1. What is RPA?

RPA – Robotic Process Automation is an application of technology to automate tedious, mundane, repetitive, but rule-driven tasks. Simply put, if your staff are performing the same task, day in, day out, based on predefined set rules, the chances are, that those aspects of their roles could be automated. This allows the business to make better use of their teams, such as in developing stronger client relationships, products or improving customer service; many aspects of which as a key differentiator in today’s difficult climate.

RPA in this sense means, the automation of the manual tasks using a software application – ‘Robot’ that follows set rules to achieve the same business objectives as the human staff would, but doesn’t make the same ‘human-errors’ and achieves all these in a fraction of the time that would otherwise be taken when performed manually. RPA is so versatile, in its various applications, that it can be used for anything from processing customer transactions, manipulating data, triggering automatic responses, monitor and keep several legacy systems in sync and communicate with multiple channels.

In summary, we can conclude that RPA is simply an application of technology to achieve higher efficiency and accuracy in performing business processes through the use of technology.

2. Why automate business processes, and free humans? Doesn’t that lead to job-losses?

Quite contrary to popular belief, adoption of new technology like RPA by the businesses, actually leads to more sustainable growth and further creation of more jobs in the long run. But why is that the case?

Human resource is best utilised in the areas of business where there is a need for customer service, human interaction, creation and innovation, however, as we see with many companies humans are employed simply to perform mundane repetitive admin tasks that stifle their creativity and progress; leading to low staff morale and high labour turnover.

RPA is not a replacement of the tasks performed by the humans, rather RPA is the tool that helps a business ‘super-charge’ their staff by providing an efficient working environment. Once boring, non-productive and non-income-generating admin tasks are automated by the RPA robots, the human resource is free to take on more decision-making and creative responsibilities.

Consider a scenario,

At a financial institution, a staff-member manually checks transactions between various databases and spreadsheets to comply with AML and other sanctions. This highly educated and trained staff member would sooner or later feel undervalued and demotivated having to perform mundane, yet important work, for too long, not to mention the potential that they might make mistakes. Now, if an RPA robot takes care of 95% of the analysis of the transactions automatically and raises an exception report of 5% of the cases for the highly trained, human team member to action, the staff member would feel much more valued, would be less likely to miss a vital aspect of data, that might of otherwise lead to an incident for the entity, or indeed, a fine. It would also offer them more time to fully investigate the individual exceptions within the report. In addition, this would also offer a full audit trail of the actions taken to each individual event.  

3. What does RPA mean in practice? How will RPA change my operation and resources?

In practice, RPA comes in several forms ranging from a quick record-and-play bot to a complex algorithm with multiple branches of scenarios covering several permutations of cases.

RPA solutions can be developed in several ways. Simple record-and-play bots can be developed by non-technical staff at the operational level, while more complex solutions require technical knowledge. In practice, once developed the bot can perform the pre-determined task at a remarkable efficiency and accuracy, freeing up valuable human resource.

In the current, constantly changing business environment, businesses need to adapt their processes and products constantly to stay on top of the competition. Several industries have myriad of regulations that they need to comply with and these obligations, no matter how important, are non-income generating. As a result, business growth and progress get offset by this additional human resource cost.

Adoption to RPA technologies can help a business save or make money by both freeing up the staff to serve customers and provide better, more accurate and updated customer propositions. According to Gartner, the world-wide RPA market grew by 63% in 2018. This indicates that those businesses who are early in adopting RPA technologies will get a competitive advantage over those who fall behind.

4. Does RPA need coding or complex development? How do I go about trying before a bigger commitment?

Progression from early adopter to fully automated BPA (Business Process Automation):-

A simple bot, that records the staff member’s keystrokes and plays the same scenario repeatedly, can be developed in minutes, using off-the-shelf record and play software. This can be useful in quick and one-off situations, where futureproofing of the bot, and wider automation is not required. This type of development can be done by any non-technical staff member, using software such as Blue Prism and UIPath. We work for several clients that have these simple types of automations, which have been developed internally using these types of software and we provide further support and maintenance for these. Additionally, we help these clients to transition from this introductory RPA products to more sustainable and future-proof solutions.

The way we often explain this, is in terms of tailoring, that these types of automations, from these platforms, are a mass market, high street retail, proposition, while Agile Automations are a Saville Row Tailor. If you want red silk lining, with your initials on the inside pocket, that will last you years, we can do that in Agile; if you need a suit for a one-off wedding or job interview, then we can provide this, but you might find that the high street has just what you need, buying ‘off the peg’ at a reduced price, but it might only last you a few wears and meetings. When Agile Automations build a proposition, it is there to last, while meeting your exacting needs.

