More and more enterprises are turning to a promising technology called RPA (robotic process automation) to become more productive and efficient. Successful implementation also helps to cut costs and reduce error rates.
RPA can automate mundane and predictable tasks and processes leaving employees to focus more on high-value work.
Other companies, see RPA as the next step before fully adopting intelligent automation technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
RPA is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the field of enterprise technology.
In 2018 RPA software soared in value to $864 million, a growth of over 63%.
In the course of this article, we clearly explain exactly what RPA really is and how it works.
To help our understanding we will also explore the potential benefits and disadvantages of this technology.
Finally, we will highlight some of the most powerful and exciting ways in which it is already transforming enterprises in a range of industries.
What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)?
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA for short, is a way of automating structured, repetitive, or rules-based tasks and processes.
It has a number of different applications.
Its tools can capture data, retrieve information, communicate with other digital systems and process transactions.
Implementation can help to prevent human error, particularly when charged with completing long, repetitive tasks.
It can also reduce labor costs.
A report by Deloitte revealed that one large, commercial bank implemented RPA into 85 software bots.
These were used to tackle 13 processes interacting with 1.5 million requests in a year.
This work was equal to employing 230 full-time employees at a fraction of the cost.
This success means that it is increasingly being adopted in a wide range of fields.
Currently, while useful, RPA is limited in its ability.
In the future, it is hoped, will combine with AI and machine learning.
This will make it not only more powerful but also able to learn and improve as it conducts various tasks.
How Does RPA Work?
RPA is a means of automating technology.
Drawing on the principles of AI it enables the software to conduct numerous, repetitive tasks accurately and swiftly.
Robotic process automation is a means of tasking software robots, automating simple business processes.
Many people equate it to a digital workforce.
Once the software bot has learnt an action or process it is able to carry out the task without supervision.
The successful implementation allows for a reduction in error rates and operating costs.
This can all be done easily, without the need for complex coding.
RPA bots are also able to communicate with other parts of a system.
This allows for integration, meaning businesses don’t need to change existing systems or applications.
Robotic process automation can also be scaled to fit the needs of the business, meaning it grows as your business grows.
Software tooled with robotic process automation conducts tasks in a similar manner to a human worker.
This means that it is able to read data.
It can also compare, reference and establish patterns.
Unlike a human worker, RPA is far more reliable and quicker when conducting these data heavy tasks.
RPA can also automate data validation and carry out data migration.
This means it can carry out transactions, compare valuations, fill forms, process claims and update data.
Consequently, it is ripe for implementation in a range of fields, from financial provision to healthcare and retail.
In any scenario, RPA can help to increase business productivity, efficiency, reduce errors, enhance security and improve regulatory compliance.
Benefits of RPA
Like many other new technologies and approaches, RPA has a number of potential benefits. These will, of course, only be truly beneficial if they are understood and implemented correctly.
Accuracy, Productivity, and Quality
Robotic process automation allows for large, data-heavy or repetitive tasks to become automated.
When done by a human worker these tasks are prone to human error or failure.
They can also lead to people losing focus and interest in their job.
This can slow down productivity and harm production standards.
Like other forms of automation, robotic process automation also helps to reduce error rates.
Using automation on the production line to do repetitive tasks can also help to maintain product quality standards.
Additionally, automation allows workers to focus on more engaging or fulfilling tasks.
This can improve job satisfaction and productivity levels.
Scalability and Flexibility
RPA is a scalable and flexible enterprise platform.
This means that instead of struggling to automate your entire operation in one go you can do it in stages.
This allows you to start in a department that is ideal for implementation before rolling out the system into other areas.
This allows you to identify potential future problems and solve them before they become major issues.
This steady approach to automation means that employees are able to gradually get used to the idea.
Consequently, implementation can be smoother and problem-free.
Automation allows for systems to become more secure.
Applications such as encryption and secure access mean that systems are less prone to hacking or becoming infected.
As a result, RPA can make your systems more secure and more effective.
As we have highlighted RPA allows for the digitisation of repetitive processes.
However, it can also be used to sort through large amounts of data.
Additionally, RPA will present this data, once analysed in an organised or structured manner.
