August 12 2022

41 min read time

Everything You Need To Know About RPA

RPA is changing the game for industries worldwide. But how does using robots to streamline processes work in practice, what can be automated, which scenarios are perfect for RPA implementation, and how much does it finally cost? (and how much you can save?). Read the guide and find out.

Michał Rejman

CMO at Flobotics

RPA: Why is it worth your money (and our time)?

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

This revelation by the Red Queen may have perplexed teenage Alice in Through the Looking Glass, but for modern executives, these words sound painfully familiar. As the culture of speed permeates every industry, today’s businesses move at a feverish pace. They take advantage of just-in-time production, fast turnaround cycles, real-time decision-making, and instant user interactions to resonate with their customers and build a competitive edge.

For many companies, speed and agility are the most valuable assets. The faster information, decisions, and interactions, the shorter the time to meet market demand and turn a profit. However, certain processes are massive stumbling blocks to the sustainable efficiency of these ambitious businesses. There’s a definite number of tasks a human worker can perform within a specific time limit; low productivity directly impacts a company’s bottom line.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

If you’ve never heard about robotic process automation, the term may seem a bit intimidating. Indeed, the technological setup underlying RPA solutions is quite elaborate. It can involve voice or image recognition, predictive analytics, cognitive decision-making, self-healing, and much more.

From the business perspective, the good news is that the concept of robot-enabled automation is rather simple to grasp. It all boils down to delegating high volume, monotonous work to bots for optimized business processes, and reduced operational costs.

Any business process that is

● repeatable

● rules-based

● high-volume

can be optimized with Robotic Process Automation.

Here is a short video to better explain the concept:

RPA technology consists of bots, or software robots, that mimic a human to perform repetitive, high volume tasks faster and with greater accuracy. For example, the bots can read and input text, assign item categories, retrieve data, perform queries, and maintain records. (Scroll down to the section ‘RPA for industries’ for specific examples).

Of course, there’s slightly more to RPA than this. But at this point, this simple definition will suffice. One more thing that’s worth realizing upfront is the distinction between attended vs. unattended automation:

Attended automation – As the name suggests, attended automation needs guidance and cannot function on its own. Attended bots require collaboration with humans, assisting users and employees with tasks, and interacting with them to provide support. They are typically used in front-office activities to boost productivity, eliminate human error, increase compliance, and speed up task execution.

Example: Call center automation robots that assist agents, e.g., by prompting them on the next step of the script or finding answers to a customer inquiry.

Unattended automation – By analogy, unattended automation is fully autonomous and runs regardless of human assistance. Unattended bots are pre-programmed to work independently, following a rules-based process. They can be triggered by specific events to take action or scheduled on a timer (see also RPA & AI: What’s the difference?). This type of robotic process automation excels at batch back-office activities.

Example: RPA bots that can extract data from multiple sources, such as invoices, bills, or bank statements, and compare them for accuracy, approve, reject, or send for further processing.

Benefits of Robotic Process Automation solutions

Whether running on a desktop or a server, RPA provides companies of all sizes with numerous benefits, from improved productivity, better quality and accuracy, to lower processing costs. What’s more, it brings a level of advancement to automation that is much more evolved than the previously available technologies.

At the same time, robotic process automation is easier to use and faster to deploy than, e.g., sophisticated AI algorithms; therefore, quite often, it becomes a quick, low-risk starting point for streamlining work and optimizing profits through digitization. These factors account for an intensifying interest in RPA solutions.

“While we see RPA as a huge driver of improved performance and efficiency, the impact correlates back to accuracy and customer experience.” Prakash Mall, Senior Director at RPA, Target

The advantages of RPA for business are as follows:

1. Increased speed and productivity

By removing repetitive effort and reducing the overall processing time for basic jobs, RPA significantly increases the productivity output per employee.

2. Improved processes

Process optimization is the foremost goal of RPA. By applying automation, companies can streamline their workflows, eliminate errors and disruptions, and complete projects fast.

3. Reduced operating costs

Deployed with a minimal upfront investment, low-maintenance automation bots bring immediate ROI and enable reduced operational costs — all of that leads to significant savings.

4. Fewer errors

Robotic automation solutions are 100% accurate, which leaves your data clean and well-organized, productivity intact, and service quality — flawless.

5. Empowered workforce

As they reduce routine grunt work, software bots take the burden of tedious tasks off your employees’ shoulders and empower them to unleash their full potential.

6. Impeccable customer experience

24/7 availability, immediate response, and ultra-fast processing of user queries — attended RPA robots make all of this possible by freeing up agents’ time to deepen customer relationships.

