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Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

October 12 2022

5 min read

Robotic Process Automation

For many businesses, data entry is a manual and time-consuming task. To combat these inefficient manual workarounds, many businesses have turned to robotic process automation (RPA).

RPA has found quick success as a simple method for automating processes that use legacy systems. Because many legacy solutions don’t have accessible APIs, the fastest and most cost effective way to work with them was to leverage automation software that goes through the interface layer, mimicking the actions a human would do.

Unfortunately, this approach has many limitations: it requires well-structured data, it works well only for simple or medium-complexity processes with well-defined rules, and it’s less reliable when there’s high variability or frequent changes in the process.

This post will explain in greater detail what RPA is and how businesses use it in their automation initiatives.

What Is Robotic Process Automation?

In an interview with McKinsey, London School of Economics Professor Leslie Willcocks describes RPA as “a type of software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a process. It can do repetitive stuff more quickly, accurately, and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other tasks requiring human strengths such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgement, and interaction with the customer.”

Within the past few years, RPA has surged in popularity for its capabilities in automating simple tasks. RPA can be easily implemented by the business to handle basic tasks that don’t require specific knowledge, understanding, or insight—typically for tasks that can be completed through rules-base if/then statements.

RPA Applications

While the use of Robotic Process Automation has its place within almost every organisation, there are some industries where RPA has had a bigger impact in the way that they operate on a day-to-day basis.

Robotic Process Automation in Healthcare & Insurance

The Insurance space is rife with mundane tasks—employee time and skills remain untapped while they focus on handling responsibilities that could instead be automated. For the tasks that are easy to repeat with little variation, RPA can free up employee time and resources.

In insurance, RPA is frequently applied to underwriting and onboarding, policyholder services and claim processing.

While RPA has seen some success in automating simple processes, it struggles when processes increase in complexity, when low-quality or highly variable documents need to be processed, and can become unsustainable to maintain.

Robotic Process Automation in Finance

RPA applications in Finance help companies work more efficiently and with far fewer errors, especially when it comes to highly repetitive tasks. Processes that require little decision making, yet still require constant input are prime targets for RPA, such as account reconciliation or validating contract terms.

Much like with healthcare, use of RPA in Finance is limited to simpler processes. According to Gartner, “Automating finance processes requires combining finance robotics with other intelligent automation technologies.”

Robotic Process Automation in Government

RPA is expanding across government and public sector organizations around the world. Used to automate manual labor, eliminate keying errors, and shorten processing times, RPA frees up staff to focus on more important activities.

In government agencies, RPA is frequently used in optimizing contact centers and incompliance validation. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 75% of governments will have at least three hyperautomation initiatives launched or underway, and views RPA as a critical part of the modernization journey.

Similar to healthcare and finance, RPA use in government agencies and public sector organizations decreases in effectiveness as processes increase in complexity. For complex processes that include large volumes of documentation or messy handwriting , such as benefit claim processing, intelligent automation and the use of machine learning are better equipped to deliver transformative results.

RPA Benefits

Robotic Process Automation bots can be used across various industries and have benefits for a wide range of companies across the world, not just in specific industry settings.

1. Increased Productivity & Efficiency
Assigning digital workers to redundant tasks via RPA helps automate highly repeatable responsibilities and frees up employees to focus on higher value tasks.

Additionally, RPA software never sleeps, never gets sick, and never needs a vacation. For simple data entry tasks, a single RPA robot can complete the same amount of work as a human in less time, making data entry far more efficient.

2. Ensure Compliance
Many industries face strict guidelines for documenting and auditing processes. With so many opportunities for error, the risk of a regulatory breach increases significantly.

RPA helps companies improve regulatory processes by eliminating the need for employees to manually enforce regulatory compliance. Validating customer data, generating regulatory reports, and sending out account closure notifications are often required industry regulations, and they can all be accomplished with RPA.

3. Extend System Life & Avoid Risk
Many industries that use RPA (such as finance or insurance) have home-grown technologies in place that are incredibly difficult to update or migrate away from. By implementing an RPA solution, these organizations can extend the life of their existing technology while they explore long term solutions.

4. Customer Support
Customer service is a high-maintenance, high-commitment process that requires a large amount of time and attention from employees. By spending less time on rote administrative tasks, staff can turn their attention back to customers. Resolution times will improve, disputes will decrease and overall customer satisfaction with your company will climb.

Problems With RPA

Despite the many benefits that Robotic Process Automation can provide, there are some downsides which businesses need to consider. If RPA is not rolled out or used efficiently, there can be issues that exacerbate existing problems rather than solve them.

1. Unwieldy Maintenance
Due to the rigid functionality of RPA solutions, there is a high likelihood that you’ll have to continuously deploy more bots to cover more functions within your
business process. Furthermore, this rigid rule-following means that when a business process changes, RPA can no longer complete its assigned tasks until the bots are re-deployed with programming that takes the new process into account. This can lead to exorbitant maintenance costs (which grow as you require more bots to handle more volume), negating human resource and cost savings.

2. Magnification Of Existing Issues
If your business processes have existing issues, RPA will only accelerate the problem. By taking a process that’s underperforming and amplifying it, any errors that take place will be magnified on a greater scale. Businesses need to be aware that there would need to be a high level of housekeeping before the RPA was installed so that the processes can run efficiently.

3. Solidifies Current Processes
RPA pushes the buttons and pulls the levers of an existing underlying system, ultimately binding you tighter to your current processes and creating long-term technical debt. As it leverages a combination of user interface (UI) and surface- level features to create scripts that automate routine, any future changes in that process – or environment – will lead to disruption in its automation.

4. High Overhead Costs
Due to its inflexible architecture, RPA tends to require significant, upfront technical resources and custom development to fit within an organization and find functionality, leading to lengthy implementations.

Is Robotic Process Automation Right For Your Business?

While RPA works well for simple, well-defined tasks, it lacks the intelligence and flexibility required to automate increasingly complex processes. Additionally, with RPA, it’s easy to become burdened with technical debt as costly implementations and maintenance services require the continuous deployment of more bots to account for extended scale.

Still, if you’re aware of RPA’s limitations, it may work well for you if your processes fall within the following:

  • Copying and pasting structured, machine-readable data
  • Clicking and dragging files through various file paths
  • Following well-defined business rules in If / then statements
  • Opening emails & attachments without understanding the context or content
  • Making calculations

On the other hand, RPA tends to struggle with:

  • Classifying diverse document types, streamlining the indexing and sorting process
  • Extracting machine readable data from complex documents (handwritten, machine-printed, low resolution, or distorted)
  • Confirming data accuracy and enriching data to create more value downstream
  • Adapting to frequent changes in the process and different and variable layouts as a data input
  • Involving human employees throughout the automated process, only when necessary, to ensure data accuracy

If your processes involve the above, you’ll likely see greater value from an intelligent document processing solution.

At Hyperscience, we understand the importance of providing efficient ways to assist businesses with their switch to intelligent automation. We pride ourselves on the ability to provide both out-of-the-box, and customizable solutions, to allow your business to thrive using intelligent automation.