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Devshree Golecha


An Insight to Robotic and Intelligent Process Automation

Processes that can benefit from RPA have repeatable and predictable interactions with IT applications

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 12:03

In this era of artificial intelligence, where bots can mimic human minds and outperform humans, a new-age process automation tool called “robotic process automation” (RPA) has been creating a lot of buzz. It is highly versatile and can be used by every industry to streamline and optimize their business processes. From data entry to claims processing to automatic payments, RPA can do it all.

According to a report by Forrester, the RPA market will grow from $250 million in 2016 to $2.9 billion in 2021.1 Business owners have started realizing the potential RPA has to improve processes and reduce costs.

What is RPA?

RPA uses automated systems that are governed by business logic and rules to streamline and optimize processes. They are referred to as “bots,” and they help by efficiently and effectively performing repeatable, rules-based tasks. The average knowledge worker employed to perform a back-office operation process has a lot of repetitive, routine tasks that are tedious and uninteresting. The RPA tool mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a well-defined, rule-based task within a process. It can do repetitive and routine tasks quickly, accurately, and diligently, so that humans can perform other tasks that require interaction with customers and entail the need for emotional intelligence, reasoning, and judgment. The ROI from RPA systems can range from 30 percent to 200 percent in the first 12 months of its operation alone.2

Why RPA?

Business processes that can benefit from RPA typically have repeatable and predictable interactions with IT applications, including those that may require switching between multiple applications or screens. If they don’t choose RPA, then businesses will have to redesign their processes by implementing IT-driven transformation, or outsource their operations. However, by following simple rules to make decisions through a user interface, RPA bots can emulate the way humans interact with applications to perform such routine business processes. An example of a routine business process would be the retrieval of information from one system and entering the same information into another system. Other tasks include opening emails and attachments, and data processing and integrating with enterprise tools. RPA is faster and more accurate than any human. For example, research shows that a bot can complete in a mere 60 seconds a task that would take a human 15 minutes.

Figure 1: RPA compared to traditional process transformation approaches. Source: Deloitte Analysis

How does RPA work?

Below is a workflow model of how RPA is used by businesses to perform tasks. Process developers specify detailed instruction to robots to perform tasks and publish this information in a robot controller. The controller assign jobs to the bots and monitors their activities. The bots perform the tasks and interact with wide range of business applications. Once the tasks are performed, business users review tasks for any exceptions or escalations.3

Figure 2: RPA workflow model

RPA tools

Below are the three types of RPA tools: intelligent, programmable, and self-learning.

With respect to intelligent tools, the capabilities of bots vary from product to product, but many of them use converging technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR), intelligent character recognition (ICR), screen scraping, and artificial intelligence.

Programmable tools give us the ability to create and run automated tasks. Developer tools can vary from product to product, and often come in the form of easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interfaces. A programmable robot is defined by set rules and instructions. Parameters need to be defined by programmers before the bot can get to work. 

Self-learning RPA bots allow employees to record a process that can be translated into a workflow for the bots to follow. Self-learning bots are better suited to perform processes involving unstructured data and fluctuating parameters.

Figure 3: RPA tools

Types of RPA

Below are the three types of RPA: Unattended, attended, and hybrid. 

Unattended automation hinges on the concept of automation without human intervention, or as little human intervention as possible. Actions in unattended automation are self-triggered by the automation robots, and work is completed continuously in a batch-mode model that allows automation to carry out actions on a 24/7/365 basis.

Attended automation solutions reside at an employee’s desktop and are triggered by specific events, actions, or commands that an employee engages within a specific workflow. Because attended automation often involves employees moving between multiple interfaces or screens in any given transaction or context, attended automation solutions must be user-friendly in order for employees to move from platform to platform.

Hybrid RPA is a combination of both attended and unattended.