7. Enhanced decision-making

Strategic decision-making relies on actionable insights. By organizing key data and providing quick access to crucial information, RPA helps leaders make timely, informed decisions.

8. Regulatory compliance

RPA solutions keep a record of every operation and reliably follow the established rules, providing businesses with traceability and full oversight of their data and processes.

38% of US executives believe RPA is becoming the most valuable technology to power financial planning and decision-making
Source: State of Process Mining and RPA

Robotic Process Automation on the technological landscape

Do RPA bots dream of killing our jobs?

OK, so robotic process automation bots never sleep and don’t make clerical errors. They don’t get paid, remain alert and productive 24/7, and complete tasks a great deal faster than human workers. Considering these facts, it seems reasonable to ask this: If RPA adds so much value and asks almost nothing in return, won’t it threaten our jobs?

The key to answering this question is to understand that the RPA’s role is transformation, not annihilation.

Robotic automation takes over routine tasks to release the power of human creativity, problem-solving, and inventiveness, and redirect employees to do purposeful work (while reducing costs). The technology is poised to transform the way we work, yet it is intended to impact specific tasks rather than entire professions. The doom and gloom scenario of automation bots displacing all human workers is highly implausible. And here’s why:

1. Robots do robot jobs.

They’ve been created to perform specific, repetitive, and tedious tasks that don’t require a creative spark or human ingenuity.

2. The technology is meant to support and not replace humans at work.

RPA bots are there to free us from routine work and give us more time to focus on value-added activities.

3. Robotic automation solutions are pre-programmed;
they need clear objectives and cannot plan, organize, and prioritize work independently.

4. Some tasks cannot be automated.

while others require human interaction or guidance.

5. Automation creates jobs!

RPA means more volume, better customer service, and more business. More business equals growth. And ultimately, growth creates more jobs.

Finally, dedicated, adaptable employees with a strong work ethic are extremely hard to find. No one in their right mind would want to lay them off on account of automation.

Over one-third of businesses expect to extend their workforce for new roles by 2022. Worldwide, the number of new jobs will offset the impact of automation.
Source: WeForum

RPA vs Business Process Management

Are Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Process Management (BPM) the same?

Because both RPA and BPM enable business process improvement, sometimes it may be confusing to distinguish between the two technologies. While some of their aspects overlap, robotic process automation and business process management are distinct and should be seen as complementary pieces of business transformation and optimization.

What’s the difference between RPA and BPM?

BPM vs RPA

RPA or BPM — which one to choose?

As you can see, RPA and BPM solutions fall into entirely different categories.

BPM platforms are a core component of business development and transformation. They are deeply transformative and geared towards achieving enterprise-wide gains in agility, productivity, cost efficiency, and compliance.

RPA systems work mainly by replacing tasks previously done by humans. Automation bots won’t optimize the entire workflow; neither will they disrupt the state of being in your company. Instead, they excel at optimizing non-critical tasks that do not require complex decision-making but take time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

As BPM and RPA are complementary, the question should be not whether to choose one over another but rather how best to align these automation technologies for maximum impact.

Robotic Process Automation versus Artificial Intelligence

Distinguishing between robotic process automation and artificial intelligence is even more difficult than understanding the difference between RPA and BPM systems.

Both technologies have to do with software that performs simulations to support humans in carrying out various tasks, so there’s a relationship. To make things harder, RPA and AI can come together in what is called ‘Intelligent Automation,’ or ‘hyper-automation.’ So, what’s the difference? Let’s point it out.

RPA vs. AI: Is there a difference?

A common way to differentiate between RPA and AI is by making the following analogy:

AI mimics human intelligence and augments our capabilities, while RPA mimics human actions and helps us accomplish goals faster.

Robotic Process Automation - key features

  • RPA is driven by processes, and it needs to be programmed.
  • It primarily applies to repeatable, straightforward processes.
  • Its purpose is to automate grunt work and improve workflows.
  • RPA handles rule-based work and does what it’s told.
  • Thanks to its simplicity, RPA doesn’t require high CPU usage.
  • It’s purpose-built for business use and doesn’t need expert skills to control.

Artificial Intelligence - key features

  • AI relies on high-quality data and can define tasks and goals on its own.
  • Its applications are virtually unlimited; AI can perform highly complex jobs.
  • It focuses on solving issues that would otherwise need human intelligence.
  • AI software can self-learn, continuously improving its outcomes.
  • AI systems demand massive computing power from hardware.
  • It usually takes data science expertise to operate sophisticated AI systems.

