What is Robotic Process Automation?

In simple terms, Robotic Process Automation can be defined as computer code or scripts which act like “digital robots” that can perform actions on digital systems and platforms to complete processes. No actual robots are involved, so none were harmed, but the phrase has been coined and has stuck. Robotic Process Automation is mostly referred to as “RPA” and/or “Bots”.

What does it mean for me or my business?

All businesses have processes. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the volume of processes humans have to perform on a daily basis to ensure businesses can function, are grossly underestimated.

If you consider the sheer volume of digital systems we as modern workers have to interact with on a daily basis to conduct our business, is it any wonder that our most precious commodity, TIME, is frittered away? Remembering passwords and logins, remembering what steps to follow in what system, attaching documents, extracting data, collating data, re-submitting data, getting hard-copy formats into digital formats, managing calendars, counting our steps, measuring everything, keeping you insurance updated…you get the picture…these all involve processes we have to go through BEFORE we’ve even started doing any work.

“Modern life, both personal and in the workplace, is becoming increasingly more complex, yet creating tools to help with our mental limitations are often misunderstood and ignored. Companies need to design processes and work environments in a way that takes our mental and attentional limitations into account. Doing so can reduce errors and provide a lot of benefits for the company, while also improving the well-being of employees”…NICE Ltd and Prof. Dan Ariely, Duke University

We often think of processes as something for which you find a manual with step by step instructions to achieve an outcome…well that is correct…but we forget how many “micro processes” humans complete to do simple tasks to enable them to function in the work environment. For example, starting your computer could be defined as a process (sounds silly, but it’s a micro process). There are logical steps you have to take to ensure your computer will work. Connect it to power, turn it on, and enter your password. If you don’t complete these steps, you cannot work on your computer.

Companies should recognize that employees need mechanisms to help protect them against their very human tendencies. When we have a lot of tasks competing for our attention, it’s quite easy to let our standards slip. And if companies create work environments that let it happen, it will harm them in the long run”. NICE Ltd and Prof. Dan Ariely, Duke University

Now IMAGINE you had a tool at your disposal that could help you take care of some of those many, small, time consuming actions, that would put time back in your day, so you could either get time to do your actual work, or give you more free time…would that not be helpful? That is where we at Torch believe RPA and Bots can add value to you and your business.

“Instead of asking people to fill in for gaps in machine performance, we should require machines to fill in for gaps in human performance” Don Norman

Examples are endless, but let’s take an easy one. Some workers have to login to multiple systems every day just so they can do their work. A Bot could that for them when they turn on their computer and logon to their profile. One logon and then the Bot does the rest (security experts, take a breath, it’s just an example).

Although we have listed very simple examples, one should not underestimate the power of RPA. Make no mistake, RPA can accurately handle complex rules and instructions, and can do so at very high speeds. Bots can follow rules consistently without making mistakes, so complex processes become far, far less error prone.

RPA can remove the mundane, yes, but it can also remove painful and time-consuming data collation, checking, double checking, sending for approval, submissions, and so on.

 Why is defining processes important?

Defining a process is often not as easy as one might think. One of the most difficult things to define is what the actual process is to complete an action within a company. This is literally a case where the same outcome can be obtained in many different ways depending on who does the work. There are always guidelines in businesses but in most cases one is likely to find that different people have slightly different ways of getting the job done. Let’s take a simple example of procuring a new chair for your company. There would likely be a rule in place that says 3 quotes must be obtained and submitted for approval to management. Great. Now let’s look at different scenarios.

Scenario 1

Person A goes online, finds three companies that can provide the chair, gets three emailed quotes, sends the quotes to the manager for review via email, the manager prints all the info and signs off on the preferred quote (we’ll stop here for the sake of the example…and you the reader J)

Scenario 2

Person B has worked with three companies in the past, calls them and asks them for quotes, those quotes are manually dropped off at the office, person B delivers them to the manager for review, the manager has a look and emails the person B with the selected vendor…

Same outcome, two totally different processes for a simple task.

 How much does it cost?

Traditionally the creation and deployment of Bots has been expensive. The commercial models have typically been one whereby a company would have to buy an annual license per Bot. When multiple Bots and tasks are involved, Orchestrator annual licenses come into play, not to mention the cost of developing the Bot

At Torch, we have created a cost-effective, pay as you go, commercial model where you can “hire” the Bot for the work you need done on a month-to-month basis, for as long as you need it. Each business has different needs, so it’s very difficult to put a “Bot price” out to market as there will be development required to build and customize Bots. However, a quick workshop with our team will allow us to very quickly provide the pricing model to suit your business.

 How does it fit together?

There are multiple sources available online that explain the technicalities of how RPA works, we are going to give a parable explanation to help understand the concept. At the end of the day, do we really need to know the technicalities of how our computers function, or do we just need to know how they can be of use to us in the actions they perform?

So in the world of RPA you get three main components called Bots, Studios, and Orchestrators (some people use slightly different terminologies). To understand this, think of the Bots as aeroplanes, the Studios as the workshops where the aeroplanes get built, and the Orchestrator as the air traffic control tower. You can think of Software engineers as the aeroplane builders.

Taken into above context, Software engineers build Bots (planes) in the Studio (workshops) which will later be regulated by the Orchestrator (air traffic control tower) to perform certain tasks in a specific order (land planes in a specific order)….which will hopefully result in putting time back into our lives as well as improve the accuracy of data processed.

 How do I get started?

START SMALL, be patient, and realise that it is a journey that will require discovery, workshops, and Solutioneering™. According to a report by the Global Intelligent Automation Market, 38% of RPA pilot projects fail because of poor choice of process to automate… it is therefore paramount to not simply rush into it. A slow start will likely result in a fast, and well executed finish.

Start by setting up a workshop with your provider of choice, and work out where is a good starting point. An experienced provider will be able to guide you through the journey.