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What Is RPA?

Updated: Mar 28

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation but what does this mean?


RPA is the use of software robots (bots) to complete repetitive, usually tedious, rules-based tasks. Bots can work 24/7 and free up the time of teams so that they can concentrate on more valuable activities.


RPA can work at an API level but more typically will operate software in exactly the same way as a human being, mimicking the steps required to complete selected tasks. This can include manipulating data, transferring data between systems, triggering response or executing transaction.


Bot Comparison


Bots can work in an attended fashion, directly supporting a human user by completing specific tasks within a process thus helping work get done faster. The user can trigger the bot to perform an action at anytime.


Unattended bots typically complete batch processing which do not require human intervention. An example could be where a batch of new customer data has been delivered in a spreadsheet and needs to be entered in a number of different applications. The bot can be set to work at anytime, 24/7.


Which processes should be automated?


The first step of an RPA automation is to capture suitable processes. The next is to analyse the process for suitability – automating a bad process is just a way of creating problems faster. Process improvement can be integrated into the automation process. Taking the time to analyse the current position is critical if businesses want to move beyond buzzwords to a data-driven automation approach.


Don’t forget your bots


The automation process isn’t over once a bot is in place. Needs and processes change over time and to address this, bots should be as simple and flexible as possible. This is where no-code and low-code platforms shine; they do away with the need for complicated programming and allow for rapid bot development and deployment, allowing organisations to embrace transformation and become more agile.


RPA as a cultural shift


To achieve its true potential, RPA requires a companywide shift to an automation culture but it can be seen merely as a quick fix to help improve productivity in one task and resistance to the wider adoption of automation is often due to a fear that “RPA will steal my job”.


Emphasising the human-centred aspects of RPA is a critical first step to achieving an automation culture. The aim of RPA is to free teams from the mundane so that they can concentrate on more valuable tasks within their role. In my accountancy practice, I have automated bookkeeping processes so that my team can focus on forecasting and highlighting to our clients how future cash flows can best support their growth. To put it more simply, instead of spending time reconciling the transactions on a bank statement, we were freed to be able to advise our clients on how to achieve their goals. You tell me which is more satisfying?


The next step is to promote an automation first mindset. We offer a free half-day inter-departmental workshop for precisely this reason. The group is able to bounce ideas of one another and create momentum for improvements and change.


TLDR


RPA can be used to quickly automate repetitive and rules-based tasks and when properly deployed across an enterprise can produce substantial costs saving, increased productivity and improved employee engagement. To take full advantage of RPA as a transformation tool requires a cultural shift to an automation mindset.

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