As you can see, stacking up AI against RPA is like comparing apples to oranges. It just won’t work. However, in recent years, we have witnessed a growing convergence of the two technologies across numerous applications. It happens especially when business processes require more sophisticated solutions than basic automation. Simple automation bots can, for instance, process organized data structured by AI systems, enabling organizations to automate unstructured content.

The Most Powerful Technologies such as BPM, RPA, and AI combined for one outcome – Intelligent Automation. It’s powerful, holistic automation of your key business processes that will hyper boost your efficiency and increase profitability. What can you do with Intelligent Automation and how we can help you read here.

RPA platforms overview

Robotic Process Automation solutions are fairly simple, which makes them very attractive for many companies seeking business optimization, especially if they launch with little capital. In addition to being relatively easy to deploy and handle, automation bots are also quite affordable.

Open and subscription-based RPA platforms enable quick automation of business processes without significant software investment. We use them at Flobotics to build custom implementations that allow our clients to ramp up productivity and unleash revenue potential.

Here are some of our favorite technologies:

1. RPA software by UiPath

Considered by many as the best RPA tool, Romanian UiPath first started as DeskOver in 2005. Initially, the company outsourced automation libraries and software development kits to global corporations like IBM, Google, and Microsoft. Over time, it launched its own product, specifically targeting the RPA industry. Today, with over 7,000 customers, nearly 3,000 employees, and a robust community of contributors, UiPath is an enterprise of its own. It provides a complete platform for desktop automation that brings together process mining and RPA.

Strengths:

  • Comprehensive platform
  • Low-code environment
  • Free community license

2. RPA software by Blue Prism

Blue Prism offers RPA solutions that provide digital workforce capabilities to streamline and facilitate complex, end-to-end operations. The technology based on the Microsoft .NET framework first emerged in 2001 to optimize backend operations. By now, Blue Prism has become a complete front and back-office solution, automating tedious tasks through intuitive drag and drop interfaces to cater to non-technical users. Blue Prism can automate any application via any platform, and it is favored by enterprise customers.

Strengths:

  • Code-free solution
  • Cross-platform support
  • Low maintenance requirements

Clash of the Titans: UiPath vs. Blue Prism

3. RPA software by Automation Anywhere

was founded in 2003, which places it among the industry trailblazers. The platform offers a good depth of functionalities and features, combining RPA with cognitive elements such as NLP, data analytics, and machine learning capabilities. The robust tool can be deployed in the cloud or on-premise, and it comes with a tool that allows the users to develop, deploy, and manage their own bots. Over 2.4 million bots have been deployed on the platform by now, serving more than 4,000 customers worldwide.

Strengths:

  • Ease of use with user-friendly UI
  • Highly scalable application
  • Low TCO as it’s hosted in the cloud

4. RPA software by KOFAX

Operating internationally, KOFAX specializes in the development of intelligent capture and exchange solutions and services. The company added RPA to its process management software portfolio in 2013, to help large organizations transform data-intensive business processes, reduce manual work, and minimize costs. To challenge its more experienced competitors in the process automation field, KOFAX combines RPA with intelligent document processing, machine learning, BPM tools, data analytics, and other advanced technologies. Together, they provide a complete bundle of automation solutions suitable for global organizations that the company targets.

Strengths:

  • Tailored to large organizations
  • Integration with advanced analytics
  • A connected ecosystem with enterprise apps

5. Power Automate from Microsoft

Previously known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate is a cloud-based system that allows users to create automated workflows that simplify process management. The platform provides robust automation capabilities that include attended and unattended RPA through easily configurable workflows (drag and drop, point and click) that automate both individual tasks and large-scale systems. Microsoft’s RPA connects to enterprise apps without APIs; it can optimize work for legacy apps that don’t support API connectivity. Thanks to AI-driven intelligence, Power Automate bots can work with structured and unstructured data from digital and analog sources.

Strengths:

  • Support for all kinds of apps and platforms
  • Flexibility to attend to various scenarios
  • An intelligent understanding of data

RPA examples across industries

RPA first emerged in the early 2000s, but it wasn’t until around 2015 when the technology entered the mainstream. In the beginning, robotic automation predominantly helped optimize processes in the BPO, banking, and finance sectors.

Gradually, RPA vendors started focusing more on industry-specific processes in other verticals, such as healthcare, retail, energy & utilities, and manufacturing. As a result of rapid expansion, today, the global robotic process automation market is growing at an impressive rate. With a 22.3% CAGR, it is projected to reach $6.81 billion by the end of 2026. This is hardly surprising. RPA solutions provide huge cost and productivity benefits across all industries, as we will prove in this section.

