What false expectations are raised using RPA in companies?
The advantage of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is that it automates repetitive, remedial tasks and frees employees to work on higher value tasks. But many companies believe RPA will enable them to automate even the most complex Business Process Management (BPM) activities, although there are much more suitable solutions available. The following overview shows which other misconceptions companies frequently use to counter RPA solutions.
Misconception #1: RPA fully automates processes from A to Z
It’s the right decision to automate structured, repetitive tasks with RPA, as it’s the best tool for this purpose. It shows its strength especially in shorter, repetitive activities of usually a few minutes. This includes, for example, retrieving data from one system and storing it in another.
RPA is best for activities that require multiple repetitions of the same sequence and could be conducted in parallel to create greater efficiencies. For example, B2B companies often have to check several portals or suppliers in order to buy inventory at the best rate. An employee would have to work through all the steps in each portal sequentially. But with RPA, the software robots act as “digital colleagues”. They monitor product prices and regularly inform employees about changes, retrieving figures from all portals simultaneously.
Unlike BPM platforms, RPA isn’t capable of managing processes end-to-end over a longer period of time. An example: A customer wants to order something, complain or obtain information. Accordingly, a process is triggered in the company. Sometimes it can take up to 14 days until the request is completed. Although the digital colleague can support the employee by retrieving data on the customer, decisions are still made by the individual. That’s why a BPM solution is the much better choice, because the system can integrate employees into the process depending on availability and skills. A combined solution of BPM and RPA proves to be particularly efficient. In this case, the BPM system takes over the administration and controls employees and digital colleagues as required.
Misconception #2: RPA completely replaces other solutions
Conceptually, RPA can be used in almost all processes. However, sometimes commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software is a better choice. For example, companies have been using invoice processing software for many years. Over time, these solutions have improved greatly as feedback and process expertise are incorporated.
Replacing these tools isn’t practical. It would take a lot of time to map all existing functions with RPA – and wouldn’t help organisations reach their goal of end-to-end automation. Nevertheless, many companies still need to connect RPA to these legacy solutions so that software robots can fill the system with the data they need or match it with other applications as needed. However, this only works if companies select an RPA solution that offers the appropriate application programming interfaces (APIs), so they can easily connect systems.
Misconception #3: RPA automates processes best via user interfaces
Although in many cases it makes sense to use existing tools and not simply replace them with RPA, RPA definitely has its raison d’être – to integrate different systems with each other. This is a major challenge facing many companies. Integration is time-consuming and expensive because some clients, the web browser or legacy system applications are difficult to integrate with modern technologies.
However, RPA makes it easy to set up an integration between systems very quickly via user interfaces (UI). Direct interfaces such as APIs or web services, are generally preferred, since these are usually faster and don’t change as frequently as user interfaces. If the UI changes due to an update, some software robots can no longer perform their service and an adjustment is necessary. However, good RPA solutions work in both directions: They allow the simple integration of direct interfaces and the use of user interfaces without having to write even one line of code.
Misconception #4: RPA will replace employees
The fear that employees will be replaced by an automation tool like RPA is growing all the time, especially as intelligent automation platforms become the talk of the town. RPA on its own can’t process unstructured data, such as documents, because it lacks the necessary “intelligence”. But intelligent automation combines RPA and artificial intelligence capabilities, enabling it to easily recognise the difference between an invoice and a complaint letter without consulting a human.
Although software is becoming more intelligent, it doesn’t mean it will replace people. On the contrary, intelligent automation relieves employees of monotonous tasks and gives them back valuable time.
In fact, according to a global Forbes Insight survey, 92 percent of organisations say their employees are significantly more satisfied once RPA is implemented because it makes them more efficient. Rather than spend time answering routine customer complaints, they can focus on higher-value work such as resolving complex customer issues.
Misconception #5: RPA in the back office has no influence on customer satisfaction
As RPA is predominantly used for simpler activities, one might believe that it has no impact on customer satisfaction. But that’s not true. When digital colleagues take over repetitive tasks, not only are requests processed more quickly, but employees spend more time building relationships with customers.
Another benefit of RPA is that it improves data quality. According to estimates, about 5 percent of an organisation’s data is incorrect, either because information is lost during copying or errors are made during data entry. For example, an employee of an energy supplier might read the electricity meter and then accidentally assign the status to another customer when entering it into the system. When the customer receives their bill, the amount due could be significantly higher or lower than before. Customer satisfaction takes a hit because now the customer has to complain to the utility, which can require a great deal of time and effort.
However, when a robot is tasked with copying or storing the data, errors are virtually eliminated. A robot can also quickly and easily check whether the entered data is valid – another way it improves data quality.
Misconception #6: RPA can be used for complex processes and immediately throughout the entire company
Companies recognise that RPA offers enormous optimisation potential. It’s possible to deploy RPA across the enterprise and even use it for some complex processes. However, companies sometimes make the mistake of thinking RPA can help them achieve end-to-end automation. Nevertheless, RPA is better suited for the automation of tasks rather than processes.
The best way to approach end-to-end automation is to establish a “Centre of Excellence”. It’s especially important to include business owners on this project team. They’re closest to processes and understand what each entail. They’re also particularly good at estimating how much time employees spend on tasks.
It’s advisable to start your RPA initiative by automating smaller tasks first and gaining experience with them. Companies often begin with the finance department, where the robots take over the very time-consuming creation of reports. After that, they can extend RPA to more areas and automate more and more complex activities.
With this approach, companies reduce the risk and can even deliver a short-term ROI as small tasks are automated. As they gain more experience, they can scale their RPA efforts and begin working like tomorrow, today.
About the Author
Daniel Schmidt is Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kofax. There, he’s responsible for identifying market requirements, implementing the global marketing plan and positioning the various software solutions such as Robotic Process Automation, Customer Communications Management, E-Signature and some other process automation tools. Schmidt has over 20 years of experience in the enterprise software industry and specialises in improving customer retention technologies and processes.