This means that it is easily accessible and useable.
There are a number of ways in which RPA can help to save your company money.
Not only does automation cut down on human error it can improve productivity.
As it is an automated application RPA can function constantly with no downtime required.
Also, by automating repetitive tasks, human employees can focus their time on more productive tasks.
This can improve productivity without the need to recruit new staff.
Disadvantages of RPA
While RPA has a number of obvious benefits there are also a number of potential disadvantages.
RPA can Impact Negatively on the Labour Market
The main disadvantage of RPA and wider automation are that it may lead to a reduction in workforce size.
With robots or automatic systems capable of conducting many basic, repetitive tasks, unskilled manual workers may find their roles redundant.
However not every worker will find themselves replaced.
If implemented correctly RPA can help workers to carry out their job more efficiently and effectively.
Complexity of Integration
Robotic process automation can also be complicated to implement successfully.
A recent Ernst and Young report revealed that up to 50% of implementation projects initially fail.
However, as technology improves, as will the understanding of its benefits.
Consequently, implementation methods and success rates will only improve.
By planning properly how RPA will best benefit you and your organisation you need not face any integration issues.
One of the benefits of RPA is that it is scalable and flexible.
This means that you can slowly implement automation across your company, starting with the most appropriate department.
Taking a slow, methodical approach to automation will help you to troubleshoot potential problems before they arise.
This allows you to smoothly integrate RPA into your organisation.
Now that we have seen how RPA works, we’ll look at some ways in which it is already impacting enterprises.
Improving Regulatory Compliance
Today every industry requires organisations to comply with a strict set of guidelines.
These are designed to not only safeguard consumers but to protect workers, foster good practices and ensure a safe and usable product is delivered.
For example in the health care sector businesses are required to meet with HIPPA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
While businesses are required to comply with other regulations such as the Federal Information Security Modernisation Act.
Allen and Overy, an international law firm based in London, believes that the level of regulatory security in place today means that “compliance has moved up the corporate boardroom agenda.”
Ensuring your company complies with the correct laws and regulations is a regular and necessary process.
Luckily robotic process automation is ideal for simplifying this process, ensuring that companies comply correctly.
RPA is able to help build a robust compliance program.
This gives companies a number of benefits such as improved oversight while rising compliance levels and audibility.
It also allows for all these improvements to be made without sacrificing employee time to the process.
Allowing RPA to monitor company compliance also helps to reduce error rates and oversights.
This leads to the creation of a safer work environment.
Accenture’S 2016 compliance and risk survey revealed that 73% of compliance officers surveyed saw the role of RPA increasing in the coming years.
Ensuring ATMs Meet Regulatory Standards
ATM software developers, KAL are using RPA and other applications to improve their services. Already a world leader, KAL specializes in delivering ATMs and self-service kiosks.
Their multivendor Kalignite Software Suite combines hardware, software and other services from a range of vendors.
This allows banks to control their ATM network efficiently, safely and while complying with industry standards.
This task is made even more difficult because KAL provides these services to many of the world’s leading banks such as Citibank, across a range of nations.
They also operate in over 30 languages.
One of the bank’s KAL services is Česká, the largest bank in the Czech Republic.
Case studies show that by using RPA and other smart solutions KAL produced software enables Česká to provide a safe and reliable service.
This not only exceeds the set industry standards but also helps to futureproof ATMs and the system behind them.
RPA Helps Johnson and Johnson to Meet Industry Standards
Johnson & Johnson are using RPA in their finance department.
This application helps the company to standardise their systems and meet regulatory requirements.
An initial pilot focused on automating a limited range of processes such as invoice creation or inter-company requests.
The company found that even in these limited roles RPA software was helping to improve workflow and efficiency.
By automating repetitive, set tasks the workforce was able to focus on more skilled or higher-level operations.
These systems were delivered by Blue Prism.
According to Sam Horton, Johnson & Johnsons Finance Strategy and Operations Director, functionality is key in a fast-moving market.
For Johnson & Johnson, Blue Prism offered a high level of functionality and security.
While the trial is still ongoing Horton is already excited by the noticeable improvements.
