Robotic process automation (RPA) – a small guide for businesses

Technology | 27.11.2017

by David Månsson

RPA is a hot topic in business media. Some fear that physical robots will in fact take over the world. Luckily, the consequences of RPA are far less dramatic. Here is a basic introduction to RPA and the potential benefits for your company.  

This article aims to de-mystify RPA, explain what it is,  demonstrate the benefits and how it is applied in Azets.

But first, have a look at this animated clip, demonstrating RPA’s abilities:

Demystifying RPA

First things first, let’s defuse a common preconception. There won’t be physical robots roaming the offices, no R2D2 will serve coffee or walk the dog. Rather, think of it as a software on a computer that mimics the work a human does on the computer, step by step, click by click. RPA share more similarities with excel macros than Telia’s Ailent or IBM’s Pepper robot. Practically, organisations such as Azets, may partner with a supplier to facilitate a robotics tool to develop and deploy automated processes.    

As the name suggests, RPA tools are designed to automate business processes.

The most prominent and obvious reason to implement RPA is to reduce cost.

Additionally, usual suspects such as increased accuracy in data input and output, reduced process time and faster customer feedback are evident as well.

RPA vs. traditional automation – what’s the difference?

A noteworthy differentiator when comparing RPA to traditional automations, is that robotics works independently of underlying systems and hence does not require system integrations or streamlined processes to work. 80 per cent reduced time on an inefficient process run by humans is still 80 per cent reduced time. Do not optimise for the robot, the robot does not complain, robots are still cheaper than humans.

The mantra: implement for adoption, not perfection, has arguably never been more true in the sphere of process automation.

Great benefits

Robotics can replicate the human workflow and move seamlessly from excel to an ERP system and end up sending a confirmation mail to affected consultants. Furthermore, the time spent launching a process automation into production could be as fast as two weeks for a seasoned developer. This speed allows businesses to immediately reap benefits of their investments. The general rule of thumb is to look for tasks that are rule based, in high volume and frequent recurring. In contrast, robotics process automation isn’t always suitable to deal with tasks that have many variances, low volume or unstructured data, such as free text. For companies such as Azets, for instance, with loads of recurring repetitive tasks, the benefits of RPA seem quite obvious.

Is it relevant for my business?

For many businesses, the answer would be yes. But it depends on the nature of your business.

I consider RPA a quick-fix with merely weeks to reap the return, suitable to overcome inflexible legacy systems.

In contrast, RPA would not be worth the investment for smaller companies or companies born in the cloud.

RPA today is commonly applied to administrative back-office tasks, however, robotics veterans are moving towards the front, allowing RPA to support customer interactions. Essentially, these are companies with at least a few years of experience within enterprise RPA, or companies that have developed an extensive robopark.

In conclusion, I would suggest robotics process automation regardless of industry, business or administrative function, provided they fit the abovementioned description.

I estimate that 30-40 per cent of large Nordic enterprises has started their RPA journey with approximately 1-10 robots in production, based on numerous RPA congresses and relevant business articles.   

A flexible approach with room for failure

New technologies with significant impacts on daily operations invites plenty of unknown challenges and pitfalls. Knowing this, Azets approaches robotics process automation with a “go wide before you go deep” strategy. The idea behind it is to simultaneously sprinkle smaller RPA projects throughout five countries, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Romania, in order to build a wide and incremental knowledge base, rather than investing heavily into one domain. Azets’ strategy allows us to fail fast, share experiences and expose RPA throughout the organization with speed, in contrast to building awareness and knowledge within a defined space.

A tight collaboration between business and IT is imperative for RPA success in arguably any business. Azets is no exception.

The business side exposes potential processes for automation, which is then evaluated and developed together with RPA-developers to align expectations. Limited collaboration between IT and business may delay development, diverging expectations or result in that automations were never put to use at all due to lacking communication.

What RPA is capable of – a story from Finland

Finally, I want to share an example of a recent success in Azets, to further build an understanding of what RPA is capable of. The automated process runs in our Finnish payroll system, Personec W. Here, the robot automate payroll reconciliations and checks for differences between payments from previous month and this month. Any significant differences are highlighted and further investigated by payroll specialists.

Checking for such errors manually is tedious and steals time from our specialists. Delegating the task to robots helps the payroll specialists shifting focus from repetitive error checking to customer interactions and more complex tasks that require analysis as well as problem solving. In addition, robots make almost no mistakes, meaning our robot will capture all payment errors and increase the quality of the process output.

Want to explore your opportunities?

I hope this introduction proved useful to you and your business. There is little or no doubt that RPA has a great potential for increased efficiency – and less hassle. At Azets, we have the right people and the right solutions to identify your needs and unlock the potential for RPA in your business.

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About David Månsson

David Månsson works as Nordic Project Manager at Azets. He is currently managing the robotics process automation setup for Azets. Previously, David has worked as a management trainee in Visma, with software development at Ericsson, mobile application development at IBM and in B2B sales. David has a Master of Science in Information Systems from Lund University, Sweden.