RPA - Robotic Process Automation - What is it and Why do we Want it? [ A Primer ]

Nov 27, 2019 by Matt Dixon

How to automate repetitive tasks for your business.

Robot

When a lot of people think of robots or automation, they think of people losing jobs. When I think of automation, I think of a boost to employee morale. The automation we are talking about is the type of automation that performs the menial repetitive tasks that most people don't enjoy doing. This lets them do more meaningful work, and providing more value to the organization.

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) - An Overview

A lot of work we do is repetitive. I'll bet you can think of several times a week where you have done something that was repetitive. Some times that could be entering data into multiple systems. Other times it could be preparing an invoice for payment.

Just like a physical robot has taken over a lot of the repetitive and sometimes dangerous work, automation software can perform repetitive tasks on a computer. RPA is one way to automate those repetitive actions so you don't have to keep doing the same thing over and over again. RPA uses bots to achieve this automation. These bots are not physical robots, but small applications that run on a computer.

There are two types of automation bots; attended and unattended. Attended bots will require some user interaction. Most of the work is automated, but there are parts in the process where a user will do their part. This could be either kicking off the bot, or providing information not available to the bot. Unattended bots will run in the background. These bots are triggered by a timer, or some sort of event, like an email being received for example.

What to Automate

Most things can be automated. The key to a successful RPA implementation is to automate some tasks that are high in frequency. A good example of this is processing numerous invoices and entering the details in the accounts payable application. The RPA bots can automate opening an application, logging into a website, entering data from one system into another, and performing tasks in the various back-office applications.

Where to Automate

Any industry can benefit from automation, and almost every department can benefit from automation.

RPA bots can run on almost any type of computer. From Windows to Linux to MacOS.

Out With the Old

As an example, lets use the task of processing invoices in the Accounts Payable (AP) department. Imagine receiving either paper or electronic invoices. Once a paper invoice is received, let us assume that the invoices will be scanned. From there the AP Clerk can process the invoice.

  • Check for new invoices
  • Create a new record in the AP system
  • Match the vendor with a record in the AP system, or create a new vendor
  • Manually copy line item invoice data
  • Verify the discount rate, if applicable
  • Verify sales tax
  • Verify invoice total 
  • If the invoice total is over a specific threshold, send it over to a supervisor for approval
  • Once approval is received, a payment can be sent

In with the New

Once the bots have been programmed, and trained, the process is very simple.

  • The bot for electronic invoices in a file share
  • Once an invoice is received it is processed and added to the AP system
  • Notify a supervisor if the invoice total is over a specific threshold
  • Once the invoice is ready to be paid, the clerk is notified
  • The process is repeated

The Accounts Payable Clerks now focus on looking at anomalies in the invoice processing. Any piece of data the bot was not able to process, the clerk can now add as training for the bot. Next time the bot encounters that scenario, it has learned what to do.

Summary

The automated process is greatly simplified. Of course, it is not completely autonomous. There will be instances where a clerk will have to provide some help. Having said that, it lets the AP Clerks focus on what really matters. Ensuring accuracy, and sending out payments for the many incoming invoices.

Through automation, and with a little bit of thought, your business can be running more efficiently than ever before. This lets you focus on what really matters; your business.

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