She also happily encourages others to get on board with this innovation, “this is a really exciting opportunity; don’t let it happen to you, be the driver!”
Implementations of RPA in the Insurance Industry
Global insurance giants Zurich have long embraced the possibilities of RPA.
Working with Capgemini, who provides intelligent software, Zurich has automated many repetitive tasks.
The companies use RPA software to process basic policies such as their local policy issuance process.
This implementation frees up their commercial underwriters to focus their energies and skills on more complex policies.
Initial software rollout successfully dealt with the complexities of issuing policies that provided cover in 5 different countries.
This shows that while RPA is often used in a limited role it can be a highly versatile solution if delivered in the correct way.
Helene Westerlind, the head of Zurich’s international programs, explained that “determination, passion and patience” driving the project “proves that hard work and collaboration pays off”.
Capgemini has Delivered a Versatile System
Capgemini’s role in Zurich’s automation has involved process selection and optimisation commitments.
They also assist in maintaining software and robotic applications.
Most importantly the companies are committed to improving and developing the solutions going forward.
This partnership, spearheading RPA development and implementation, has been internationally recognised.
Zurich and Capgemini were recently awarded the “Paragon Award” for their collaboration.
The Paragon Award is presented by the Information Services Group.
It is presented in recognition of an organisation that has made a significant contribution to evolving and outsourcing the industry.
Before entering into a partnership with Capgemini, Zurich worked alongside Ernst and Young, a big four auditor and professional services provider.
Here the companies used RPA in a pilot program within Zurich’s life insurance and pension division in the UK.
This trail saw the costs of various processes reduce by 50%.
This resulted in the systems being rolled out into other areas of Zurich’s operations.
Improving Claims Processes
One area that is ripe for RPA to make a positive impact is in claims and claims processing.
While implementation here is not total, its usage has already yielded impressive results.
Kryon Systems is a provider of RPA solutions based in Tel Aviv.
Their systems are already transforming the claims sector.
Previously an insurer, to make a claims payment, would conduct smart searches on up to 26 different banking websites.
This was necessary in order to verify that payments were being made against claims.
This process had to be verified on four different dates each month.
A time-consuming task it would take workers four days a month to complete.
However, RPA software can speed up and automate this process.
While Kryon Systems is unable, contractually to reveal the name of their client they have already returned significant improvements.
Senior vice president of Kryon Systems, Francine Haliva revealed that “Once they automated the process with the RPA platform, this process is being done in under two hours automatically by the robots.”
Automation of this process has also helped to eliminate mistakes and improve efficiency.
Haliva confirmed that the systems “saved thousands of full-time-employee hours per year — but they eliminated the human error.”
RPA in the Banking Sector
A tool for processing data, RPA is already impacting significantly in the banking industry.
Implementing robotic process automation allows banks to make significant operational savings.
This is primarily because it allows low value, but high volume tasks to be automated.
As well as automating inflexible tasks, errors are reduced and time is saved.
As with its implementation in other fields, it also allows skilled human workers to focus on other tasks.
SunTrust Bank, based in Atlanta, focuses its operations in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.
Since 2016 the bank has been integrating RPA into its systems.
This implementation was helped by the formation of a group within SunTrusts already existing IT department.
The purpose of this group is to ease implementation and help the integration of new systems and technology.
Consequently, the bank has been able to roll out Pega Robotic Desktop Automation in various payment operations areas such as consumer bank cards.
Following implementation, SunTrust reported an improved transaction speed of, on average 3.8x.
Training time was also improved while error rates fell by 65%.
The success of this implementation prompted the bank to introduce RPA into other services such as lending and mortgages.
SunTrust’s annual report of 2017 revealed that the bank was committed to investing in automation.
This will allow employees the opportunity to focus on “higher value-added work”.
KeyBank is Using Smart Solutions to Improve Efficiency
KeyBank, of Cleveland, is just one bank looking to RPA driven solutions to improve efficiency and customer service.
Partnering with Billtrust, KeyBank is aiming to automate invoice delivery and accounts receivable services.
By using RPA software alongside Billtrusts Quantum Payment Cycle Management the banks KeyTotal AR was derived to provide end to end solutions.
