How RPA will be Used to Automate Repetitive and Rules-Driven Business Processes
In order to understand how Robotic Process Automation is used to automate repetitive tasks and business processes, we must first, in its simplest form, understand what a business and process is. Why? Because process is the very foundation, the chassis if you will, for RPA and any other technological capabilities, such as artificial intelligence and workflow management. Let’s start with what a business is since it’s the highest form of our discussion. A business is made up of two components: tasks or work and the distribution of these tasks or work (Figure 1). On the other hand, a process is encased in a business and entails tasks that have inputs, outputs and operators that perform these tasks. Why did I start here? It’s important because before you can look for RPA opportunities you must start with understanding how you want your business to function and what you want it to achieve and then determine how the relative processes play a role in function and achievement.
Also, before deploying RPA it is important to understand workflow management. Not workflow in the sense of process, which could be used interchangeably, but workflow as it relates to facilitating the execution and monitoring of organizational workflows. Workflow managements primary aim is to ensure that process and workflows across human and automated tasks are synced. This relationship between processes and workflow management is an important one. It’s important because most processes in organizations are not automated and are arbitrated manually by humans. Manually arbitrating work items, tracking them, recording exceptions, prioritizing tasks, and allocating these tasks to the workforce is a very inefficient and ineffective way to manage your business and processes. Inversely, managing processes electronically significantly enhances process communication and visibility across and amongst the people working within the workflow. Moreover, digitizing your processes gives you a significant advantage in exposing, in near real-time, and most importantly procuring the process data necessary to begin to think of where your RPA opportunities may reside.
Now, let’s turn to what RPA is. RPA is simply taking the robot out of the human. It is a solution that can perform tasks that are typically carried out by humans. It is software, not a physical machine or structure, that acts as a virtual employee. Bots won’t interpret meaning other than what has been configured for them, meaning they can’t operate outside of a well-structured environment. They are tools that will check the boxes of a process, but they aren’t there to think it through or look for better alternatives, that is the job of a human or alternatively artificial intelligence. As you can see, bots can be an important part of the workforce (Figure 2). Bots can take over menial, day-to-day tasks, allowing people to focus on higher-value activities and critical decision making.
For most businesses that operate a legacy environment, the ability to adapt, change, react, evolve and develop is a herculean effort
At this point, you understand, in its simplest terms what a business and process is and how workflow is a stepping stone to robotic process automation. With this, I advocate two key aspects that make the case for robotic process automation, a virtual workforce: the data and the ability to adapt as work processes change and process data and adaptability and flexibility bots bring to the table. The data aspects related to the process metrics (e.g. cycle time, volumes, etc.), resource performance, and the data from other integrated capabilities across a value stream make it very advantageous for any continuous improvement effort. Versus, manually traversing multiple data sources and stitching this data seamlessly across a value stream to determine where your opportunities are. The other advantage of bots is the adaptability and flexibility as the ever-changing business needs change. For most businesses that operate a legacy environment, the ability to adapt, change, react, evolve and develop is a herculean effort. And what do businesses do to compensate for this challenge? They use people to fill the gap between what legacy systems can’t do and to produce the outputs of processes. Using this combination of legacy technology and people bloats your value streams. So, by using bots to replace capacity that otherwise humans would be used makes the process cleaner and less complicated, therefore, optimizing business and process performance.
Now that we understand how RPA can be used to automate manual and repetitive processes, let me provide you with a few suggestions to avoid falling into the trap of sub-optimizing your RPA efforts. First, always start at the top of the house by identifying your strategic business objectives (SBOs). Second, identify the critical business process value streams that are connected to these SBOs. These first few steps will pave the way for carving out your initial RPA opportunity space. Then, after you identify your RPA deployment space, target the sub-processes that drive a majority of your value stream performance. Now that your opportunity space is defined, look to create handshakes between multiple process technology capabilities (i.e. AI, RPA, WfM) across these targeted value streams (Figure 3). This will put you in a position to establish a working relationship between technological capabilities. This will also maximizethe ever-allusive ROI for your organization’s technological assets. Lastly, and most important, deploy RPA with good business process management. Good business process management entails implementing, monitoring and keeping bots busy. And keeping bots busy is important because bots are good employees. Deploying good BPM practices will put your organization on the path to bringing together business, processes, and technological capabilities as an integrated solution, versus randomly deploying technological capabilities and potentially making your business and processes more inefficient and ineffective.