Robot Process Automation, Pt2 – What is RPA?

This post follows my previous “History & Introduction” of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). If you haven’t managed to check that out yet then please follow this link: Robotic Process Automation Pt 1 – History & Introduction. This post will cover a high level overview of “What is RPA?”


What is RPA?

RPA is simply some software that automates a process and performs the actions of users to do the work that they do, using the systems that they use today (basically, there’s no need for expensive software or hardware changes). The difference being that the software can work in a 24/7, efficient and scalable manner. It can be considered as a non-intrusive method of system integration.

There are 2 types of robot available in the RPA market; Attended & Unattended. You can understand an unattended robot as a robot that runs in a server room, one robot per virtual desktop which will automate 100% of the work in a fully defined process. Unattended robots are mainly suitable for fully documented processes and the automation of end-to-end processes without human intervention (i.e, there is no independent decision-making capability). Mostly, unattended robots are suitable for back office operations.

On the other hand, you can understand an attended robot as a robot that runs on a user’s desktop, controlling work station peripherals where there is a 1:1 ratio of robot to user and is real-time. Typically, attended robots automate less than 100% of the work in a process which is perhaps not fully defined or is partially documented. Attended robots are useful for automation of repetitive tasks combined with human cognitive abilities in real-time. Mostly, attended robots are suitable for front-office operations.

NOT ALL VENDORS CAN SUPPORT UNATTENDED ROBOTS! (Please bear this in mind when defining your automation strategies, choosing a vendor and estimating the associated costs)…

Psssttt – Unattended robots are more expensive than attended robots.

Choosing both attended and unattended robots for the automation of suitably chosen processes will naturally yield better benefits. An 80:20 rule applies though… automating 80% of lots of processes will deliver greater benefits than automating 100% of one process – it is important to work out what is best for you or your organization using a pros and cons analysis of different strategies.

Some of the key capabilities are:

  • UI data entry, update and validation
  • Data import/exports and reformatting
  • File creation and manipulation
  • Email generation and processing
  • Invoking integrations and APIs
  • Screen scraping

What are the characteristics of a process suited to RPA?

When considering RPA implementation, one of the key areas to understand is simply, which processes are suited to RPA. It may seem obvious to some, but, attempting to automate an unsuitable process may lead to failed implementations and a the building of “bad press” around a businesses automation strategy – particularly among the team members who may later have to pick up the pieces of an automated process gone wrong. The following are example characteristics of a process that would be suited to RPA:

Processes that…

  • … require access to multiple systems
  • … are prone to human error
  • … can be broken down into unambiguous rules
  • … once started, need limited human intervention
  • … require limited exception handling
  • … are executed frequently, in large numbers or with significant peaks in workload

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