AIMultiple ResearchAIMultiple Research

What is RPA? Robotic Process Automation Tech Guide in 2024

Written by
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

View Full Profile

Businesses adopt Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to transform their back and front-office business operations. However, despite RPA  market’s positive outlook, fanbase1, and popularity (Figure 1), business leaders would benefit from learning about the RPA technology before investing in it since many RPA projects fail to reach scale.

A time series graph of RPA's popularity since 2015. It's grown.
Figure 1: RPA’s popularity has risen steadily since 2015. Source: Google Trends

This article provides you with everything you need to know about RPA before adopting it:

What is RPA?

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. It is a generic tool for creating specialized agents, or “bots,” that interact with GUI elements to complete repetitive, rules-based tasks.

RPA meaning

Here are different robotic process automation definitions:

  • RPA definition from Wikipedia: Robotic process automation, also called robotic automation (abbreviated as RPA or RPAAI) is an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.
  • RPA definition from Gartner: Robotic process automation (RPA) is a productivity tool that allows a user to configure one or more scripts to activate specific keystrokes in an automated fashion.

For more technical knowledge and use cases of RPA, download our RPA whitepaper:

Get RPA Whitepaper

And if you feel like you know enough about RPA, learn how to select the right type of RPA vendor. Next, explore our data-driven list of RPA solutions:

Find the Right Vendors

Benefits of RPA

Manual processes are inefficient, error-prone, and lead to employee dissatisfaction.

According to vendor case studies on RPA benefits, leveraging RPA enables businesses to:

  • Increase the speed and reduce errors in customer-facing processes (62%) 
  • Improving business results and employee satisfaction by allowing employees to focus on higher-value tasks 
  • Reduce wage and outsourcing costs (25 – 60%)

RPA’s clear benefits mean RPA implementation is now a question of “how” rather than “why.”

Business benefits of RPA

1. Robotic process automation (RPA) can support a remote workforce & reduce costs

COVID forced businesses to adopt remote work and cloud computing technologies. This increased pressure on IT teams to reduce human workload and operational costs.

RPA software bots can be scheduled to run automatically, with an employee monitoring the progress from a visible dashboard. Moreover, the overall efficiency of RPA can reduce back-office operations costs by 70%.

2. Robotic process automation (RPA) can address system integration gaps

The number of applications a business uses is increasing. Microsoft product suite, for instance, has increased from 3 to 45 since 1990. Connecting legacy systems needs integration. RPA, by leveraging APIs and UI-based automation can bridge the gaps between legacy systems.

3. Robotic process automation (RPA) can tackle remote desktop automation

Computer vision enables RPA software robots to access the user interface, thus automating processes on remote desktops which are widely used by Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers serving many global enterprises.

4. Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate what could be outsourced

Automation can be a better route than outsourcing because: 

  1. 75% of organizations profiled by Deloitte claimed to have maximized cost savings with outsourcing 
  2. Outsourcing still requires coordination with an expensive onshore human worker 
  3. Outsourcing is dependent on a human worker and prone to human errors
  4. An outsourced human worker is getting more expensive in real terms because local wages, especially in emerging countries supplying outsourced workers, are increasing in real terms
Emerging countries within G20 experienced increased real wage growth compared to advanced G20 economies.
Figure 2: Annual average real wage growth in the G20 countries, 2006–19 (percentage). 2

If your company has a manual process, it can be automated via a combination of RPA and AI/ML models.

Learn more about the future of RPA and RPA’s evolution.

How does RPA work?

RPA architecture comprises of: 

  • Programming language: Users create a script with code-based/low-code programming language to create a script (Figure 3).
A screen shot of IBM's RPA studio UI for bot creation.
Figure 3: A typical RPA script run on IBM’s RPA Studio. Source: AIMultiple
  • Orchestration modules: A centralized hub where users can schedule, trigger, and monitor the bot 
  • The bot: A software automation tool that carries out rule-based commands  
  • Interaction capabilities: Users can leverage the bot’s pre-built API connections, or configure new ones, for interactions with legacy systems, ERPs, web browsers, etc.

RPA vs other automation solutions

RPA’s innovation is UI-based automation which allows bots use User Interfaces (UI) like a human. This allows bots to work with

  • Legacy applications without APIs
  • Remote desktops

Because of these benefits, RPA has become ubiquitous and most vendors offer a form of RPA solution as part of their automation offering. However, capabilities of such solutions differ significantly. Read more on identifying the right RPA solution for your business.

