You've probably heard of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but what is it, and why should you consider using it?
For some time, process automation software has been used to help streamline workflows, usually in the context of Business Process Management (BPM). RPA is a newer approach — simple, but powerful when compared to traditional automation.
Of course, discussing RPA means discussing "bots." These small programs automate common rule-based tasks and can be schedule-driven or trigger-driven. They can perform repetitive, mundane activities that previously had to be done manually, freeing workers to focus on higher-value tasks and activities.
In this article, we’ll look at what RPA means in terms of applicable tasks, enabling technologies, and development requirements.
What is RPA?
As technology has evolved, RPA has increasingly replaced traditional automation techniques and become a key solution in automating operational tasks across organizations. In traditional automation, programming takes a critical role, making use of remote calls to application programming interfaces (APIs) to consume and make use of available service interfaces.
RPA, in contrast, enables developers to focus on the actions of a user at the user interface level — while still integrating APIs and for the bot to make use of a traditional service oriented architecture. This flexibility is a key differentiator between RPA and scripting technologies, which may have been used in automations of the past.
Organizations inevitably depend on repetitive tasks for many of their daily operations, but when performed by workers, these tasks can become tedious and prone to error. RPA introduces the concept of software bots as applications that can automate common workflows.
Within Automation Anywhere, there are two types of automation:
- Attended automation, in which a bot operates under human guidance.
- Unattended automation, which is used for batch processing in the background.
In attended automation, the user who invokes a bot can provide inputs for the bot to use for its processing. The user can also provide additional inputs when the bot comes to an impasse in its processing.
In unattended automation, bots typically execute according to a schedule or triggering events to automate back-office processes that don’t require human interaction. This automation type is ideal for reducing the tedious work of back-office employees, as well as tasks that may be run overnight to prepare work or data for humans upon their arrival (running reports, long-running operations, and so on.)
If you want to create bots yourself, Automation Anywhere provides Community Edition for users to get started, as well as an expansive set of training materials and learning trails through Automation Anywhere University.
Automation Anywhere Bot Store is also a helpful resource for downloading pre-built bots, which can accelerate a developer’s bot-building process and an organization's return on investment.
You can think of bots as your virtual workforce, dedicated 24/7 to doing precisely the jobs you assign to them. They're configurable Digital Workers you can execute, control, and clone. In more sophisticated scenarios, they can also learn by leveraging tools like IQ Bot. Despite being pieces of software, RPA bots are fully customizable applications that automate high-volume, repetitive, rule-based tasks in an auditable and reliable way.
You can accommodate the development of RPA within Agile cycles. After the environment setup, and following each development cycle, you can run robotic and automated processes with this technology. Also, RPA reduces human failure to a minimum. RPA bots won't type wrong text, nor will they click the wrong field or forget to select a combo box. They'll follow the script they've been programmed to execute precisely.
Refer to this story to learn more about how chief information officers (CIOs) are turning to RPA to eliminate tedious tasks, freeing corporate workers to focus on higher-value work: The CIO Role in Automation Transformation.
What tasks does RPA best automate?
The best candidates for RPA are rule-based processes, meaning they're replicable under the same circumstances over and over again, or are structured around logic-based decisions that can be accomplished by computer programs.
Such processes must clearly define inputs and outputs and the repetitive, logical workflows between them. Otherwise, you'd still have to rely on some form of human decision making and user intervention.
Keep in mind, though, that creating bots takes employees’ precious time. That’s why the task the bots are intended to perform should have sufficient volume to justify development expenditure.
What kinds of RPA tasks are providing value?
RPA is best suited to performing dull, repetitive, low-intelligence tasks, relieving employees to focus on tasks more dependent on judgment and experience. Investing in RPA to automate such operations can lead to a quick return on investment.
Some of the best RPA candidates include finance, such as payments and receivables, insurance claims, customer returns, payroll workflows, registration of new suppliers, and bank reconciliations as well as front- and back-office operations.
Integrating RPA can help identify whether transparent processes exist and where they need to be defined. Organizations can benefit from this introspective exploration to draw a complete and updated map of their own processes.
Who can become an RPA developer?
RPA development is different from the stereotyped image of a room full of programmers working on large, complicated pieces of software. Real-life RPA tries to simplify the automation process by building user interfaces with predefined functions and very few lines of code.