RPA across industries

1. RPA in BPO

As BPO is all about business optimization, the industry is a perfect match for RPA solutions. By replacing repetitive tasks, enhancing workforce capabilities, and reducing operating costs, robotic automation presents new opportunities for BPOs to manage their global operations.

The automation technology is particularly useful for streamlining back-office processes and eliminating inefficiencies inherent in critical business systems, such as ERP, CMS, and CRM. The bots can take over mundane tasks such as data entry, validation, and classification, report generation, file and document manipulation, data reconciliation, and many more. This way, they allow outsourcing teams to get busy with value-added work, driving enhanced productivity, and reducing error to achieve greater work consistency and SLA compliance.

Highly scalable on-demand bots enable BPO companies to achieve economies of scale. They make it possible for outsourcers to minimize costs by assigning a smaller, agile workforce and reducing bench times for their resource pools. Higher quality of work and faster execution times provide BPOs with the possibility to offer differentiated high-value solutions to end customers.

2. RPA in telecommunications

Automation bots present an immense opportunity for the competitive telecom sector to reshape front and back-office processes. The technology supports service providers in various use cases, allowing telecoms to deal with ever-increasing amounts of data, expanding ranges of products and services, and relentless competition. Fully programmed to replicate human actions and interact with essential systems, RPA solutions take care of any non-strategic activities, freeing up resources to take care of more advanced tasks.

Telecom companies integrate RPA solutions into their systems and workflows to boost services, downsize overhead expenses, and enhance customer satisfaction. RPA systems automate billing records, invoicing, and reconciliation across all channels and departments. They can also support human workers in network diagnostics and management, for example, by automating incident reporting and transfer.

Another common area where telecoms leverage the power of automation is customer service. Bots support human workers by solving simple customer and partner queries, replying to emails, and improving first call resolution rates. They can also help with porting customer phone numbers, handling billing discrepancies, and facilitating dispute resolution. With their automated data collection, reporting, and analysis capabilities, RPA solutions provide strategic insights into customer needs and the competitive and pricing landscapes.

One of the leading global communications providers gained the following benefits by deploying RPA bots to automate time-consuming tasks :

  • 25% improvement in cycle time across several key processes
  • An additional capacity of more than 80 FTE freed by automating grunt work
  • Eliminated need to hire temporary workers to fill in fluctuations in work volume

3. RPA in finance and accounting

The finance industry has been an early adopter of RPA, so automation deployments in the sector have reached full maturity. Financial and accounting companies take advantage of the technology mainly to eliminate human errors, speed up processes, and meet regulatory requirements.

The application of RPA in the sector spans numerous activities, including:

1. Financial planning.

Economic planners rely on RPA to eliminate redundancy and improve decision-making. By automating data entry, copying and pasting information, or switching through files and systems, they relieve the burden of mind-numbing tasks and gain valuable time to conduct more meaningful work.

2. Invoice processing.

Automation bots help organizations retrieve and process invoices in disparate formats from different systems, automating operations such as data input, error reconciliation, and simple document verification and forwarding. By taking over these tasks, RPA solutions reduce human intervention and eliminate error, conducting the entire invoicing process end-to-end from receipt to payment within minutes.

3. Balance sheets and P&L statements.

RPA automates statement preparation, replacing and enhancing legacy tools and manual methods. The technology reduces accounting teams’ efforts by filling out daily statements, checking them for completeness, and verifying the balance accuracy.

4. Accounting reconciliation.

RPA eases financial reconciliation by checking and matching records across various inputs. Bots can extract data from bank statements, invoices, bills, and other documents and compare them against the company records. All while ensuring unparalleled data quality and consistency.

5. Auditing.

Enhanced with AI, RPA streamlines the collection of audit evidence and inputs and helps standardize information from different sources and formats.

“If you have someone processing 100 invoices a day, by the time they get to the end of the day, they’re mentally tired. If they see an invoice for $46,969, they might, by accident, book $46,996. But when you use RPA, the bot doesn’t get tired at the end of the day. It’s going to work just as effectively as it did at the beginning of the day.” — Bradley Niedzielski, Audit & Assurance Partner at Deloitte

4. RPA in banking

Considering the overwhelming amount of tedious, repetitive work that banking involves, such as filling out forms, gathering documentation, or verifying details, robotic process automation is a true industry game-changer. Bots bring immediate efficiency gains and cost-savings to all operation areas, from customer service and onboarding to fraud detection.

Data entry is an obvious candidate for process automation in this context. Instead of wasting hours on manually filling, rewriting, and verifying customer information, bankers can focus on more purposeful work, leaving these tasks to robots to complete. Automating these basic procedures may not seem like a big deal, but it drives immense cost savings while accelerating service delivery. For instance, thanks to a simple attended bot that took over filling out loan submission forms, one of our clients saw a 300 000% ROI and reduced processing time from several minutes to six seconds!