But generally, RPA is different from other automation solution in following ways:

  1. Flexibility: RPA is able to automate numerous basic tasks 70%-80% automated
  2. Ease of integration: RPA bots do not need to be integrated with most software. Thanks to screen scraping and existing integrations, they can input and evaluate the output of almost all Windows applications.
  3. Ease of implementation: Low-code/ and no-code solutions make RPA implementation easier than before. 
  4. Cost: Robots are cheaper than humans! If the same business processes can be automated, there are no cost savings in outsourcing them.

Key features of robotic process automation

Features regarding RPA bot capabilities

  • Rule-based execution: RPA software robots execute tasks within a rule-based framework.
    • Upon encountering exceptions , they can issue support tickets and inform a human in the loop.
  • Cognitive capabilities: While RPA bots are not “intelligent,” their capabilities can be enhanced via OCR, NLP, and other cognitive automation technologies.

Other RPA features

  • Integrations: These allow RPA bots to interact with third-party applications.
  • Security: RPA bots need to be secure, from a cybersecurity and business compliance perspective. RPA vendors are getting certifications like SOC 2 to highlight the security aspects of their solutions
  • Analytics suite: The software robots’ performance can be minutely analyzed via visible dashboards that show their real-time performance data.
  • Deployment options: RPA bots can be deployed  on-premises or on the cloud

Types of robotic process automation (RPA)

Different RPA types can be categorized by their:

  1. Programming options: The more advanced the bot ought to be, the more time is needed to program the RPA bot:
  2. Cognitive capabilities: The integration of AI and RPA will allow the bot to undertake more sophisticated automation tasks. 
  3. Usage: Unattended bots require minimal human intervention, while attended bots will need a human-in-the-loop invoking scripts.

Learn more about the different RPA types.

RPA implementation

RPA implementation requires businesses to:

1. Leveraging process intelligence

Have an end-to-end view of business processes to identify those that need automation the most.

IBM Process Mining can help you choose a suitable process to automate  by employing: 

  • Process mining 
  • Task mining
  • RPA-candidate and gap analysis 
  • Digital twin of an organization

IBM Process Mining can create  a list of potential and best processes to automate. With IBM Process Mining, process automation teams can develop data-driven strategies and RPA projects by simulating scenarios based on real-life process data. When automation teams find an automatable task, and record the user’s typical activities, they can use  Automatic Bot Generation to automatically create an RPA bot to automate that activity.

2. Planing RPA implementation based on best practices

Familiarize yourself with the main steps of RPA implementation:

  1. Visibility into processes
  2. Improving and simplifying processes
  3. Choosing partners
  4. Developing solutions
  5. Picking task mining/process mining solution
  6. Selecting RPA solution
  7. Choosing AI/ML to facilitate RPA deployment
  8. Testing solution
  9. Running a pilot
  10. Going live
  11. Maintaining RPA implementation

Learn more about the 11 steps of RPA implementation.

3. Avoiding common RPA pitfalls

  • Organization pitfalls: Lack of commitment from management/team can delay RPA projects
  • Process pitfalls: Attempting to automate processes without fully understanding them
  • Technical pitfalls: Choosing a difficult-to-use RPA tool can slow down development efforts

RPA example use cases & applications

RPA’s basic functions

  • Launching and using various applications, including
    • Opening emails and attachments
    • Logging into applications
    • Moving files and folders
  • Integrating with enterprise tools by
    • Connecting to system APIs
    • Reading and writing to databases
  • Augmenting your data by
  • Data and document processing

RPA use cases/application areas

RPA use cases are abundant. Some industry-wide, basic tasks are: examples that exist in almost all industries are:

  • Application processing:
    • RPA bots can:
      • Extract unstructured data from applications
      • Input them into excel sheets
      • Generate and send reports to designated users and decision-makers from applications
      • Send reports to designated users and decision-makers
  • Quote-to-cash:
    • Leveraging NLP, software robots can:
      • Understand documents
      • Generate machine-readable text from unstructured data (e.g., images, pdf)
      • Move data between different systems
  • Procure-to-pay
    • Software robots are able to:
      • Extract invoice and payment data from multiple systems (e.g., vendor emails, CRM)
      • Validate data against different vendor sources (e.g., contract)

There are also numerous industry processes (e.g., telecom, financial services) or business processes (e.g., marketing, sales) that can be automated with RPA.

Industries that are being transformed by RPA 

RPA can have a greater impact in some industries than in others.

For instance, RPA software can help achieve significant savings, and greater customer satisfaction increases, in: 

Where legacy systems are used a lot, and the repetitive tasks are aplenty. 

