Robotic Process Automation is…Well, let’s focus on meaning at practice, instead of the theory. 😊 Before moving ahead with the definition, we should check why and where it comes from. Therefore, Let’s go for a journey in the history, back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Assuming you have a company operating in a country which is doing a production of home furniture. You have local vendors, customers, and your employees. In order to manage your business you have, a book for vendor records, a book for customer records, a book for employee records, as well as keeping your financial statements in another book. You’re doing well in the business and decided to pursue on scaling up your business by extending to different countries and continents – e.g. see location map as follows.
Do you imagine how could you maintain your books of records? Where would you archive them? How would you communicate or exchange data assets between different subsidiaries?
During the 20th century, the Information Technology (IT) industry started to evolve and grow. It has started proposing many solutions as a system, a device and so on. So for your business to scale up, you decided to run away from paper works and digitize all your data and maintain it via digital platform also. That sounds much faster, reliable processing compared to what you have had, right?
Of course, it’s a happy path scenario, each location got it’s own solution to move their data from paper to computers, or you have acquired new a company which already has a system to operate on. I can give many more examples like these but in the end, you get through with multiple systems running for the same work and for each system, you have a group of people full-time working on maintaining it and so on.
Later big tech companies come up with a new solution which is aiming to streamline, globalize and replace most of your internal systems with a single solution. As an example, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems either replacing your legacy systems or being integrated with them. It’s helping you out a lot in order to run a global business. One click can show you all your business insights, you can coordinate a work with multiple subsidiaries by one click, or whatever location-x does, all the rest of the locations can see it in real-time…
System changes do not mean only systems were impacted by this, also your business or operating model was changing along this journey. Simply all changes you’ve made so far cause you a “Business Transformation”, which means new process designs, organizational and cultural changes, new skill set needs, resource reallocation and many other impacts.
While you are transforming your business throughout any change you’ve made, it means additional cost to your company, additional skills to be hired, additional teams to establish or new contracts to be made with 3rd parties. Sometimes, “The cake’s not worth the candle!”. Therefore you might decide not invest in such a business transformation and decide to maintain your business with current systems although many different systems doing the same work. In that case, you need skills who are doing manual works between multiple different systems (e.g. for data extraction, conversion, upload, delete).
Well, this sounds cheaper than investing heavily in an ERP system? No, even when you go for it, still you have need of lots of manual work to be done during your deployment process and afterward. Especially you are a large corporation doing business in multiple countries.
Due to this fact, Robotic Process Automation has finally got into our life! It all about takes the non-value adding and manual activities from human operations and moves them to a software (Software Robots, Virtual Workforce or any other name you want to give) designed as per written in Standard Operating Procedure or in a Job Aid.
Now, you might raise a question such as “haven’t we been doing this already with IT staffs?”. Yes, that’s absolutely right. We’ve been doing this with “IT staffs” so far. However, RPA concept is slightly different from what we get used to doing with an IT system development. RPA empowers the business functions for efficiency and gives them flexibility in automating business processes easily and fast. Meaning, it’s creating another layer between IT and Business where you have people with analytical skills and business process knowledge sitting, and those easily converting the business process into a automation (robotics) script which runs 24/7 for you. In other words, you as a business process owner no longer need to request a new project with a big budget from IT for such cases, wait for its delivery in order to gain the return on investment, and chase IT staffs for future maintenance.
RPA tools provide you with a simple studio (as simple as Visio), where you can design your process with the visual objects (almost no code needed) and deploy it much faster to gain the returns on investment!
It does not mean that we no longer need IT staffs though. But as mentioned above, the major difference between IT and RPA teams is another layer between IT and business functions, where people with extended skills helping business functions to eliminate manual and non-value adding activities. It enables the business function staffs to focus on more value-adding activities, such as process optimization, re-engineering, increasing customer satisfaction and so on.
During the article, I used ERP systems as an example. RPA is more than it and has more capabilities. There are many other business cases that can be easily RPA applied. I’ll cover those areas case-by-case in the following articles.