But scenarios for RPA application in banking can get much more evolved. Leading banking institutions automate application reviews, credit checks, and bank opening and closure activities. Intelligent automation solutions also support them with fraud detection capabilities. By applying appropriate rules, RPA can be programmed to monitor thresholds of trades and alert brokers of any suspected breaches and irregularities. Bots can also identify suspicious accounts to be further scrutinized by bank security experts.

5. RPA in insurance

The insurance industry heavily relies on collecting and analyzing large data volumes, which leads to overdrawn claims processing times and substandard customer experience. To resolve these issues, insurers can take advantage of hyper-automation.

RPA smoothens and speeds up claims processing at every step of the way, from collecting and validating inputs, through making decisions, to paying out claims. The technology achieves that by:

Eliminating manual inputs – RPA bots can handle a variety of tasks that previously involved manual processing only. These include data collection, validation, and entry.

Merging data from disparate media – Enhanced with OCR and NLP capabilities, intelligent automation bots extract and ‘read’ information from various channels and transform it into a standardized, human-readable format.

Eradicating clerical errors – Always available, always consistent, bots help insurers maintain clean, well-organized data free of clerical errors that can’t be avoided with manual work.

Improving claims’ adjudication – Bots expedite adjudication by enhancing process and data accuracy, removing inconsistencies, and automating menial tasks.

Integrating with legacy systems – Insurance organizations often work with cumbersome legacy software that cannot be easily replaced or updated. Fortunately, RPA provides the capabilities to seamlessly support and enhance these systems without disrupting their operations.

Through automation, intelligent bots allow insurance businesses to radically reduce turnaround times for claims payout. They enhance process accuracy and save thousands of FTEs per year, boosting customer satisfaction and improving regulatory compliance. The bot operation rules can be easily updated as per the latest legal changes to ensure governance. This capability proves especially valuable for companies operating in different countries and jurisdictions.

Studies shown that processing claims using RPA is, on average, 75% faster and the error rate drops significantly.

6. RPA in customer service

Regardless of the industry, organizations embrace RPA solutions to build exceptional customer experience, maintain loyalty, and reduce churn. Typically, intelligent bots diminish support staff’s workload by providing the first line of contact with the customer, receiving and resolving simple queries. But they can do much more.

RPA solutions become equally essential in customer onboarding, maintenance, or due diligence. Here are some examples:

  • Using RPA, companies can design and implement fully automated customer onboarding process flows that include gathering customer information, verifying the provided input, forwarding the information to relevant persons and systems, setting up accounts, and assisting the customer with introductory information.
  • RPA software integrates with CRM databases, providing customer representatives with a comprehensive, single view of each customer account. A bot can be programmed to synchronize customer information from various systems on-demand or according to a predefined schedule.
  • Customer service and support teams may also take advantage of bots to instantly pull out customer records, e.g., when answering a call.
  • RPA systems can also automate customer-facing actions when triggered by a specific event. This feature is particularly effective for delivering custom services that aim at maintaining customer engagement. These include sending a personalized email or private message on a customer’s birthday, creating a customized offer following product purchase, or prompting the customer to renew the subscription when contract termination is nearing.

80% of business leaders consider RPA essential for improving customer service excellence[Source: Aithority]

7. RPA in real estate and property management

Despite RPA’s maturity in some sectors like BPO or finances, the technology still comes up as emerging in certain industries, property management included. Consequently, early adopters of robotic automation in this vertical gain a chance to become uniquely positioned to build a competitive edge and increase their market share.

Real estate services are plagued by a huge volume of manual data processing and tedious backstage tasks. Searching for properties, finding buyers and tenants, maintaining documentation, running background checks, property inspections, and follow-ups — RPA bots completely transform all of these transactions.

For example, they can respond to real estate inquiries, assist lenders and buyers with property suggestions, schedule and coordinate home viewings, and manage inspection bookings. Automation supports real estate agents with accounting, month-end processing, and corporate AR. Real estate businesses may leverage marketing automation to stand out in the fiercely competitive market. Property management companies that want to get noticed use AI-powered bots to reach out to leads, engage clients, analyze market trends, and streamline follow-ups.

According to Deloitte, up to 70% of activities can be automated in the real estate and property management sector. These include managing payments and receivables, monitoring utility consumption, managing security access, or scheduling facilities management.[Source: Deloitte]

8. RPA in healthcare

Troubled by increasing patient volumes, staffing shortages, and mounting costs, the healthcare industry is ripe with automation opportunities. The sector deals with an overwhelming volume of sensitive data and paperwork that needs to be handled with the observance of strict policies and regulations.

