More and more companies decide to invest in automation of repetitive, routine tasks (like payroll or invoice data capture), while making best use of human brains for the more complex or creative tasks. There is no need for an ‘either/or’ attitude when it comes to robotic process automation and employees, because it seems that success in the long run belongs to a harmony between human know-how and robotic processing power.
Where do Australia and New Zealand stand with respect to robotic process automation? According to CiGen founders Leigh Pullen and Daniel Pullen, RPA usage lags compared to Europe/UK and USA, but there are good signs from the latter half of 2017 of a jump in serious investigation and adoption in the region.
How exactly does robotic process automation help?
1. Robotic process automation is a useful tool for maximally efficient use of a company’s available resources.
Efficiency is achieved by cancelling out the risk of error. This risk is significantly high for dull repetitive tasks performed by humans because we are doomed to boredom and all its negative effects, such as suboptimal concentration and distraction.
Richard Griffin, senior consultant at Genfour Limited, instantiates this benefit of RPA by referring to its use for mail merge - “a process to create personalised letters and pre-addressed envelopes or mailing labels mass mailings from a form letter”.
Consider all the letters returning due to invalid addresses, with the entailed costs of printing and the time-costs involved in handling and resending them. But since address validation is a rule-based process, it can be easily automated using software robots, thereby cancelling out the risk of error and its above-mentioned consequences.
According to Griffin, “RPA should be used to elevate a simple mail merge into a lean decision-based process”. The thriftiness of an RPA-based mail merge speaks for the efficiency of automation.
2. Robotic process automation is more than just a macro, or a shorthand representation for lines of code.
Griffin emphasises that robotic process automation is a dynamic, adaptable tool which goes beyond the inherent disadvantages in macros, such as full reliance on their designer (for solving any problem that may occur on the way), the overabundance of macros in an organisation with no security or management overlay, or the risk of becoming inoperable after software updates.
The flexibility of RPA and its capacity to adapt to a particular scenario makes it far more functional than macros, which can only repeat elementary steps over and over again, somewhat ‘mindlessly’. Another related benefit is that RPA tools are constantly evolving. Consequently, they are more likely to fulfil the requirements of new technologies that businesses might adopt.
As opposed to macros, which are built in individual machines, RPA is installed on a server. This renders it more scalable than macros. It also makes robotic process automation more cost-savvy, since it does not require supplementary training for its users as the number of automations running a process increases.
3. RPA and workflow tools are a match made in heaven, and businesses can certainly use this to their advantage.
The two kinds of tools complement each other efficiently. Therefore, using both is likely to achieve the optimal cost-effectiveness.
Let’s see how this works: an RPA tool awaits a signal from the workflow tool, calling upon it for process completion. When it receives the signal, it becomes active and does the job, it finalises the process and then feeds it back into the workflow tool.
To better understand how they round each other off, think about a customer who complains and asks to be compensated. The automation tool can apply the compensation to the customer’s account and then feed it back into the workflow for authorisation of the required amount. Robotic process automation can then complete the task by sending the client a notification in letter or email format.
4. Robotic process automation enables high-level communication, according to CiGen founders.
This is because it can complement or even replace document automation tools in conveying professional and meaningful messages.
Document automation software manages all the documents of a company, and ensures that all changes are applied consistently across the board. Suppose an employee got married and consequently changed her second name. With the help of such software, the change could be made in a single document where the name occurs, and then be applied to all other documents.
Additionally, robotic process automation can be used as a tool to create documents automatically by comparing data stored in different systems. In Daniel Pullen’s words, this means that “RPA can be used to ensure the end users are receiving accurate and current data”.
5. Robotic process automation allows users to schedule the realisation of the automated processes.
In fact, scheduling is the consensual approach to the execution of routine tasks. Robotic process automation software typically has scheduling abilities built into its system - this is the case, for example, of UiPath with which we work exclusively here at CiGen.
But RPA is not merely a scheduling device. In short, this is because there are two ways in which scheduled automation can be run, with and without human intervention, respectively. In attended automation, the software tracks a human’s use of an application and starts to run a support process when triggered by specific actions, such as a button click. In unattended automation, on the other hand, the trigger need not be a human action - it can be just an email or a particular file.
6. Another crucial benefit of robotic process automation is that it does not require setting up an Application Programming Interface (API) prior to the use of RPA tools.
This is indeed advantageous because implementing APIs can be expensive and time consuming. Moreover, APIs may also call for a high level of expertise of the underlying system, according to Andrew Rayner, product director at UiPath. This can further increase the API time- and money-wise costs.
Robotic process automation software has a faster, more readily available method for interacting with the application. This is, they have their own Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). These are easier to use and require less technical knowledge. RPA tools perform the same interactions as a human being (e.g., pressing buttons, sending keystrokes and reading text) through the same user interface. Value for money, indeed.
Most people are rather concerned about automation, mainly because of perceiving a big threat along the lines of 'those nasty robots who will steal our jobs'. However, experts in the field highlight the positive effects that robotic process automation is likely to have on the labour market and, more generally, on the way we work and perceive work.
This article followed the experts’ direction. The six benefits that we discussed ultimately highlight the fact that automation tools are a means towards making businesses increasingly efficient. To this end, the main tactic is releasing skilled humans from the boredom of dull and repetitive tasks, and allowing them to make better use of their minds through more complex, creative tasks.