RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is an emerging technology involving bots that mimic human actions to complete repetitive tasks.
RPA means automation of white collar tasks via software bots. Those that are new to the RPA industry, could think of intelligent humanoid robotic companions when they hear robotic process automation. However, we may never see physical humanoid robots in white-collar jobs since knowledge work is becoming ever more digitized. Digital work is making physical bodies redundant in non-sales positions. RPA bots are digital workers that are capable of interacting with user interfaces just like we do. And that opens a wide range of possibilities for automation.
What is RPA?
RPA is a generic tool to create specialized agents which can automate clerical tasks
Our definition above is short yet specific, however, there are quite a few longer definitions of RPA out there:
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 provider Symphony: Any capability (software and services) that allows you to transact in any IT application or website, typically in the same way a human would, to automate complex, rule-based work
Institute for Robotic Process Automation & Artificial Intelligence: Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.
As these definitions clarify, RPA is a very flexible tool. The more important step in understanding RPA is understanding how your business can use RPA. Browse our comprehensive list of RPA use cases in business to identify how your business can benefit from RPA.
What is the origin of RPA?
Blue Prism, founded in 2001, coined the term according to tech media as well as UiPath, a competitor. We don’t know the inside story but differentiating from several existing solutions may have helped them.
For example, Business Process Automation (BPA) software was a mature solution when RPA was emerging. However, in most cases BPA software did not include the capability to interact with user interfaces, a key differentiator for RPA bots.
Another automation solution was WinAutomation from Softomotive. It was launched in 2005. It is an easy-to-use automation solution but it lacks enterprise features and it may have been beneficial for Blue Prism to differentiate its enterprise focused solution from WinAutomation.
Why is RPA a thing when any system can provide automation?
RPA’s power lies in its 4 super powers:
- Flexibility: You can program an RPA bot to complete almost any repetitive task. Consider most daily jobs. Workers receive some input whether it is an email or a system notification. In response, they conduct a rule-based analysis and take an action like making changes on files or programs. An RPA bot is also capable of doing all of these things.
- 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.
- Ease of implementation: RPA can set up as simple as setting up a macro by recording your actions. There are also drag&drop interfaces for setting up automation. The next generation RPA bots, also called cognitive or intelligent automation, take this one step further, learning activities to be automated based on employee’s actions.
- Cost: Robots are cheaper than humans! Business process outsourcing solutions are no longer economical when those processes can be automated yielding better results and requiring less cost than outsourcing. However, BPO firms also smartly embraced RPA reducing their costs even further. So some BPO solutions can be considered as outsourced RPA solutions and they can be very efficient as they leverage a BPO’s economies of scale.
What are different types of RPA?
To be more specific, there are 3 ways to use RPA tools:
- Attended RPA: Bots invoked by the user. Used by customer facing functions like customer service.
- Unattended RPA: Bots that perform tasks in batches based on automatic/timed triggers
- Hybrid RPA: A combination of both
For more, please read our RPA article which also covers different types of RPA in detail.
Why do I need to know about RPA?
If you are part of a business that relies on any repetitive tasks, you need to know how RPA works. Your team and your customers would be grateful because the RPA bots that we explained above, can take on boring repetitive tasks and perform them with fewer errors than humans.
Most companies have hundreds of repetitive processes that are too simple to be engaging for humans. Implementing RPA can increase your company’s efficiency and improve customer experience while allowing employees to work on meaningful tasks.
For more, we have a detailed section on why RPA is relevant.
Unfortunately, none of possible alternatives to RPA can provide all of these. Now that you know what RPA is, read more on what RPA can do for your business depending on your industry or business function, get all your RPA related questions answered or learn more about the future of RPA including no code RPA.
If you feel like you know enough about RPA, we can help you explore the right RPA vendors for your business or
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