Fortunately, RPA brings in much-needed relief to hospitals and other healthcare institutions by:

1. Streamlining front office procedures

RPA efficiently deals with high volumes of patient transactions, taking over burdensome tasks from the front office staff. Bots assist healthcare personnel with scheduling appointments, entering repetitive data into systems, maintaining consistent patient documentation, managing inventory, billing patients, and processing claims.

2. Overcoming understaffing

As WHO predicts that by 2030, shortages in the medical workforce might reach 10 million specialists globally, the capability of RPA to mimic human actions will become essential to maintain the quality and availability of healthcare services. RPA solutions that can relieve medical personnel of mind-numbing, repetitive duties eliminate the need for immediate hiring of new admin staff. Robotic automation alleviates the workload and allows healthcare organizations to assume a more strategic, long-term HR management approach.

3. Ensuring data confidentiality, quality, and security

By automating data transfer between various paper files and software systems, healthcare organizations enhance data quality and consistency. Bots help them maintain records’ accuracy through efficient, error-free data entry and reconciliation. Automating document processing eliminates the risk of data exposure to non-authorized persons. RPA’s in-built security features further help medical businesses keep their data safe.

4. Reducing costs

Finally, bots give hospitals and healthcare facilities an immense cost-saving advantage resulting from vast reductions in the time and resources required to complete certain tasks. RPA systems are much more efficient in executing repetitive work than humans, which translates to enhanced savings. For example, auto-adjudication costs about $1 per claim, while $4 are spent on the manual process; multiplied by the number of claims that each medical facility needs to handle per year, this amounts to multi-million-dollar savings on the scale of the entire country.

Here is the example of patient processing automation for the medical clinic network:

9. RPA in manufacturing

As we experience the ongoing transformation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, RPA becomes a critical innovation for Industry 4.0. In this context, automation bots benefit the back office and C-suite, dramatically improving throughputs and trimming down manufacturing lead times.

RPA solutions augment the human workforce in factories, keeping service lines efficient and streamlining product deliveries. By simplifying data capture, entry, and validation, bots speed up backend finances and ensure data accuracy and consistency. They also enable fast and efficient deliveries, performing various tasks, from address verification and sending invoices, to printing shipping labels.

Thanks to automation, industrial companies smooth out critical processes down the manufacturing value chain. As a result, they generate cost savings, achieve faster time-to-market, and tap into innovation that affords them a competitive edge.

Here are a few areas where RPA bots contribute the strongest value to manufacturing businesses:

  • Order fulfillment – Robotic process automation software adds efficiencies across the entire order fulfillment chain. It streamlines receiving orders, tracking inventory changes, updating stock, managing pick lists, and verifying returns.
  • Purchase orders – Attended bots can assist human workers in processing POs, e.g., by populating PO forms with information from other digital and analog sources. Unattended RPA, enhanced with AI capabilities, can handle more complex tasks, such as rerouting purchase orders.
  • Inventory reports – RPA shines at data-intensive, monotonous tasks like managing inventory. Bots integrate with warehouse management systems and other software to perform inventory count in real-time and report on the available and missing stock periodically and on-demand.
  • Bill of materials – RPA solutions help manufacturers eliminate spreadsheets and automate the management of BoM. Automation platforms powered with NLP engines collect inputs in disparate formats and languages from various sources and convert them into uniform, standardized data, keeping the BoM updated and consistent.

10. RPA in transport and logistics

Combined with other disruptive technologies, RPA creates a strong impact on the transport and logistics industry, which heavily relies on paperwork. Automation bots can extract information from different structured and unstructured sources, including transport documentation, emails, notes, memos, and update the shipment schedules accordingly.

Another area where robotic automation proves useful for the logistics industry is delivery tracking. RPA systems connect with third-party software and applications to extract shipment details and automate tracking data, including pick up, reload, and delivery status. As bots keep track of the delivery, they can also be programmed to automatically dispatch emails and text messages, notifying end customers of the delivery status and predicted pick-up time. This feature is relatively simple and affordable to implement, yet it enables a powerful customer experience.

While usually, the outcome of bots’ work in logistics needs to be approved by a human worker, companies in the sector may save up to 50% time on certain shipment procedures by applying simple automation.

  • Collecting structured and unstructured data
  • Reducing manual data entry
  • Processing and sending emails
  • Generating and processing invoices
  • Capturing, researching, and closing out loads
  • Automating order processing and payments
  • Scheduling and tracking shipments
  • Auto-generating logistics reports
  • Enhancing communication with end customers

There are a lot of use-cases of implementing RPA into supply chain management. Read more to know the main process that can be automated.