This is done by optimising accounts receivable, eliminating the need for human employees to carry out manual, repetitive tasks.
Matt Miller, head of Keybank’s product and innovation for enterprise section explained that “Partnering with innovators like Billtrust enables us to optimize clients’ processes from beginning to end.”
Similar applications of RPA are also allowing for the automation of AP or Accounts Payable.
This is an often repetitive task, requiring invoices from vendors to be processed.
For this to be completed all the information needs to be correctly extracted and validated.
It must then be processed and converted into useful data.
This is a time-consuming process.
However, automation to speed up this process, automatically crediting the correct account.
RPA systems can also speed up applications for credit cards, a process that previously took many weeks to complete correctly.
The same, or similar systems, are also able to speed up mortgage applications.
Transforming Investment Portfolios
This is intended to help customers manage their investment portfolios.
The bot is able to provide investors with real-time information about portfolio performance.
It is also able to use this information to advise and predict future market movements.
This information helps investors to decide what to do with their money.
Much of this is possible because the bot can communicate with the larger Bancolombia network.
It also interfaces with the Colombian stock exchange, the Bolsa de Valores, meaning it provides up to date information.
Bancolombia hopes that this bot, and associated systems, will help it to expand its client consulting pool.
Automation is not the bank’s only development.
These innovations are helping more Colombians access to financial support and investment information.
This innovation has earned Bancolombia a number of awards such as a Digital Transformation Award.
The banks vice president of innovation and digital transformation, Gabriel Di Lelle, says these awards recognise “the initiative of the organization to challenge the conventional through services and products.”
Driving Innovation in Retail
Retail operations, where the drive is always on to reduce costs without sacrificing quality, are frequently drivers of innovation.
This particularly applies to automation and machine learning technologies.
RPA has a number of potential fields of impact in this industry such as product categorisation.
In an increasingly global world, companies need to be able to harmonise SKU data from a range of markets.
RPA allows this to happen efficiently while also allowing users to gain insights, such as their market share in Asia.
This study produced in 2017 by Everest Group highlighted the example of a leading global performance management company.
By implementing RPA and cognitive automation systems the unnamed company was able to reach a product categorisation accuracy level of 98.5%.
RPA systems can also monitor stock levels and allow the returns process to become automated. These applications can reduce manual labor levels while increasing customer satisfaction.
Improving Customer Service at Walgreens
Walgreens has partnered with IBM and Blue Prism to implement RPA and smart solutions.
The aim here is to support and improve human resources and customer service provision.
Curt Burghadt, senior director of HR, told an intelligent automation conference in New Orleans that RPA had helped in a range of areas.
These include scheduling interviews and meetings, managing leave of absence notifications.
Similar solutions have also helped to ensure that the company complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Burghardt revealed that “Robotics is an integral part of Walgreens’ HR shared services strategy to allow our team members and leaders the additional time to focus on and better serve our customers and patients, thereby providing value to our shareholders.”
Blue Prism claim that their software solutions have helped Walgreens to improve efficiency in HR by 73%.
This approach is part of what Blue Prism and IBM refer to as the digital workforce.
Alastair Bathgate the CEO of Blue Prism explained that the two companies’ collaboration has led to them “delivering an unbeatable value proposition across a broad range of industries — and we’re just getting started.”
Improving Supply Chain Management and Logistics
Logistics and supply chain management are areas prime for automation.
Efficient management allows global organisations to efficiently transport products or services to consumers, accurately tracking the parcel until delivery.
Similar systems are also used to monitor stock levels in stores and warehouses.
This can be increasingly difficult as a company grows and increases its stock level and range.
UK online grocery company Ocado operates a series of smart warehouses.
Here stock levels are monitored by RPA and other smart solutions.
Additionally, automation and robots are used to pick items and pack customer orders.
This means that warehouses are functional 24 hours a day, while human staffing levels and costs are kept to a minimum.
This allows Ocado to cut costs and raise productivity levels.
Keeping Consumers Updated
One small area where RPA is impacting is in email or text automation.
Informing a consumer when their order is confirmed, shipped and en route.
