What Is Robotic Process Automation?

Using specialized software, you can eliminate repetitive tasks from your team’s workload.

As technology continues to advance, humankind is finding more efficient ways to use emerging technology to simplify and eliminate repetitive tasks. One such advancement is the ominously named robotic process automation, which leverages software to make repetitive tasks a thing of the past. While RPA is more common in the enterprise realm, small businesses can utilize this emergent tech.

What is robotic process automation?

Though its name might evoke images of an uprising of metal and lasers, robotic process automation is anything but that. At its core, RPA is a piece of “robot” software that lets users reduce the number of repetitive tasks they need to do on a computer by mimicking those actions.

From timecard management to data entry, RPA tools eliminate the need for employees to spend their time on computer-based, routine tasks. Instead, employees can focus their energies where they’re needed, increasing overall productivity.

Because of its relatively new status on the automation front and increased hype surrounding the technology, researchers at Forrester estimated that the RPA market would balloon from $250 million in 2016 to $2.9 billion in 2021.

How does robotic process automation work?

Since RPA is not powered by artificial intelligence, it needs some human interaction to work. It’s after that initial setup that the magic happens.

To get RPA working, a person must first teach the actions that will be automated on the computer or virtual machine. Whenever an application is opened, a mouse click is initiated, a new task is started, or some other action is taken in an application, an RPA can be taught to do those same actions as a set of programmable rules and instructions. After each step is mapped out, the program can run those manual tasks back, recreating each action with incredible speed and precision.

While RPA by itself is not considered AI, the two can work in tandem to pick up how an employee completes certain tasks. By including intelligent bots, RPA software can actively follow a person’s actions on a computer. Once enough data is collected, the bot and the RPA it’s attached to can begin handling whatever processes it needs to do by itself.

In both instances, RPA needs some form of data input to mimic. Once it gets that data, however, it’s off to the races with those tasks, freeing up precious resources to be allocated elsewhere within your company. Both explanations are at the very basic level of how RPA works since this kind of software can handle as many simple or complex processes as you need, based on the actions you want to automate.

What can RPA automate?

It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is – if there’s any computer-based drudge work you want to eliminate for yourself or your employees, RPA technology can handle it. General knowledge points to the idea that RPA is best for tasks that rely on repetitive actions. Tasks like data entry and returns processing are ideal fits for RPAs.

While speaking with The Enterprisers Project, Olive chief product officer David Landreman listed four basic criteria for whether an RPA is a right tool for a specific repetitive task:

  • Is the process rule-based?
  • Can the process be repeated at regular intervals, or does it have an easily defined trigger?
  • Does the process have expected inputs and outputs?
  • Does the task have sufficient volume?

What are the benefits of robotic process automation?

Along with the reduction in repetitive tasks and the ability to free up employees to be productive in other areas of your business, RPA has some other inherent benefits that any business would find valuable. Here are some other examples of how a good RPA can help businesses of all sizes.

Reduced costs

Automation in its many forms is well known for its ability to cut operating costs as a sort of digital workforce. If you no longer need an employee to handle a certain task because of automation, you are spending less money on that task. Similarly, RPA can cut costs due to human error since the software will handle its functions accurately as long as it was taught correctly.

More engaged employees

Doing repetitive tasks for hours on end can be a mentally and emotionally draining experience. Implementing an RPA robot to handle boring tasks frees up employees to work on more engaging activities that increase their attentiveness, boost morale and, in the case of businesses that regularly deal with the public, provide a better overall customer experience.

Easy, flexible implementation

Since RPA mimics a person’s actions when completing tasks, programming it is relatively easy. No coding knowledge is necessary, and it can easily transfer from one task to another. As businesses grow, RPA can scale to meet their changing needs.

To learn more about how automation can help you and your teams, download these automation basics




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