Many of us are familiar with the chatbots, AI-based software applications that simulate online conversations with users as humans do. Typically, chatbots respond to user queries via text or voice. For example, Dominos uses a Facebook massager chatbot to automate the handling of online pizza orders. Likewise, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology allows organizations to automate a wide range of business processes. Robotic Process Automation uses software applications to automate the repetitive and rule-based tasks which previously employees have done. This software is known as ‘robots,’ and they can be configured to process transactions, manipulating data, triggering responses, and communicate with other systems based on pre-defined business logic and structured inputs. RPA software robots are capable of executing other existing software applications to perform all those tasks nonstop while making zero mistakes. This leads to free the employees from repetitive and low-value works and deploy them to do more revenue-generating higher value works.
RPA does not change or replace the organization’s existing system architecture, but run alongside the current business applications and merely mimicking what human workers do. These software robots run on all types of common user devices, including PCs, laptops, tabs, smartphones, etc. Though the RPA has some similarities to screen scraping and workflow automation, RPA robots have advanced with some intelligence. Likewise, how automated and programmable industrial robots have changed the manufacturing industry, it can be expected that RPA robots could bring dramatic changes to the computer-based administrative workflow. RPA also becomes an integral part of Digital Transformation as it is impossible to achieve a complete transformation without including intelligent automation capabilities.
Blue Prism, a multinational software corporation, first coined the term Robotic Process Automation in the early 2000s. But, the initial development was started after the 1990s. In the beginning, it was focused on screen scraping and then to workflow automation. As the next step, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities also added to the RPA. Modern RPA tools are still based on these technologies, but new features were added, and capabilities also had improved. Some of the common use of AI technologies in RPA are Image Recognition, Speech Recognition, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Sentiment Analysis. A number of industries adopt this technology to improve their workflow efficiency, including Banking and financial services, Healthcare, Accounting, Insurance, Hospitality, Telecommunications, etc. As a result of many organizations’ decisions to automate their business processes, RPA became one of the fastest-growing trends in the IT industry. According to Forrester Research, in 2016, the RPA market was valued at only $250 million. But, they predicted that it will grow up to $2.9 billion in 2021.
How does RPA work?
Since the RPA software runs alongside the existing software applications, organizations don’t need to make any changes to their existing system architecture. RPA software can connect to the front-end applications and work with the data on user interfaces of those applications. In contrast, traditional automation tools do not operate on the user interface level, and they require to go through a system integration process to run the automation. RPA supports the Low code development platform, which allows users to implement automation software with no or low coding. And this will eliminate traditional hand-code writing practices. Therefore, even a non-programmer can easily define the workflow and deploys robots to automate the tasks. For example, as a no coding platform, the UIPath tools allow the users to draw a workflow using a flowchart editor. As UIPath described, their RPA robots are capable of mimicking many human users actions including;
- Log into any application
- Connect to system APIs
- Copy and paste data
- Move files and folders
- Read and write to databases
- Open emails and attachments
- Scrape data from the web
- Make calculations
- Extract and process structured and semi-structured content from documents, PDFs, emails, and forms.
Application of RPA
According to studies, 70-80% of administrative workflows can be identified as rule-based processes, and therefore, many of them can be automated using RPA tools. RPA technology is also well suited to automate highly repetitive and stable processes. When human users process a high volume of repetitive workload, causing errors is inevitable. But, if these processes do not require critical decision-making criteria, RPA tools can be easily replaced instead of human users. Because of the positive impact on business functions, many industries implement RPA solutions to streamline their businesses.
In the healthcare industry, the accuracy of the patients’ information is a very important factor. Because the well-being of a patient generally depends on the accuracy of information. Also, about 36% of processes in the healthcare industry has the potential to automate. Therefore, hospitals can use PRA products to automate processes such as patient registration, maintaining medical files, billing, appointment scheduling, insurance claim processing, etc.
Banking and Financial Services
Banking has a proper environment to implement RPA strategies. In banking, RPA tools can be deployed to automate both front-end and back-end banking operations. This helps to lessen the manual processes, which cause many errors and also to reduce the processing cost. These processes include customer service, account opening, credit card processing, fraud detection, mortgage processing, account closing, etc.
The insurance industry was one of the first industries to embrace the RPA. Because of the repetitive and rule-based nature of its processes, RPA is well suited for insurance operations. It can be helped to minimize the onboarding cost while increasing the processing time. Insurers can be benefited by automating the processes, including onboarding, underwriting, claim processing and clearance, policy renewals, and some back-office processes.
HR departments are involved in handling large volumes of employee information, and by adopting RPA, HR departments can concentrate on improving the productivity of the employees than doing repetitive office works. These are some HR tasks that can be automated; applicant sourcing, onboarding, payroll processing, attendance tracking, expense and travel management, etc.
In the Telecommunication industry, telecom operators must provide fast, continuous, and uninterrupted service to the customers all the time. Therefore, the industry has a tendency to embrace the newest technologies to modernize business processes. 5G technology will cause the next biggest transformation in the telecom industry. RPA helps telecom providers to face these modern challenges in all areas, including customer care, supply chain, and operations, network management, billing, etc.