Figure 4: Types of RPA

Use of RPA in different industries

RPA can benefit any industry. It is a great solution for companies that use legacy systems, or for businesses where a large portion of the workforce works in the back office in nontech functions. Below are few examples of where RPA can be used to streamline processes.4

Sales—Creating and delivering invoices, updating CRM
Customer Service—Automate repetitive tasks, solving customer issues, loading profiles, or getting customer data
Technology—Software installations
Finance—Reconciliation, financial planning or P&L preparation
Human Resources—Candidate sourcing, employee history verification, hiring and onboarding, payroll automation, expense management, employee data management
Operations—Updating inventory records, issuing refunds
Banking—Loan processing, know your customer (KYC)
Retail—Product categorization

Figure 5: A use case from the healthcare industry that displays how RPA can reduce the time it takes to complete a claims-processing process.

Benefits of RPA

RPA not only makes it easier to automate repetitive and laborious tasks, but also offers other benefits, including the following:

Flexibility—RPA is applicable across all industries and organizations. It is easily scalable and can take on any rule-based and repetitive task.
Cost effective—By implementing RPA, businesses will be able to reduce the time and money spent performing inefficient operational processes.
Productivity—RPA can lead to significant productivity enhancement. RPA products often come with a drag-and-drop interface, which helps employees because they will not need additional training in coding or other complex fields.
Reliability—Robots can function 24/7/365. It offers speed and accuracy over human labor.
Accuracy—Irrespective of how tedious, repetitive, or rule-based a process is, bots will follow the rules, ensuring accuracy and reliable results. RPA is especially useful in roles that are prone to human errors.
Employee morale—RPA can be an avenue to improved employee efficiency. It lets employees focus on value-adding tasks.
Cybersecurity—Bots will not fall for common cyber-related attacks such as spear phishing and social engineering.5

Challenges with implementing RPA

Although RPA is becoming an important business technology and solution for automating tedious and routine processes, questions remain about its impact on human jobs. Other factors also warrant discussion about the technology’s future. Among these are:

Needs solid business process management—RPA can’t think or learn; the processes businesses want to automate with RPA need to be optimized before implementation. Ineffective processes can leave an organization vulnerable to a host of problems, especially, when they’re automated. Issues can range from cost overrun due to waste, to mistakes that adversely impact services or products.
Organizational support—Top-down championing of operational excellence is a foundation of effective business process management. Executives’ buy-in is essential, and they also need to promote the importance of automation in their process improvement efforts.
Technical pitfalls—Choosing a difficult-to-use RPA tool can slow down development and improvement efforts because deploying an RPA solution could take longer than expected.

What’s next for RPA?

Large IT companies are developing in-house RPA tools and are also partnering with vendors that offer automation software solutions. Currently, most of the RPA solutions are rule-based, but we are slowly advancing to RPA solutions that can offer knowledge and judgement-based capabilities.

Figure 6: RPA at a glance

Sources cited
1. Clair, C. L.  “The RPA Market Will Reach $2.9 Billion by 2021” Forrester, Feb. 2017
2. Willcocks, Leslie. “The value of robotic process automation.” McKinsey and Co., March 2017.
3. Lowes, Peter. “A guide to robotic process automation.” Deloitte
4. Applied AI blog. “45 RPA use cases/applications: In-depth guide.” Applied AI, June 12, 2018.
5. Muspratt, Adam. “A guide to robotic process automation (RPA).” Process excellence Network, Oct. 11.2018.
6. The Lab Consulting. “Robotic process automation for health insurance—Robotics use case in claims.” The Lab


About The Author

Devshree Golecha’s picture

Devshree Golecha

Devshree Golecha is a seasoned quality professional with more than nine years of experience leading enterprisewide Six Sigma process improvement, automation, and optimization projects. She has been featured in P.O.W.E.R (Professional Organization of Women In Excellence Recognized) as "Woman of the Month." She represents Harvard Business School digital programs as the chapter leader for Houston and is Chair of Communication at American Society for Quality, Houston. Golecha has an MBA in finance and did Executive Program in Analytics from Harvard Business School, is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, and is a keynote speaker and guest lecturer at the University of Houston.