Robots – they’re a thing of the future – right?
But the idea of automation, where a pseudo-being is able to perform menial tasks for us, has been around for centuries.
Where the ancient civilisations were dreaming up clay giants and living statues, we’ve seen multiple manifestations of robotic-style inventions across the ages.
And as humans have strived throughout the ages to create robots in all their different forms – from whimsical, mechanical peacocks, to clocks, remote controlled missiles, robotic arms and more – what we’ve been ultimately doing, is giving ourselves the opportunity to improve our way of life.
We are complex beings and it’s not in our nature to want to perform repetitive tasks. And this is really where technology comes in – almost any task that needs to be done repeatedly, can be done by a computer in one form or another.
And with the advancement of AI and machine learning, there are so many more things that we can do to help businesses become more efficient in the way that they work and how they deliver their services.
But what does this mean? Can we expect robots to be working in our offices anytime soon? And how can we ensure an automated process is still within our control?
In this feature, we speak to Head of Application Development at Evros, Trevor Dagg, and Application Development Manager, Andrew Taylor, to find out more about Robotic Process Automation and how it can be applied practically, by businesses today.
What is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the technology that enables computer software to emulate and integrate actions, typically performed by humans. It involves interacting with digital systems to execute business processes and the computer software that executes these operations is called a ‘robot’ – or ‘bot’, for short.
RPA is also non-intrusive in nature and leverages the existing infrastructure without causing disruption to underlying systems.
What are the different types of RPA bots?
Typically, we use two different types of bot:
Attended bot: this type of bot requires human intervention. So, this type of bot is needed when there is too much decision making that needs to happen within a certain task for the bot to do everything. However, the repetitive elements can be performed in the background by the bot and so it enables users to be more efficient in the way that they work and how they use their time.
Unattended bot: this type of bot sits on a different computer altogether and works through tasks when it is told to do them. It doesn’t need human intervention – not for most of the time anyway – only when something doesn’t match up.
In this scenario, the bot is configured to run like a service which is the ideal type of automation to be implemented. Some of the benefits include that it can operate 24/7 and will only contact the user if something goes wrong.
How might you go about implementing RPA?
At Evros, we use a suite of Automation tools and types of software to enable rapid, Intelligent Automation.
So, firstly we would:
- Define a business’s specific process or processes that we’re looking to automate
- Optimise them to involve as few steps as possible
- And then create the bots by recording and developing specific tasks.
We can then incorporate individual bots into a broader workflow that works at a higher level and can also be manipulated and updated whenever you need.
“The bots only do what a human user would normally do. This is particularly useful, because if you were approaching this from a custom code approach, you would have to find out how these systems talk to each other, what they can do, how they would get the right access and whether it can even be coded in the first place. However, by using our automation tools, it’s a lot less complex – especially in terms of security, testing and processing, because the bot is only going to do what a user can do – so you won’t be breaking the system,” explains Andrew.
What happens when RPA fails – can bots learn?
“Just because a task is repetitive, doesn’t mean the steps within it are going to be exactly the same each time. However, we don’t want to be creating a new bot for every new scenario. So, using UiPath’s AI feature with Document Understanding, we’re able to achieve a confidence rating. If the bot is less than 80% confident it has performed the task correctly, it will flag it for human intervention,” says Andrew.
“So, this is where the machine learning comes in; the user will then be able to show the bot what to do in this specific instance so it knows what to do when it next comes across this specific type of scenario. Again, it will only do what the user has told it to do.”
What is the difference between RPA, BPM and DPA?
“Yes, there are a lot of these acronyms in the automation space and it can be a little confusing alright!” explains Trevor.
“As Andrew said, we use Robotic Process Automation to take care of specific repetitive tasks. Essentially, RPA software allows us to emulate user interaction with applications.
“BPM or Business Process Management is a methodology that helps us define the orchestration of data, users and systems through end-to-end business processes. It helps us to define a standard approach to process and workflows.
“Digital Process Automation (DPA) can be achieved by using a combination of RPA and BPM technologies. This allows us to orchestrate at a higher level so that we can connect individual processes into a more complex workflows across the business. Then, when we introduce Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence into that mix to improve efficiency and decision making, we call this Intelligent Process Automation or IPA.
““Ultimately, what we want to do is full process automation, where we take an end to end holistic view of a company’s processes and put them into an understandable format so that they can be improved.”
What specific tasks can RPA help with?
Some of the areas we would focus on include:
HR traditionally homes a lot of repetitive, often manual, administrative tasks that include capturing, updating and disseminating data and requests for processing. So, RPA can have a big impact here.
Another benefit of RPA is that it reduces human error so we can use it in scenarios such as invoice and contract management, returns processing and inventory management.
Finance and Accounting
This is an area where automation can have a significant positive impact on cost savings, improved efficiency and streamlining processes.
With regards to IT, we can use RPA to free up resources so that valuable engineers can focus their technical expertise on solving complex problems rather than on performing repetitive tasks, for example, password resets, email processing and distribution, server and app monitoring and routine maintenance.
What are some of the advantages in using RPA and its impact on businesses?
By using bots, we’re looking to drive value and ensure that a business’s resources are being used to their full potential.
Of course, one of the key advantages is that unattended bots can operate 24/7 which can have a huge impact on output. Bots also work reliably so there is less room for human error.
From a technical perspective, they don’t interfere with any underlying systems, so they’re not going to start breaking any key applications.
And finally, there’s no coding required. So, they can be developed and deployed rapidly.
How can Intelligent Process Automation help in terms of digital transformation?
“What happens when businesses want to transform is that often, they will come across certain challenges such as legacy systems or something that cannot be upgraded. Or they have a paper-based process which is ultimately, stopping them from being able to deliver their services in the way that they want to,” explains Trevor.
“So, what we really need are some tools that can assist us with that.
“For some businesses, it might be about automating a specific process. And for others, it might be about automating several different processes, in which case you would need a level of orchestration to be able to stitch all of these individual processes together into a workflow.
“And finally, where the machine learning and AI come in, is where you want to take the parts of the processes where there needs to be a level of human decision making and put that into the process to make it an Intelligent Process Automation.
“What we’re doing is using task automation and process automation as well as AI and machine learning, to evolve a business’s overall flow of work to give a true, intelligent process automation capability.”
“There is a lot of flexibility in it too. So, once a workflow is set in Bizagi for example, you can amend it which is not just important in terms of enabling a business to adapt – at scale – in a time of crisis, but also to allow the business to innovate and improve the way they work.
“Furthermore, when you do need to adapt rapidly – as many organisations have had to do over the course of 2020 – having that intelligent workflow not only allows you to do that, but it also ensures the necessary components of those processes in terms of regulation, security and compliance, are all still being followed.”
Find out more
Even though robots might not be sitting in the office just yet, there are still plenty of ways they are able to support businesses in terms of streamlining processes as well as give them the opportunity to make the most of their valuable resources.
To discover more about our Intelligent Automation Services, download our brochure.