Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is booming, what can you do with it?

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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one of the most booming disciplines in the IT market. Companies see a lot of potential in this type of software, as it can take over a lot of repetitive tasks from people. It is the robot that takes over certain processes, which reduces the risk of human error. Moreover, people are deprived of some repetitive tasks that require little thought, so that there is more time for other tasks. However, it can be quite a challenge to find out what your company can do with it because you have to understand RPA. In this article, we explain how you can use RPA, what you can do with it and which RPA robots can be interesting for you.

The market for RPA robots is basically dominated by three players. You have UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism. In addition to these three market leaders, the software can be obtained from other RPA vendors. There are even SaaS providers that offer their own RPA robots within their software.

It is not possible to say in advance what the ideal RPA implementation will look like for you. The software robots have their own unique features, which makes one option more suitable for a certain purpose than the other. You should be aware of this so that you know in what way RPA will deliver the maximum return for you.

Let’s see exactly how the technology works and what it does in practice, to find out the usefulness.

What is RPA?

What RPA basically does is observe workflows in business applications so that it can take over simple repetitive tasks. To do this, it relies heavily on a technology that has been in use for some time, namely computer vision. The robots read computer screens, something that computer vision also does. It is, as it were, scanned for a specific object, often because the robot has received instructions for this beforehand. The way adult computer vision and RPA screens read differs. Computer vision now often scans for moving objects within the images, for example, when it is used for analysis in security cameras. RPA focuses much less on movements on the screen.

RPA robots search for objects for which they have received instructions. As a result, the robot functions best if the work is highly predictable. If something happens that has not been programmed, the robot will still transfer the task to humans.

Initiatives to deal with deviations anyway

This way of working is actually not something you want in advance when you are considering implementing RPA within your organization. There are IT suppliers who have launched solutions for this or are working on developing ideas. The idea is that the robots benefit from adding cognitive functionalities. If they can anticipate possible deviations, more automation will be added. It should be noted, however, that the cleverness does not change the software robot into an AI robot. RPA must continue to copy basic human actions instead of simulating human intelligence with the aid of machines.

A method that is now doing this well is to add a variant of optical character recognition (OCR) to the RPA robots. This gives them a set of possibilities with which they learn to interpret and understand images and text. We talked about this earlier with ABBYY, which brings this kind of intelligence to the robots. The software provided by this party is useful for RPA, for example, when it is used for reading contracts. The robot can then assess whether everything is in accordance with compliance guidelines in order to decide what to do with the contract.

There are more methods to give RPA some cleverness. Think of technologies such as natural language processing (NLP) and text mining.

Find out which processes can be automated

The combination of RPA with a piece of intelligence sounds interesting for a variety of situations. However, RPA remains a technology that is particularly useful when a process that takes over it hardly changes. Otherwise, the software robot can only take over a few parts of a process, and the primary goal is lost.

It is therefore important to take a good look at which processes you can automate. It is often assumed that RPA is particularly useful for organisations that want to modernise their legacy applications. You can think of ERP systems that have been in use for decades. It can be quite a challenge to replace these types of installations, as they contain unique features and data of a company. In addition, applications of this type often have static interfaces, which makes it easier for RPA to function.

The software robots could support the transition to a modern cloud system. They then perform multiple tasks and steps. Think of logging into the old system to extract files from it, then logging into the newer application and entering the file data. In this example, however, it is necessary to configure and eventually manage several robots. If management is not taken into account, the robots may be at a standstill for a long time due to errors. This makes the idea of process automation vulnerable.

If you want to make RPA really useful, you will have to involve several parties in the evaluation process and think carefully about the next steps. You can include several employees and parties in this process, such as system administrators and process managers. There are also plenty of IT consultants who can help you on your way to looking at RPA possibilities and further implementation. Such parties have the expertise to check whether the infrastructure, for example, is in order, which will speed up the implementation.

Configuring the bot

For the general implementation of RPA within the organization, it is therefore important to take a good look at what is possible, and at the same time not to automate too much. After all, the robots have to be used in a targeted way so that they offer added value. However, you may come to the conclusion that you are carrying out unique activities where some automation aimed at a specific task can be useful. Certain suppliers have initiatives to make RPA available to everyone.

For example, it is possible to set up an RPA robot yourself. In addition, it is useful to have IT knowledge, which makes configuring the robot a little easier and reduces the risk of errors in the configuration. Depending on the process you want to automate, you will need to give some instructions to the robot. With these commands you can think of things like selecting a box on a screen (the each named computer vision part), having the robot type a text, creating a table and opening a web browser. The final task of the software robot determines the complexity of the configuration and how much time you need for it.

Market leaders differ from each other

Ultimately, there will often be a process within the organization to automate. Usually, after the decision to automate with RPA, it will arrive at one of the three largest suppliers that can do something for you: UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism. They are unique in several ways. Below are some characteristics of each supplier, although it has to be said that the characteristics we mention sometimes apply to more than one supplier.

  • UiPath – One of the spearheads of this company is that it focuses on simplicity in use. This is done by providing a visual interface in which a drag-and-drop editor plays an important role. This should ease the configuration process of the robot. To demonstrate this, UiPath also offers a free community version and the extended version can be tested for free for two months.
  • Automation Anywhere – One of the features of this party is that it focuses on ‘enterprise RPA’. This means that the platform comes with advanced features. The idea behind it is that it can handle a variety of IT platforms and services in order to deal with as many complex issues as possible.
  • Blue Prism – For Blue Prism, the no-code functionality is an important part, which also means that a lot can be achieved by means of drag-and-drop. However, the Blue Prism also boasts a number of coding possibilities, so that you can build unique functionalities for the robot.

Knocking on the door of a SaaS supplier for a software robot

In addition to working with a specialised RPA supplier, you could also look at the possibilities offered by a SaaS supplier. For example, ERP providers sometimes have their own RPA capacities, and SaaS providers look not only at their own RPA capacities but also at collaborations with one of the three suppliers mentioned, so that automation is supported as well as possible. Automation Anywhere works closely with Oracle, while UiPath, for example, works well with SAP and Blue Prism with Citrix.

All in all, we can say that RPA is a growing IT discipline because it can be of added value for many companies. However, it is wise to look at how your company can really get value out of it. After all, not every process lends itself to this form of automation, but certain processes can certainly run more efficiently as a result.