November 2017 — Over the last couple of years, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) has gained increasing attention in the business world. Companies offering financial management software and consulting are focusing on RPA’s capabilities and how it can make business processes more efficient. Surrounded by these bombastic promises, decision-makers are left confused: What does life look like with a software robot? I’ll tell you the truth – it’s much better.
A software robot mimics humans. It navigates ERP systems or other software via user interfaces just like we do. In fact, the robot is able to work faster, harder, and with fewer errors than we can; it isn’t slowed down by boring routines or the need to rest. The robot always works efficiently, around the clock. And what’s even better, the robot needs no salary. So, what are its limits and where do we fit in with these hyper-efficient, smart machines?
RPA works best with tasks that are rule-based, regular, routines requiring lots of manual input work. The software robot shines especially in tasks that are too small, irregular, or rapidly changing to be efficiently automated using traditional back-end automation. Since the robot uses other applications via the UI like us, modifications to the existing systems are not needed to implement the robot.
In the midst of robot hype, you also have to know the limits of the technology. RPA is not a solution to broken processes. Your team will need to unify and develop existing processes first, and once that is achieved, deploy robots to maintain specific aspects. To note, it is always important to question whether a task is worth doing at all. If not, there is no reason for robotizing it either.
Using robots regularly can really streamline business processes. The robot can, for example, be set to work hard during the night. This way all the menial, routine tasks are already taken care of in the morning, and employees can focus on the tasks that require human input. At best, you won’t even notice that the robot is there; routine tasks become easier as the robot supports your work in the background.
You don’t have to be worried about mistakes with RPA. The robot follows instructions with the utmost precision. It also keeps track of every movement automatically, which means that the root of any issue is easily traceable.
A robot must, of course, have its own ’supervisor’, a person responsible for its actions. The supervisor’s job is to know what the robot is doing, monitor the quality of its work, and know when to step in if there’s a malfunction. In the future, the responsibility of a robot supervisor will grow to monitor full teams of robots, each performing its own set of tasks. These robot teams require a different kind of leadership than the employee teams we’re used to.
Despite their immense potential, software robots won’t replace us completely. At best, RPA releases us from the numbing routines to focus more on expert tasks that robots are not capable of. In the long run, increased automation will affect our jobs and the skills required, but not necessarily replace them. It comes down to developing your personnel and re-training the people relieved from their routines to find new, more rewarding tasks.
RPA also allows you to implement tasks which were previously too time consuming and expensive with humans. For example, checking business information or reconciliation can be done daily compared to a human doing these tasks once a month. With a robot, the routines are handled faster, better, and more accurately than before, and the robot can even take on tasks not possible by a human.
It’s also not very expensive to implement a robot into your workflow. Implementation of a software robot is much quicker compared to a traditional software project; the robot is typically up and running within a few short weeks. Acquiring a robot is also cheaper than recruiting and training a new employee. By investing in RPA, you obtain a virtual employee that compliments your work force and makes workflow more efficient.