The system can also inform users of delays or unexpected events.
This high level of customer interaction is time-consuming for a human operative to carry out.
By using robotic process automation software the process is simplified and improved.
Automation allows the customer to be kept informed without sacrificing staff from more important tasks.
This application is increasingly being used by large transportation and logistics firms.
For example, Kofax’s Kapow system is assisting Arteris and Davies Turner.
Darren Gurney, Davies Turner’s logistics systems manager, explains that Kapow allows them to respond to consumer shipment queries “in real-time”.
Previously a simple request could have taken 15 minutes before a response was generated.
Improving Utilities with RPA
RPA is also impacting on utility provision.
Morrison Utility Services provides infrastructure to many of the UK’s largest utility companies.
It is therefore vital that their infrastructure is working correctly.
This means that every day the company undertakes a number of installation, maintenance, and repair tasks for gas, water and electricity providers.
Much of this work in undertaken by two man field service teams located across the UK.
Good communication and coordination are vital to a smooth operation.
It is in this area that robotic process automation has made a massive impact.
By partnering with UiPath Morrisons has been able to implement RPA, saving costs and improving efficiency.
With so much responsibility it is vital that the company can work and monitor its infrastructure swiftly and accurately.
Andy Carter, director of IT Innovation and Improvement at Morrison Utility Services explained that when the company first thought about implementing RPA they “went through the testing process to become confident that the robot knew what it was doing. It was fast to make changes and test so that the system became more robust and we could scale up capacity quickly.”
Morrison Utility Services estimates that their pilot projects have saved around 320 man hours a month on average.
This is a saving of about £145k in annual costs.
Morrisons Utility Services see a number of benefits from the UiPath system.
However, the company states the main advantages are that it is fast, reliable and easy to use.
Automation has helped Morrisons Utility Services to improve its service, increasing response times and improving customer relations.
Carter believes that RPAs influence will only continue to grow thanks to this successful trial. “ I believe, will be to work together to automate and optimize joint processes for the benefit of everybody’s business.”
Making Efficiencies in Healthcare Provision
As we have already noted, implementing RPA will allow organisations to automate complex, repetitive or mundane tasks.
For many businesses, this improves efficiency and productivity. In the healthcare field, this implementation is also helping to improve patient care.
Clinical data extraction, or finding the correct clinical documents is a vital task.
However, it can also be time-consuming, meaning trained professionals spend less time with patients.
This can indirectly cause care levels to drop.
Using RPA to automate the search process and extract the relevant documents can save time.
Once located the software can send the information to the correct department or print it off.
This speeds up search times, freeing professionals up to focus on other tasks and helps to improve patient care.
Robotic process automation software can also be used to identify the metadata of a document.
This means the software can search purely for filenames, dates, reference numbers or identify scanned PDFs.
Once trained, by tracking the actions of a human, the software is capable of reliably carrying out a number of functions.
Developers are now working on combining natural language processing solutions with RPA software.
This will allow for even more complex searches, capable of producing reliable results with the minimum data input.
It may even enable the software to digitize and categorize documents as well as simply searching for them.
UiPath, a leading robotic process automation producer, calls this process “desktop automation”.
Health Fidelity is Optimizing Data Extraction
Health Fidelity produces AI solutions and applications in the healthcare sector.
Their systems use NLP to search for data, charts and other pieces of information.
Working alongside UiPath, Health Fidelity has been integrating RPA tools into their systems.
Since integration, they have been able to successfully extract over 1 million patient records.
This integration has also helped the company to complete and classify patient records that were incomplete or missing data.
This process was also done more quickly and efficiently by RPA than by a human operative.
These implementations are helping organisations that participate in the Affordable Care Act.
By using robotic process automation they are able to accurately calculate and adjust payments.
Automating Patient Processing Procedures
It is also possible for robotic process automation to automate the patient check-in or registration process.
This may prove to be particularly useful in busy hospital emergency rooms.
Installing self-service style kiosks allows patients to enter their information and, if necessary, scan ID or insurance documents.
The software then inputs this information into the triage process.
Here a human operative quickly reviews the information and decides on the next course of action.
This implementation allows patients most in need of care to be identified and their care prioritised.