Next level: unattended, strategic RPA solution: –

A more complex RPA solution that is capable of entire Business Process Automation (BPA), requires more strategic planning, invested resources and continuous support and maintenance. A lot of businesses looking to adapt to RPA are reluctant to invest heavily in this relatively new technology and sometimes they simply do not have enough technical skills or financial resources internally, to ensure a successful outcome. For these clients we are able to provide a fully supported, dedicated proposition where we scope, design, develop, test, implement and maintain the solutions throughout their life-cycle; sharing best practice throughout, offering access to Agile’s years of experience of successful RPA implementation.

If you are a business that is just about to start on an RPA discovery journey you will find our white-paper on ‘Strategies for successful RPA implementations’ very useful, where we outline some key considerations when deciding whether to look at a bespoke platform proposition, such as Agile Automations, or indeed a platform solution; it also offers so key aspects to look at and consider, including some quick wins for your organisation starting out on your automation journey.

Proof of concept- PoC– Try before you buy:-

As a part of Agile Automations’ unique proposition, we work with our clients to build a workable, benefit-realising ‘Proof of Concept’, at a fraction of the cost. This allows prospective clients to try this new technology without major commitment or investment and if we are to embark on a larger project together, then we will absorb these costs into the overall project, removing the risk entirely.

5. Which RPA tool is the best?

This is like asking a joiner, ‘which screwdriver is the best?’. Just like different jobs and indeed different skill-set and experience of the joiner would require different tools, RPA implementations too, follow suit.

RPA solutions come in various forms as described below:

Studio software:

A great starting point for a new adopter to test the capabilities of RPA in automating real-life business processes. This may be facilitated by internal technical teams or outsourced. However soon it will be evident that to achieve any sustainable benefit, there will be a need to invest in a more permanent technical team for development, support and maintenance of the tools.

A known limitation of such record-and-play software tends to be that they fall short of 100% automation, so there may be a need for patch-work of part automation and part manual tasks to complete the entire process.

These tools are generally good at automating a small, single process that is linear in nature and doesn’t have too many decision branches or complex scenarios. Also, they have limited capabilities for covering unknown permutations so sooner or later the businesses realise that these solutions are great some automations but not all. There is still something always missing.

Bespoke, custom-coded RPA solutions:

These are the epitome of the automations. Just like any sophisticated software on most corporate computers, these are developed by highly trained technical personnel using industry’s top algorithms and APIs.

These solutions usually have capabilities to automate entire business operations, spanning several teams and interacting with several systems at the same time.

The key advantage of such solutions is that they can be completely unattended RPA solutions achieving 100% automation, eliminating the need for any patchwork of manual input. Industries leading technologies like Machine Learning, AI, user-configurable UI and super adaptability to change are all hallmarks of such solutions.

So, which one is the best for the prospective business willing to adopt RPA technologies?

The key is to conduct thorough strategic planning and weave RPA implementations in wider digitisation of the entire business. However, as we can appreciate that such a long-term commitment requires huge financial investment, we have outlined the following progression that most businesses would find useful in the adoption of RPA.

Process Discovery and POC: –

Identify a few processes that would deliver maximum benefit with automation and use either the off-the-shelf solutions or hire an expert RPA provider team like Agile Automations to conduct a small ‘Proof of Concept’.

POC to a full product: –

Once the POC has been successful in realising anticipated benefits, assign a project team like Agile Automations, to build an end-to-end solution.

Implementation, Training, Support and Maintenance: –

If you are a small to medium-sized business, it will be beneficial to contract Agile Automations’ fully supported proposition which ensures that throughout the life cycle of the project, while if you are a large business and aspire to build internal technical capabilities, you can take advantage of Agile Automations’ accreditation programme that covers all aspects of RPA implementation from scoping all the way to maintenance and evaluation.

So; why did Agile Automations go Bespoke?

Bespoke, custom-coded RPA solutions deliver some unique advantages over off-the-shelf, record-and-play products, and we wouldn’t want you to miss any of them, so we wanted to summarise these quickly below.

  • Agility: No business process or product ever remains the same for a very long time, so to keep up with the constantly changing, competitive business landscape; it is essential that solutions remain agile and future proof. The bespoke designed, hand-coded solutions are able to be maintained through Agile Automations dedicated, proactive, maintenance program.
  • Flexibility: We build our solutions using modularised APIs that can work independently, but also, with each other. This gives noticeable flexibility in terms of additional systems, on-the-fly calculations, machine learning, data management and memory storage. Combining all these technical advantages, our solutions are truly capable of achieving as high success as an ‘AI’ program. More importantly- they are able to push and pull data across several systems simultaneously, across several systems.
  • Low-cost personnel, no third-party license: As being custom coded these bespoke solutions do not require any software license or investment in highly trained and expensive teams. These solutions are built using industry-standard programming languages like C# or java, providing robust foundations and there is no shortage of developers understanding C#, considering these languages are on the syllabus of all universities; give you the comfort that the platform is future-proofed for years to come.