You don’t need a software development background to start using RPA, but a developer mindset is desirable. If you have a creative, problem-solving mindset and geek out with attention to detail, you probably have what it takes to be an automation developer. That said, experienced developers can not only build advanced automations in RPA, but can also create reusable components to share with and empower citizen developers to consume APIs and do advanced data manipulation through the use of C# DLLs.
Using RPA tools, developers analyze business processes and workflows, then decide which processes can be automated. In some organizations, RPA development work is divided, with different people performing process design, automation architecture, and production management. In other scenarios, a single developer carries out all three roles.
Individual responsibilities and tasks performed by RPA developers include:
- Analyzing business requirements and providing guidance on process design. The RPA developer will assess current user tasks to decide whether they're viable RPA candidates, based on their requirements. Here, it will become evident whether the process inputs and outputs are clearly defined, and whether they're repetitive and entail enough volume to justify the resources spent on automation.
- Deploying RPA components. Initially, the bot is created on the developer's machine. But, at some point, it must be deployed to a production server where users can find and download it.
- Creating process documentation. As developers analyze process requirements, they produce valuable process documentation that otherwise might remain unmapped by the organization.
- Assuring the quality of the automation (QA processes). Before deploying components, RPA developers must ensure all the paths taken by the bot's execution are performing the steps defined at the development phase and that they're yielding the expected results.
RPA bots are obviously the preferred alternative to the manual tasks performed by administrative staff. But IT and DevOps staff can also leverage RPA to simplify and streamline their work, adding RPA in addition to the scripting, development, and CI/CD tools they might already be using.
IT and DevOps teams often have different business goals and reporting structures, but relative to other divisions within their organizations, they have access to similar pools of technical tools and expertise such as scripting languages, workflow tools, and so on. But not all tasks are automated by off-the-shelf tools like CI/CD pipelines, and not every automation task within the scope of IT or DevOps needs to be a full-blown software development effort. Just as RPA frees business users from repetitive tasks, RPA can free technical staff to take on jobs more critical to the business.
Finding experienced IT and DevOps professionals is a challenge for many organizations. Rather than tasking experienced system administrators and highly skilled developers with writing software to achieve repetitive work, junior staff can spend time unpacking the work details and automating the tasks quickly with RPA. This pays off in multiple ways: junior team members gain skills and business knowledge through the automation effort, rote tasks are automated with less cost in terms of the team's limited expert resources, and increased automation improves productivity on the technical side of the business, enabling teams to focus on high-value, expertise-intensive efforts.
Some examples of areas where IT and DevOps teams might find value in RPA solutions includes automation of support request and ticket resolution for common tasks such as access authorization, automation of reporting and compliance tasks, or lightweight integration and management of legacy systems that lack API support.
Ready to get the most out of RPA? Whether you're new to the RPA world or already have bot programming experience, the following links will help you master the technology that is shaping the future of business automation.
Quick RPA intro for beginners
These short videos present you with an introduction to RPA technology and how it's changing the future of work. The Automation Anywhere Enterprise RPA platform is the result of more than a decade of innovation in Robotic Process Automation. RPA 101 IN FIFTEEN MINUTES
Automation Anywhere Community Edition
Grab your free Community Edition download and start practicing today. Automation Anywhere provides patented RPA technology capable of automating many IT or business processes. Automation Anywhere Community Edition
Automation Anywhere Bot Store
Creating bots by yourself is great, but reinventing the wheel isn’t. Browse Bot Store instead to leverage existing components. Automation Anywhere Bot Store has the largest selection of Digital Workers and bots using RPA. Automation Anywhere Bot Store: Bot Store Marketplace
Automation Anywhere University
Education is the path to excellence. Automation Anywhere University is your center for RPA training. Join the 400,000+ trainees worldwide who are building the future of work. Automation Anywhere University: RPA Certification Online Courses
Looking for solutions? Get your RPA questions answered, connect with peers, and share best practices in the Automation Anywhere members-only community, A-people. Automation Anywhere Community Forum
New revenue streams and resource savings are only the start. Read case studies of customers experiencing the success of RPA from Automation Anywhere. RPA Case Studies