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Overview of Robotic Process Automation

RPA, Automation Technology, Process Automation

Even as technology moves forward taking leaps of advancement, there exists a certain hesitation amongst humans to adopt and adapt completely. This reluctance often stems from the fear that technology poses a threat to the necessity of a human labor force. However, it is important to realize that Robotic Process Automation, amongst other similar technology, is meant to act as an aid to a workforce and not to replace it.

In effort to bridge the gap between human and bot, let us attempt to understand what RPA is.

“Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a term used to describe the subset of business automation technology that utilizes configurable software robots to mimic human action and incorporate logic and standardization to recurrent business and administrative processes.”

Put in simpler terms, RPA is the process of employing software robots as a tool to automate repetitive business and administrative processes. Like most automation processes, robotic process automation has a few prerequisites, without which, building an RPA system is nearly impossible.

To fully understand RPA, some fundamentals we must keep in mind are:

  • Robotic Process Automation is carried out by “bots”, the building blocks of process automation, which are software that can be programmed to function in the background without constant human attention or interference.
  • Developers can program a bot by preparing an elaborate and detailed list of commands for the bot to follow in order to complete a task. Once this command list is applied, the bot can execute the described task repetitively after deployment.
  • A majority of RPA vendors support process automation involving structured data. Structured data follows a set of guidelines or model that makes it easily comprehensible by machines. There are obvious patterns and relations between units of data, and it is generally in a tabulated format. This makes it easy for the bot to extract relevant data and perform an action. Bots are capable of extracting information/ input values and applying pre-recorded actions to the gathered information.
  • Driven by the evolution in the artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive technologies, RPA bots are evolving to handle unstructured dataset for various process automation applications. RPA vendors are increasingly leveraging technologies, such as optical character recognition (OCR), natural language processing (NLP), intelligent capture, speech recognition, text analytics, and other technologies to transform unstructured datasets to structured format for automation.
  • Depending on how many processes are to be carried out, an organization can hire/lease as many bots as may be required and program each bot to carry out any specific function.

It goes without saying that effectively planned and implemented RPA can help organizations reduce human labor and the time consumed to carry out basic operations that do not require specific skills. When such processes are assigned to bots, the human workforce can shift their attention to tasks of higher importance that are generally, more satisfying to accomplish.
Most often, organizations employ this “Bot Army” or “Digital Workforce” to aid human employees in performing tasks, streamlining procedures, improving productivity and eliminating error. Digital workers are often more accurate, consistent and efficient, as the scope for negligence or human error is highly diminished. Unless the data provided has errors or is missing, bots are the perfect agents to identify and utilize data for a plethora of functions.

Now that we have established the position of a bot in an organization, let us talk about how bots function.

Bots can be programmed by developers to communicate with other applications and carry out severely complex tasks without human interference. The deployment of a bot sets off a chain of events that get carried out without any feedback or input. Here, the efficiency of a bot is emphasized, as the monotony of the task is unlikely to have any effect on it. Bots can also function without rest or break and finish tasks much quicker since factors like boredom, tiredness and inattention are eliminated.

However, a glaring drawback is that not all processes can be completely automated. Based on the complexity of task, a certain amount of human input may still be required. Addressing this issue, robotic process automation model can be customized to suit an organization’s needs. RPA models can be broadly categorized into Unattended RPA, attended RPA and Hybrid RPA.

Unattended Robotic Process Automation

In any organization, many back-office processes like invoice generation, form filling and customer detail tabulation as well as sending reminders for meetings and payments, are straightforward and can be handled by bots. These tasks are considered background tasks while still being essential to the functioning of an organization. Hence, an Attended RPA system can be programmed to handle these in a systematic and timely manner.

Attended Robotic Process Automation

Some processes like customer servicing, client handling, and resolution of grievances, require humanization. While bots are exceptional at handling structured data, they may falter in responding to complex requests. Administrative and analytical processes that require human attendance can, therefore, be handled by an Attended Robotic Process Automation System. Depending on feedback received from external sources, a human agent can deploy specific bots to perform tasks that may be complicated and time intensive. Such a system helps streamlining processes and reducing the difficulty of tasks.

Hybrid Robotic Process Automation

In this ever-evolving age of technology, practically no organization can depend completely on manual labor. But it is equally impossible to rely solely on bots. To blend technology with human intelligence, most organizations have a combination of attended and unattended RPA systems in place and utilize a ‘Hybrid’ RPA system to reduce labor. The Hybrid model allows an organization to employ both attended and unattended RPA systems in different departments of function. While the back-office processes may be handled by unattended RPA, customer service agents work with attended RPA to improve overall productivity.

New trends emerge in technology regularly and it can be hard to adapt to every advancement. Nevertheless, it is evident that Automation Technology is a trend that is here to stay, and organizations will only benefit in the long run if they tailor business solutions that weaves RPA into the very fabric of the organization.