So, RPA implementation is useful in the following industries:

RPA case studies

Different industries have different processes. It’s not easy to list all industry-specific automatable functions.Explore our sortable list of RPA case studies, so you can see the processes that companies in your specific industry automate.

RPA tools

One way to answer this question is by focusing on the best RPA provider in terms of funding and popularity. Popular RPA tools include:

But that premise is flawed, as the best RPA tool is the one that is within your budget and meets your needs. Check our article with 7 steps on how to choose the best RPA tool & vendor for your business.

RPA vs. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term for all technologies that mimic human intelligence. RPA bots aren’t intelligent, only replicating human actions. 

So, artificial intelligence is different from RPA in that: 

  • Artificial intelligence tries to find ways to solve an issue.
  • RPA follows rule-based orders  to solve an issue.

For instance, a business might get different emails with varying levels of urgency that need to be sorted, categorized, and responded to. Artificial intelligence technologies such as NLP and OCR can read the content of emails,categorize them and selectively respond to them. 

RPA can then store this data in the right databases and update relevant systems. 

This is how robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (A) can function together.

RPA & hyperautomation

Hyperautomation is the application of RPA (at the center) with artificial intelligence, ML, process mining, and other emerging technologies to automate all automatable business functions. .

So, hyperautomation expands RPA’s applicability to: 

  • Operational decision making
  • Identifying patterns
  • Making predictions
  • Advanced analytics, and more.

RPA alternatives

Robotic process automation technology is not the only way to automate processes that cut across numerous systems. Before RPA, companies relied on 3 approaches (Figure 4):

Robotic process automation technology is not the only way to automate processes that cut across numerous systems. 

Main RPA alternative are (Figure 4): 

  1. IT transformation:  Structural changes to a company’s IT infrastructure to improve its safety, performance, agility, etc.
  2. BPMS: A strategy for figuring out business process inefficiencies and eliminating them.
  3. Outsourcing: Paying an outside (third-party specialist) company to perform a company’s core business processes. 

Business process outsourcing is a subcategory of outsourcing.

Picture of RPA alternatives in terms of their speed of execution and process disruption.
Figure 4: Comparison between process transformation approaches and how RPA ranks among them. Source: Deloitte

Note: Deloitte has not added cost/efficiency as a dimension here. In most cases involving repetitive simple tasks, RPA is also the most cost-effective approach. 

What are RPA consultants?

After choosing the automation software your company needs, you need to decide whether your team has the capacity and experience to complete the automation.

If your team does not:

Leverage an artificial intelligence  consultant like Accenture or Infosys. These providers offer RPA setup support for enterprises that would like to work with a hands-on partner while rolling out their software robots. 

But if you are working for a large enterprise that will use RPA to automate numerous processes, it will eventually need to build its own RPA deployment capabilities. We are seeing companies set up RPA Centers of Excellence and other automation technologies. For example, UBS in the UK has an RPA center of excellence led by Richard Wiggs. This is a worthwhile investment for large companies.

For more, read our in-depth article on RPA consulting to learn about 150+ leading RPA consultants and information on their geographic coverage and the RPA tools they use.

If you are working at RPA consultants, we highlight cost-effective technology partners for RPA consultants in this whitepaper. Vendors providing commercial bots for less than $2,000/bot enable RPA consultants to offer their services to price-conscious buyers as well:

Guide to Choosing an RPA Technology Partner

FAQ

What is RPA?

RPA is a technology that may be used to develop customized agents that work with GUI elements to carry out routine rules-based operations.

What does RPA stand for?

RPA stands for robotic process automation.

What is the origin of RPA?

Blue Prism helped coin the term Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to differentiate its solutions from other automation tools.

For example, Business Process Automation (BPA) software precedes RPA. But it didn’t include user interface interaction, which RPA does.

What does RPA do? 

RPA automates the undertaking of repetitive back-office and front-office tasks, such as copy-pasting information, data validation, sending notifications, and other similar tasks.

What are the benefits of RPA?

RPA reduces costs, augments your workforce and increases speed of completing business activities.

Why is RPA important now?

RPA enhances efficiency with automation, supports remote/hybrid working and closes system integration gaps.

What makes RPA different from other automation solutions?

RPA tends to be more flexible, cost friendly and easy to integrate with other systems compared to other automation solutions.

Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Cem's hands-on enterprise software experience contributes to the insights that he generates. He oversees AIMultiple benchmarks in dynamic application security testing (DAST), data loss prevention (DLP), email marketing and web data collection. Other AIMultiple industry analysts and tech team support Cem in designing, running and evaluating benchmarks.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised enterprises on their technology decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Sources:

AIMultiple.com Traffic Analytics, Ranking & Audience, Similarweb.
Why Microsoft, IBM, and Google Are Ramping up Efforts on AI Ethics, Business Insider.
Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI to pursue artificial intelligence that’s smarter than we are, Washington Post.
Data management barriers to AI success, Deloitte.
Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, World Economic Forum.
Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU, European Commission.
Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, McKinsey & Company.
Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing, TechCrunch.
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck AI startup Hypatos used to raise $11 million, Business Insider.

To stay up-to-date on B2B tech & accelerate your enterprise:

Follow on

Next to Read

Comments

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

34 Comments
Jagan
Mar 25, 2021 at 23:42

This is a great article. Keep posting. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a really high-level programming language and it allows employees to eliminate tasks that are repetitive. This will free them to focus on more complex tasks while knowing that the repetitive tasks are still getting done.

ayushi
Nov 08, 2020 at 16:19

Thanks for sharing such a valuable information. I think robotic process automation is necessary and every organisation must opt it.

VertexPlus
Oct 19, 2020 at 07:49

Hello Cem,

Firstly, I would like to thanks to you for creating and writing this informative post. It is really complete package of knowledge about RPA.

Terrytaf
Sep 20, 2020 at 16:58

Very interesting to read you
Good luck to you

Ollie Felix
Sep 11, 2020 at 06:49

Hi, thank you for such a brilliant post. I have been reading some blogs that gives me more knowledge about this topic research AI multiple. I must say this is one of the best among them. You have done a great research for I feel, thanks for sharing

Manish Mishra
Sep 08, 2020 at 06:37

Great Post.

Brad
Aug 04, 2020 at 18:10

Thanks for an incredible article which really helped me prepare for my job interview as a newbie in a multi-national company’s RPA team. I learned so much from this artcile and the links and resources you’ve provided really helped in kick-starting my learning process. Thanks for your time!

Cem Dilmegani
Aug 08, 2020 at 07:00

Thank you! Very happy to have heard that!

Amine TAZLAFT
Jun 30, 2020 at 12:24

This is a great article. Thanks

ANG KIAM HONG
Jun 04, 2020 at 19:44

Thanks for the easy to digest acticle on RPA. This article motivated me to start thinking of some possible small project to get myself “dirty” to learn and explore the world of RPA. Thanks for that…

AIMultiple
Jun 12, 2020 at 21:30

Good to hear!

Chilkuri bhaskar reddy
May 08, 2020 at 09:36

Nice

Medha B
Feb 24, 2020 at 11:20

Great in-depth analysis and explanation of RPA

Manager at https://nuummite.consulting/

sam
Dec 01, 2019 at 15:19

if we want to give a company RPA solution, we must have to use any tool like Uipath etc?. Or we can develop the solution with code (according to the requirement of the client).
Because in some cases small companies can not afford the license price of these RPA tools but they want to automate their manual process.
For example if we provide a solution to a client by using any programming language (Java, PHP, JS etc) and making their manual task automate, can we call that an RPA solution?

AIMultiple
Dec 06, 2019 at 12:20

RPA is a category of comprehensive products for process automation but certainly not the only way to automate processes. You can use scripts, macros etc. to automate processes as well. We outlined the RPA alternatives previously. However, I would not call these alternative approaches RPA.

Ram
Sep 20, 2019 at 07:05

So much in one post and still not cluttered. Amazing compilation of information on RPA.

Eclature Technologies
Jul 19, 2019 at 08:38

thanks for your intereset on sharing valuable information,through which many people like me can gain the knowledge.keep it up.

Eclature Technologies
Jul 08, 2019 at 10:48

you have great patience and good explanation skills through which any nontechnical person can even understand.

eclature
May 08, 2019 at 09:37

thanks for the info

Jessica Munday
Apr 29, 2019 at 17:25

Hi,

Great website. I would love to share and exchange backlinks with you to help improve both of our websites.

Please see some of our blogs to see where you may add an RPA backlink and feel free to email me if you are interested.

Thanks so much,
Jessica

AIMultiple
May 30, 2020 at 21:40

Thanks for pointing those out!

Infrrd
Apr 17, 2019 at 04:55

Infrrd ( https://infrrd.ai ) provides Artificial Intelligence & machine learning solutions for document control, invoice data extraction, receipt data extraction etc for Real estate, mortgage, financial services, Banking & insurance. Infrrd Enterprise AI platform includes natural language processing, robotic process automation, image recognition, computer vision, and machine learning.

