but it does mean coordinating between several different systems, not all of them necessarily compatible. Even though a person could easily look up the information – if asked – it wouldn’t be practical to have someone do so – and do nothing else – in real time for every single order delivered by a large company.

As in the above example, RPA streamlines business processes by freeing customer service personnel to do other things, because they’re not constantly having to answer calls and navigate different databases to answer basic, highly predictable questions such as “where is my package?” Users can find out for themselves and get answers without even needing to ask first – because the RPA is already there with the answer.

If you’d like to see what RPA looks like for yourself, you might consider a trial or free edition of RPA software such as UIPath or Automation Anywhere, for a hands-on demonstration of some of the leading software currently available.

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RPA versus Automation

At this point, you may be wondering – okay, but how is this any different from some automated process that just takes basic information, inputs it and then sends it to another database to get information back. How is this artificial intelligence in other words? RPA has to do some thinking, and as the tasks become more complex, the RPA needs to be more complex to keep up. Enterprise solutions such as accounting RPA’s may need to get permissions and access data across multiple platforms, each with specialized information and different accounting software in order to create and edit highly-secure files as a kind of super-user. Tech RPAs can create common software solutions on the fly, and industrial RPAs can help set up complex machinery in keeping with standard requirements. In all of these situations, RPAs need to be – in some sense – intelligent, able to learn, and able to respond based on the current environment and the current needs – not simply performing basic tasks but also on some level knowing how (or even if) the task should be performed given the current conditions.

What Does RPA Mean to Your Business?

The rise of RPA means something both the same and different for the evolving business world. It’s the same in the sense that automation has for a long time been part of almost every industry, from education to automotive manufacturing. Automation continues to evolve and become more efficient and more widely-available over time. On the other hand, RPA means something different in that it begins to remove the need for employees to perform certain mindless, monotonous tasks while raising the bar of customer expectation for immediate responses from an “intelligent” system that anticipates their ordinary needs. In this sense, bots are already changing the way businesses function – and the way they need to function to stay competitive. 

Digitization and Responsive Interfaces

You’ll often see RPA mentioned alongside digital transformation, because the two go hand-in-hand. Digital transformation refers to the many ways that digitization changes the way we see the world and what ordinary people expect from places of business. Even businesses known mainly for having physical storefronts such as department stores and grocery stores have grown increasingly aware of the need to have a corresponding online footprint, such as a website with online sales circulars and online order options. Online retailers continue to raise the bar, making it necessary for businesses to digitize to stay competitive.

Bots and AI play a key role in this process by making it possible for users at any hour of day or night to browse for items and place orders and get answers to common questions. If a business wants to replicate and fine-tune its processes in a digital, online environment, then bots can play the role of anything from consumers to employees to physical items in the real world in order to model what that would look like, how that would work. Across all sectors, digitization and RPAs go hand-in-hand.

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Industry-specific Applications

In addition to common applications like HR and customer interfaces, RPA also continues to streamline businesses in a number of industry-specific ways. For example, the healthcare industry has started to use AI doctors to help diagnose patients. The manufacturing industry has long used robotics and robotic systems to perform a range of repetitive tasks. RPA and smart learning now allows for smarter robot processes and learning systems, making manufacturing robots even more intelligent and better integrated. In almost every sector of business, RPA helps to streamline both customer-facing services and internal processes, including work that would be dangerous or impossible for a human to perform on their own.

Whatever sector of business you belong to, you can probably think of some industry-wide examples where RPA either could help streamline processes or is already streamlining them.

Business-specific Applications

What makes AI and by extension RPA truly “intelligent”? It knows – and gets to know – its environment. It knows how to be smart and how to “feel the room.” That means, above and beyond all else, that RPA could and perhaps one day will mean something to your business that is absolutely unique, part of what gives your business that definitive brand-identifying essence that sets you apart from the crowd. If you have a particular voice, a particular brand-specific logo and colors and way of speaking, then your RPA could and should be tailored to that image. If you have particular market segments or groups of employees that you treat differently because you know what this group wants as opposed to another group, then RPA can be trained to handle that as well.

If you’re wondering what RPA could mean to your business, then now would be a good time to ask yourself – what makes your business unique? Especially if interfacing through an AI, what kind of feeling would you like each customer, each worker to have? What kind of special touches and care to detail would you like to see in manufacturing, in packaging, in making sure that people know this is your product, your business?

With some thought, and some time you should be able to train an RPA to get that feeling, that brand awareness just right.

RPA and the Future

Currently, RPA represents a 357.5M (USD) market annually with a 31% annual growth rate, expected to reach $5 billion dollars by 2025. Every business sector has at least some early implementers, from healthcare to manufacturing to the tech industry. For many business sectors, the time of early-adoption is rapidly passing by and the time of playing catch up is soon to come. Given the rise of digitization, these figures shouldn’t be surprising. In short, RPA is here to stay as a growing technology at the heart of the digital age.

Are you looking for fresh ways to modernize your enterprise systems? Would you like to get started with robotic processes, but you’re not sure how? Here at Applied Innovations, we specialize in cutting edge technology. Contact us today.

About Jeff Collins

Experience and Expertise make the difference when searching for top cloud providers. Appliedi has provided managed cloud services since 1999.