11. RPA in retail and eCommerce

Retail is an extremely volatile sector marked by frequent demand fluctuations, fierce competition, and tight profit margins; for businesses wrapped up in constant price wars, every penny counts. Thus, RPA, with its money-saving and productivity-enhancing potential, proves an essential technology to help savvy retailers thrive and squeeze more profits from their sales.

By adding efficiency, accuracy, and speed to retail and eCommerce operations, RPA solutions allow business owners to overcome common issues that slow them down and negatively impact sales. These include a lack of product relevance, inaccurate demand planning, poor audience and market analysis, and inadequate customer service. Automated bots are second to none at data extraction, collection, and reporting, providing retail stakeholders with immediate insights that power their decision-making.

RPA bots support a wide array of retail and eCommerce activities, streamlining workflows for inventory management, invoice processing, business operations, and customer relationship management. They help retailers optimize work to remove human errors, drive efficiency, maximize sales opportunities, and adjust pricing and demand faster. The industry-specific processes that can be enhanced through robotic automation include:

RPA in Retail and eCommerce

12. RPA in HR

Similarly to logistics, human resources are replete with manual processes. Thus, the sector fosters conditions for numerous RPA applications. Bots can relieve HR teams of tedious, time-consuming work, empowering them to spend more time on building and developing relationships with people in the company.

According to Gallup, 85% of employees are disengaged at work, which drives a $7 trillion worth of productivity loss.[Source: Gallup]

Liberating HR staff to build a more human-centric workplace and enhance employee experience is the strongest asset of RPA. The technology streamlines HR operations by optimizing the following key functions:

1. Talent acquisition

Bots can streamline the entire scope of candidate sourcing and talent acquisition operations, from identifying matching candidates, aggregating CVs, and running background checks, to scheduling interviews.

2. Employee onboarding and offboarding

Automation simplifies a vast scope of transactions related to setting up new hires and terminating employment. For instance, a smart bot can validate employee information, fill out necessary forms, transfer a person’s data to relevant systems and databases, set up training, and arrange team introductions. According to UIPath, robotic automation can help the HR department onboard new employees up to 10x faster!

3. Payroll automation

RPA solutions significantly reduce the human effort involved in payroll administration by automating data transfer and reporting, and easing data maintenance. Apart from receiving and reading payroll change requests, automation bots can update the connected software systems and databases with new changes, fill out payroll files, and generate reports.

4. Vacation and absence management

HR teams can apply robotic process automation to speed up the reconciliation of vacation balances, record employee absences, and track registered hours, missed hours, and overtime.

In addition to these common scenarios, HR departments integrate RPA solutions into their systems to automate employee master data transfer, coordinate compensation claims, calculate salaries and bonuses, and manage business travel.

Robotic Process Automation - development process

Getting started with RPA is relatively easy. However, to maximize your bots’ impact and get an optimal return on your innovation investment, you need a clear roadmap for the implementation. Let us help you define it by laying down the essential steps of RPA implementation.

1. Identify high-impact candidates for automation

Automating for automation’s sake makes no sense. To get tangible cost and productivity results, you need to identify processes that are best suited for RPA optimization. Without picking good automation candidates, your project is doomed to failure.

Start by mapping out processes and activities in your business department or organization. Focus on manual, repetitive, and labor-intensive tasks underpinned by simple rules. You can find such activities virtually in every organization. Then classify your candidates depending on their complexity (determined by the human input and knowledge required for the process) and input data (so how easily the robot can access the data). To do that, you can use the following chart that we created for our clients.

RPA process selection

Automating for automation’s sake makes no sense. To get tangible cost and productivity results, you need to identify processes that are best suited for RPA optimization. Without picking good automation candidates, your project is doomed to failure.

Start by mapping out processes and activities in your business department or organization. Focus on manual, repetitive, and labor-intensive tasks underpinned by simple rules. You can find such activities virtually in every organization. Then classify your candidates depending on their complexity (determined by the human input and knowledge required for the process) and input data (so how easily the robot can access the data). To do that, you can use the following chart that we created for our clients.

2. Build a pipeline

Once you created a list of processes to automate and assigned them to relevant categories, it’s time to prioritize work. We recommend tackling fast and easy processes first and leaving those more complex for later. Referring to our chart again, you will want to start from the green processes, moving on to the yellow and red ones at a later stage.

3. Evaluate existing processes

Before proceeding with any automation, evaluate your current workflows. This is a great chance for you to pause for a moment and take a deep look into the current state of being to achieve the expected automation outcomes.

