Automation for Beginners: An Overview of How RPA Works

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Whether you’ve heard about robotic process automation (RPA) before or you’re looking for an effective way to automate business processes, you’re in the right place. 

The term RPA might sound technical, and you might think you need to be a software engineer to understand how it works, but the truth is that it’s a fairly simple process. In fact, 63% of global executives cite RPA as a key component in digital transformation. In this blog, we’ll go over what RPA is, what it isn’t, and how it can benefit your business.

What Is RPA?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a software program that builds and deploys software robots. These "bots" can interface with a computer just like a human can. They can perform actions like:

  • Logging into and navigating applications
  • Extracting and computing data
  • Data entry
  • Process mining
  • Completing the correct keystrokes
  • Understanding what is happening on a computer screen

RPA works with a wide variety of applications, databases, and APIs, and can even automate processes that rely on custom systems. The primary draw of using automation is that computers can perform tasks 70% faster than a human and with 100% accuracy. Plus, RPA is applicable in almost every industry. 

The best use cases for RPA tools are processes that are rules-based, have a high volume of transactions, and include repetitive tasks. Sending invoices, sorting scanned faxes, insurance claims verification, employee onboarding, employee offboarding, and account reconciliation are all common business processes that can be streamlined and optimized with automation software. 

In short, RPA is automating tedious or menial tasks to improve productivity and efficiency in your business so your team can get back to what they do best.

What Isn’t RPA?

Just as important as understanding what RPA can do, is understanding what it can’t do. First and foremost, RPA is not an actual robot (although that would be cool!). An RPA bot is a type of software or application that automates computer processes so you don’t have to manually run or manage them.

RPA is not like artificial intelligence or machine learning models, which have some decision-making capabilities based on the data it processes. RPA software is rules-based, meaning the processes you automate need to have repeatable, logical steps that can be programmed to run over and over again without changing. 

Processes that require strategic thinking or use different steps in every different situation won’t be good candidates for RPA technology. Although a bot can handle complicated business logic, that logic must be defined and documented for RPA to be a good fit.

Lastly, RPA is not a replacement for your human workers. As we mentioned, although it can help save significant amounts of time with business process automation, you’ll still need some human intervention to make strategic decisions and analyze your data. 

I think you’ll be surprised at just how much implementing RPA can positively impact your employees’ satisfaction! In a survey conducted by Forbes, 92% of respondents indicated improvements in this area as a result of RPA implementation.

How Does RPA Work?

As mentioned above, RPA is a broad type of automation technology that applies to virtually every industry. To better illustrate how RPA works, we’ll use a former client as an example and walk through the typical workflow of building a bot. Our client, a large hospital system, was overwhelmed with a 19 million datapoint backlog. Our RPA solution got them back on track.

Step 1: Identify what process to automate 

Your RPA developer can help you assess which processes are causing the most trouble and if they’re a good candidate for automation solutions. Remember, you’re looking for processes that are repeatable, rules-based and time-consuming.

Our client had an existing process where healthcare information about a patient was gathered via pen and paper, then scanned into a database. Following the scan, the information was manually entered into the patient's file on another application. One employee working an 8-hour day could process only 32 assessments a day, if that was the only task they were responsible for. Not surprisingly, they were quickly backed up.

Step 2: Ask clarifying questions

Your developer should be keen to learn as much about your business as possible before diving into a project. Your unique situation will dictate what automation tools are best, how the user interface should work, and details in both the front-end and back-end development.

We watch our clients as they go through the process they’d like to improve so we can ask questions and get a deeper understanding of the process and the problem. This helps us suggest automation solutions that will get to the heart of the issue and provide a long-term solution.

Step 3: Build a bot 

Once we understand the process, we build a bot that works within existing systems to perform a certain task or series of tasks. 

In the case of our hospital system client, we built a software bot that runs 24 hours a day and processes about 4,000 patient screening assessments every day (125x faster than a human). 

The way it works is simple. The bot can read the scanned paper assessment and match the data to the appropriate field in the patient file. It then copies and pastes the data into the correct field, leading to a 0% error rate in data entry.

Step 4: Implement RPA in the business 

Finally, we work with clients to schedule their RPA to run in the background or to teach them how to initiate the process themselves. 

With our hospital system client, the 19 million data point backlog was cleared in 2 months. Since then, the bot has run seamlessly for 2.5 years with 0 errors, no downtime, and no backlog.

Benefits of RPA

With a minimal upfront investment and little to no disruption, it’s easy to understand why RPA has seen rapid and widespread adoption. It helps companies solve operational issues and improve processes, but this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the benefits of RPA. 

Other benefits include:

    • Time savings: Automation maximizes time and increases productivity. By finding efficiencies in existing processes, RPA solutions create better systems that lead to faster results, improved output from your team, and a major advantage over competitors.
    • Overcoming staffing shortages: RPA solutions create systemic efficiencies so you can grow your business without hiring more people.
    • Improved accuracy: RPA removes the risk of human error in repetitive or time-intensive tasks so you can have more confidence in your data and processes.
    • Coordinating disparate systems: RPA can work among various applications and systems.
    • Increased customer and employee satisfaction: When people work on mundane and low-impact tasks, their creativity and productivity decrease. Use RPA to give your team more hours for the work they’re excited about.
    • Significant return on investment: A Deloitte global study found that companies received their return on investment in less than a year.
    • Scalability: RPA easily scales with your business so you can focus on growth without worrying about if your team can keep up.
    • And more!

With all these benefits and more, imagine how robotic process automation can transform your business! 

Are Your Processes a Match for RPA?

By now you’re probably wondering if there are processes in your business that you could automate. Odds are, the answer is yes! 

Even if your entire process cannot be automated, it’s likely portions of the process can be. One of the best things about RPA is that it’s adaptable and customizable for each business use case. There’s no time like the present to pick a business process and let RPA do the work for you.

Read our blog to learn about the 7 criteria to create a successful RPA in your business and determine if your processes are primed for automation.


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