Blue Prism is focusing its attention on developing an easy to use, self-check-in solution that can be used in a hospital or healthcare practice.
They aim to develop platforms that don’t replace a human worker.
Instead, they simply free them up to do a less administrative task, for example, one that requires critical thought or skilled judgement.
Self Registry in Action
Blue Prism has already started to work with health trusts to launch their systems in functioning hospitals.
Working alongside the University Hospitals Birmingham the company installed a number of self-service kiosks at the trust’s facilities.
The aim was to provide patients with an easy to use, accessible check-in process.
The system also had to integrate into the nationwide, Patient Administration System, PAS.
This all had to work smoothly and correctly without risking patient privacy or other cybersecurity concerns.
According to the case study, University Hospitals Birmingham reported just over 50% of patients opted to use the self-check-in system.
This led to a 50% rise in the efficiency of front desk staff.
In turn, this helped to increase patient flow, reducing waiting times and improving the quality of care.
Streamlining Credential and Payroll Management
Processing payroll information such as time cards can be time-consuming.
In many areas, such as the healthcare industry it is also vital that the qualifications or credentials of each employee are correctly processed.
RPA software is able to streamline and speed up these processes.
For example, photographing time cards or entering the information onto an app allows the software to swiftly process the information.
It can then automatically be sent to the relevant department, such as the payment processing system.
Similar applications will also allow RPA to automate employee verification.
Providing a secure network where employees can enter their credentials, such as ID numbers or names, before being quickly verified.
As well as verifying hours worked, this application can also ease confusion caused by authorised absences and holiday leave.
It can also help to ease the integration of new workers into a system or manage the departure of people leaving the company.
This Application can be Used in a Range of Industries
While these systems have a number of potential applications it is in the world of healthcare where they are already making an impact.
However, before implementing the system, healthcare, and other, companies need to prepare their systems and business for integration.
As Deloitte has outlined, RPA implementation will only be successful if companies are able to implement it correctly.
One company already offering robotic process solutions to the healthcare industry is Kofax.
Their platforms are designed to smoothly process and transfer data between various sources and a set endpoint.
Additional tools produced by Kofax can be integrated into this system allowing users to analyse and interpret the data in a useful way.
Kofax’s solutions are already being used by a number of major organisations including CardinalHealth, Merck, Aviva, and Visa.
Considerations for Those Interested in Adopting RPA
Increasingly AI applications such as machine learning are being combined with RPA.
This means that the technology is becoming more commonplace and accessible.
However, before you embrace the exciting possibilities of RPA, there are a few things you need to consider.
Fusing AI with RPA
While machine learning is driving the development of artificial intelligence applications, RPA is currently not as sophisticated.
As we have seen it is capable of automating many different tasks.
However, unlike machine learning it is currently unable to learn and develop from past actions, continuously improving its performance.
Despite this difference, robotic process automation can be combined with machine learning through API based interfaces.
This allows you to embrace RPA in a range of data-based tasks, improving performance and productivity.
How Will You Use it
Whether RPA will work for you is largely dependent on how you want to use it.
The Enterprisers Project recommends identifying repetitive processes, that are heavily rule-based or prone to failure due to human error.
These tasks, specifically at high volume, are currently best suited for robotic process automation.
Once you’ve identified where you can use it, you can spend time finding the right solution for you.
Implementation Doesn’t Make Human Operatives Obsolete
While RPA has a number of benefits, these are currently mainly technical.
Unlike other forms of automation, it allows human workers to thrive in their roles.
Try to see its role as one of enhancing and aiding performance levels, not replacing human operatives.
This allows your workforce to focus on developing projects that enhance the value and reputation of your organisation.
Successful implementation requires not only skilled IT staff, and an open-minded workforce but also a vision.
Like many other tools, RPA works best if it is set to a specific task.
Robotic process automation will, potentially, have a major impact on a range of traditional working environments.
If properly understood, developed and implemented it will help to reduce costs, errors and improve productivity.
However robotic process automation will not lead to complete automation of the labor market.
Instead, this tool will be at its most effective when implemented alongside a sympathetic and responsive workforce.