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Robotic Process Automation - the future or not?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a type of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Many predict that RPA will continue to dominate in the next couple of years, with organisations looking to automate many of their most repetitive processes. Some may say, automating their most painful, tedious processes! RPA can potentially save a company thousands of hours per week, allowing them to distribute their resources more productively.

How does Robotic Process Automation work?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) does not usually entail an organisation hiring programmers to write bespoke code to come up with a new way to do the repetitive processes, instead, the typical RPA solution is more in the style of the old “macro” you could record in a your spreadsheets or documents. RPA solutions will typically digitally record the user’s repetitive process before running seamlessly in the background, saving many hours of work and reducing human error.

The digital “robots” are programs that simply do the same process as a human worker would have done, but faster and more accurately.

Industries that are using RPA

There are a huge number of applications for RPA across many industries. Some examples of industries where companies have introduced RPA include:

  • Manufacturing and distribution companies: Automating their orders, invoicing and tracking which helps them to deliver their products to schedule and with less errors

  • Financial institutions: Speeding up customer due diligence and loan applications

  • Insurance companies: Processing insurance claims, automating quotes and new product applications

  • Healthcare providers: Automating the update of customer records and streamlining administrative processes

The advantage is not only saving time and money, but freeing up valuable human resources to spend more of their time on creative and customer focused tasks that benefit the company.

How does RPA fit in the big picture of IT capability?

RPA has great benefits when used in narrow cases where older legacy systems with rarely changing interfaces are accessed for repetitive, mundane tasks. It definitely saves time and money and stops human error, but it is designed to interact at the interface level, so if there are any changes in the program interfaces it interacts with, then the RPA solution will break and need re-implementation. In some cases this may be straightforward, while in others, it may require a total re-implementation with the initial consultants (at a cost).

Some may say that it can be seen as a stop-gap solution to a bigger strategy on IT infrastructure. Perhaps RPA will help an old or messy legacy system run more smoothly straight away (and hence bring short-term savings), but in the big-picture, investing time and money towards an overall solution which has greater capability with respect to the future needs of the company, may be the better way to go.

Those RPA solutions that combine with AI may offer better, more future-proof solutions, as the automated processes can be modified more easily and cover other mundane tasks, such as digitising paper forms into a database.

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