Bernie
Apr 04, 2019 at 10:38

Hi Cem,

Fantastic job. You’ve spent an enormous amount of time getting this blog together maintaining it against a constantly moving target. It’s not easy to dig through the vendor hype, particularly with so much VC money pouring in. The marketing machine is running at full noise.

It looks to me like the people working for nothing already in the off-shore BPO centres servicing western multi-nationals are at greater risk than the jobs that were too hard to send there in the first place.

RPA could become a tougher sell in western markets once everyone works out that a robot per desk is not realistically possible without an analyst / programmer at every desk at this point. It’s not ‘the same as Excel’, no matter how many time someone says it. The plethora of failed projects are most likely due to underestimating what’s needed to implement, and probably also overestimating the return.

It appears that it is still the case that stable, low exception, high volume transactions are the only ones you can get any appreciable and rapid return on automating, perhaps with the same but more complex (such as requiring OCR) in second place.

Great site. Thanks for the education!!

Cheers

Bernie

AIMultiple
Apr 05, 2019 at 15:00

Thank you Bernie! Agree overall. In the short term, I think the programmer/analyst is going to be <1 per desk though. Programming for tasks rather than doing these tasks will definitely bring productivity. However, companies will keep on finding additional value generating activities to do.

rolling sky
Mar 29, 2019 at 09:40

The post is very attractive and impressive.

Karthik
Oct 23, 2018 at 12:21

Nice article. Gained a lot from this. For more info related to free RPA tools refer to the below link which is an RPA Tool used for students & developers where they can use the free version.
https://www.edgeverve.com/assistedge/community/?cmpid=SOC_FBIN_communityedition_41018&source=Digital&subsource=Social_Pyrite

AIMultiple
Dec 28, 2018 at 17:41

We added AssistEdge to our list of RPA tools

rpa uipath guru
Oct 08, 2018 at 13:37

great article sharing your valuable knowledge on rpa and inter relation between rpa and AI

Vikrant
Sep 18, 2018 at 19:51

can you please create a blog for BPO professionals who do not know any of the programming but if they want switch (as my job is gone due to automation) to work in RPA domain as RPA developer then
what should be Best learning path
Do we have to learn programing or RPA tools ?

TereLyn
Jul 12, 2019 at 12:44

A fundamental understanding of basic business operations, data, and programming in nearly any language will help you develop process bots. For example, can you define and use a variable? If-then-else rules? Loop amd increment through a list or array? Are you a master of spreadsheets? Web forms? Relational data tables? Do you understand how to make and troubleshoot API calls? How are your error and exception handling skills with logging? Do you understand every process has inputs, procedures, and measurable outputs? How do you diagram processes–do you understand basic process shapes and swimlanes? Can you estimate the effort it takes to work a process manually? Can you identify the possible cases where a process doesn’t go as planned and needs to accommodate exceptions? Can you estimate your own programming effort? That’s what you need to succeed.

Oliver Harris
Aug 14, 2018 at 14:10

Great article, really comprehensive. I like the amount of effort you put into creating content.

ramakrishnan
Jun 28, 2018 at 10:11

Great post. Thanks for sharing this information.

Gopal
Jun 14, 2018 at 12:39

Hi Thanks for sharing about niche technology and blog is very nice , I have Query about the same RPA, I have seen some of recruiters posted few career option in some MNC with 6-9 yrs exp , so my question is when was it really introduced to open world services & does market have such an experienced professional available ???

appliedAI
Jun 20, 2018 at 06:26

Hi Gopal!
Blue Prism was launched in 2001 and Automation Anywhere was launched in 2003 so it is possible to have 10+ years of RPA experience. However, it’s rare to find developers with such extended experience in RPA. Furthermore, RPA tools developed so much in the past few years that most of the experience from before 2010s would be hardly relevant. If I were you, I would not refrain from applying to such positions.

Binal Patel
Jun 12, 2018 at 12:06

I have read your blog its very attractive and impressive. I like it your blog.

sharath
May 07, 2018 at 05:17

One-shot Information. Great work….Cheers !!!

appliedAI
May 09, 2018 at 18:11

Thanks!

sharath
May 07, 2018 at 05:15

One shot Information…Great creation. Cheers.

Diego
Apr 12, 2018 at 00:39

Thanks a lot for creating this site! I really appreciate it.

Business Cash Advance
Mar 30, 2018 at 22:57

Hi! Thanks for this info! Excellent article.

Business Cash Advance
Mar 16, 2018 at 13:43

Hi there. Many thanks 🙂 Useful article!.

Vimal Jose
Feb 10, 2018 at 07:27

RPA is opening up a lot of avenues! Good details

Ante Gavran
Dec 02, 2017 at 14:12

Great site!

Related research