This article was initially published in March 2017 and has been updated in July 2020.
What processes are your competitors automating? How many of them have already began scaling automation at an enterprise level? If these are questions you’ve asked yourself, reading this article is a good place to start clarifying some of the questions you may have about how RPA can benefit your company.
If you’re from Australia, you can even take a look at our most recent whitepaper, a Thought Leaders Survey: How Are Australian Companies Leveraging Automation?
Before you start your automation journey, or even a pilot program, we recommend that you first identify the right business processes to automate. To do this, you can use your internal tools or you can ask an experienced RPA partner for help. Either way, you should keep in mind that processes that are eligible for automation are: manual and repetitive, rules based, mature and stable, have readable inputs, low exception rates, high volume/frequency, and measurable savings.
This data supports the opinion that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can deliver dramatic improvements to business procedures. Although RPA does have multiple applications in an organisation, some tasks are suitable for Robotic Process Automation, while others are not.
Simple tasks should be automated as a first step, while more involved activities can be automated later, when a company is already familiar with RPA. Non-standardised, variable processes are a challenge to the limits of RPA’s capabilities.
RPA as a competitive advantage
It is much easier to automate rules-based, consistent activities using RPA, as this is what it is really designed for. RPA offers companies a distinct competitive advantage:
It offers a quick return on investment: According to McKinsey, the revenue in the first year upon RPA implementation shows a growth of 30 – 200%.
It facilitates compliance: RPA minimises human error (a source of never-ending compliance stress for organisations). Also, software robots are perfectly suited to multiple-source data management and report generation.
It improves cybersecurity: Encryption, segregated access to data within an RPA team, provision of a ‘zero touch environment’, active directory integration, or managing alerts, are just some ways by which RPA actively supports security.
It makes data management more efficient: RPA can bridge the gap between different legacy data processing systems, and perform comprehensive data analysis.
It makes people really matter: Employees no longer have to carry out boring, repetitive, monotonous tasks, so they have greater flexibility and time to engage with customers and to provide higher-value customer service.
If you want to find out more, you can read our article about why RPA is your competitive advantage.
Companies considering RPA need to know which kind of processes should be automated to attain the outcomes they seek. In this article, we will delve into this topic by uncovering the five most important factors to help organisations work out if a business activity is suited to Robotic Process Automation and how they can leverage this technology to its full benefit.
Factor 1: The Level of Human Involvement
Tasks are most suitable to automation if they:
Fluctuate with transactional demand
Are time consuming
Require high attention to detail and high levels of involvement on the part of an employee.
These kinds of activities might include data input and output, order/claims processing and entering customer details into the company database.
In the survey by Redwood Software previously mentioned, it is stated that ‘99% of organizations still spend considerable personnel time doing repetitive manual tasks, with almost three quarters (74%) spending over a quarter of their time doing so.’
Automation of these processes allows them to be executed more quickly and accurately. Employees who previously used much of their time checking and quality controlling these activities are now freed up to use their time on more complex and vital tasks such as building stronger relationships with customers.
Factor 2: The Intricacy of the Task
RPA can be used to conduct quite simple tasks such as data copy and paste or typing, to those more intricate activities such as fraud identification or accounts payable. The intricacy of a process is decided by factors such as the number of systems used, the amount of human involvement, or the quantity of steps that need to be taken to complete the activity.
Unfortunately, more complex tasks are harder to automate, even though such automation would potentially offer greater dividends to an organisation’s business operations. This difficulty could be overcome with a larger investment of time and money. However, a better approach is to just start with automating simple activities.
This allows a company time to get a handle on how RPA software works in practical terms. Then these small Robotic Process Automation successes can be built upon, with the enterprise introducing automation of more complex tasks as they become familiar with the software and can better use it to optimise their business systems.
Factor 3: The Number of Tasks Needing Execution
Across a variety of industries, businesses nowadays operate less to a specific set of opening times, which means that numerous orders, enquiries and grievances can be received 24 hours a day, irrespective of holidays or weekends.
This presents a problem when human employees can only deal with these issues during normal business hours in the office, leading to a back-log of work. Here RPA systems really shine as the most efficient technology for these kind of high-volume tasks, as software robots can work around the clock, every day of the year.
Regardless of the day or time, with RPA, software robots can keep addressing these tasks with speed and accuracy, even outside office hours.
Factor 4: The Predictability of the Activity
The best tasks to automate using RPA are those which are data-driven, and can be standardised and controlled by rules, thereby occurring in a consistently similar way each time. Any business activity that is changeable, or requires a level of customisation each time it is performed, cannot be easily defined to the software robots, and is therefore not appropriate for Robotic Process Automation.
A good way of sorting out which tasks are suitable for RPA is to decide if an activity occurs in the front office or the back office. Tasks such as the processing of claims, duplication of transactions or the automated opening of accounts are back office processes. It is possible to automate front office tasks, but the transactional and repetitive nature of back office tasks mean that they are better suited to intelligent automation.
The more complex activities that occur in the front office usually involve human thinking, use of judgement and decision-making. For example, marketing activities, are usually more variable and therefore harder to define to the RPA software.
Factor 5: The Degree of Outsourcing Difficulty
Service providers in industries that are highly regulated, such as those in financial services, need to be compliant to the relevant codes of practice. When processes are outsourced to a BPO company, there is less scrutiny that compliance is being maintained as the client enterprise has much less direct control and involvement over the processes being executed on their behalf.
RPA brings control back the hands of the organisation so that it can conduct its own business processes internally, while developing their own bullet-proof compliance procedures.
Some RPA software robots will save their completed tasks into a log file that can be easily accessed and reviewed. This tracking capability enables employees to analyse root causes of exceptions, create operational data reports, more easily comply with regulations and can make the records needed for responding to any audit requests.
A Different Application for Every Business Need
While it is true that robotic process automation can be used successfully in any company, in any industry, the application of the technology will differ with the needs of each organisation. Businesses taking their first steps into RPA will have different goals and motivations for using it than long-time Robotic Process Automation users hoping to further expand and leverage their existing automation systems.
Regional companies could seek to upscale their enterprise using RPA, while global organisations may employ RPA to gain a more consistent level of regulatory compliance.
Despite these quite different goals and motivations, activities suitable for automation do still have some basic qualities in common, as discussed above. These commonalities mark tasks that companies can successfully automate with confidence using RPA.
When this technology is used appropriately, Robotic Process Automation can be easily leveraged to enhance business value, deliver cost savings, and act on business goals so that organisations can operate at a higher level of efficiency, thereby creating a better customer experience.