Certain workflows may need a complete makeover before automation to avoid complex and lengthy RPA development. Investigate every detail, looking for missing or disposable steps. Identify inefficiencies and think of possible improvements that could simplify each process and make it more understandable. If you feel that some automation candidates haven’t been properly documented, now is a good time to make up for it.

4. Define clear objectives

For each identified candidate, think about your objectives. What are you hoping to gain by streamlining or enhancing a particular job?

For example, if your main goal is to free up your employees to focus on value-added work, you should start from automating high-volume tasks first. If you are looking for customer service improvements, think about optimizing functions that directly impact your clients, such as answering simple queries or processing documents and forms. By identifying KPIs and developing benchmarks, you will later easier evaluate the progress of your RPA implementation.

5. Get employee buy-in

While easy to overlook, this step is essential for your project’s success, especially considering the widespread (and mostly unjustified) concern about robotic process automation threatening people’s jobs.

To help your team members overcome the fear of RPA and accept the new technology, make sure everyone’s on the same page regarding automation goals and benefits. Obtaining the management buy-in by demonstrating strong ROI and highlighting business outcomes will make it easier for you to prove that robotic automation presents a viable opportunity for the entire company, and not only for the tech department.

6. Pull your software team together

You’re all set to go now. At this stage, you need to gather your RPA development team to create a pilot project as per the agreed plan. You will also need the right tooling. What do we mean by ‘right’? The one suited to your budget, team, process, and business context.

If you lack a sufficient workforce in your organization to roll out the project or need to augment your in-house team, our RPA consultants are eager and ready to support your implementation.

7. Move ahead with RPA implementation

Even if you have all hands on deck for the project, you don’t want to jump straight into the production deployment. It’s a good practice to start from a Proof of Concept (PoC) first. RPA pilots are fairly easy to implement and fast to deploy, yet they give you the flavor of the final solution and allow you to refine details before the actual implementation.

If your PoC turns successful, the next step is to deploy it on production and measure automation’s impact over time. Of course, automated processes can be continuously tweaked and revised for improved results.

Speaking from our experience, we can tell that once the stakeholders see the business outcomes of RPA pilot runs and preliminary stages, new ideas for automation start popping in their heads. They immediately push for the processes in the pipeline to be automated as fast as possible. The good news is that usually, after automating the first candidate, other projects run much more smoothly.

Tackling RPA challenges: What hurdles to expect?

Automating for automation’s sake makes no sense. To get tangible cost and productivity results, you need to identify processes that are best suited for RPA optimization. Without picking good automation candidates, your project is doomed to failure.

Calculating RPA costs

We hope that by now, we have dispelled your doubts regarding RPA and encouraged you to give it a go. That leaves us with one more important topic to explore. Money.

To determine the real cost of RPA solutions, we should talk about three crucial elements impacting their overall price. These are the cost of RPA programming and integration and support cost.

Let’s cut right to the chase.

Cost of RPA programming and integration

Speaking of which, let’s move on to the costs of RPA consulting. It’s more than likely that you will depend on an external team to create and deploy your automation robots. If that’s the case, the final bill will depend on:

  • The type of RPA to develop or integrate
  • The number and complexity of bots
  • Your existing infrastructure and software
  • Training and onboarding required to familiarize your teams with the new tools
  • Expertise and location of the company providing the services

Discrepancies between prices charged by RPA consultants can be significant. For example, $80-$90/hour is the lowest you will see in the USA for the quality work of an RPA development specialist. Europe-based consultants tend to charge lower fees, with wide variations across different countries.

RPA support costs

When calculating the total price of RPA, many companies overconcentrate solely on the upfront costs of RPA implementation. To be fair and square, we have to remind you about a significant price point for automation projects — maintenance and support.

Every RPA bot is a piece of software, and as such, it needs to be properly secured, updated, and upgraded. Therefore, if you’re planning to go big on automation, it’s a good idea to consider a fully-scalable, extensible RPA solution that can be modified with no extensive rework or integration effort involved. Ideally, such a platform shouldn’t require much programming experience and should offer as many inbuilt features and functions as possible. This way, you will be able to add enhancements with minimum assistance.

If you already have an RPA solution that needs improvement or scaling, remember that maintaining in-house development support is more expensive than cooperating with an external team (especially if you engage them on a time and materials basis). Considering that an average salary of a US-based RPA developer sits between $100K-$150K/year, you’ll need to prepare to fork out $300K-$500K a year to year on a small internal RPA team. In the meantime, the cost of hiring a fully qualified remote RPA expert starts at $50/hour.

Benefits of RPA as a Service (RPAaaS)

At this point, we’d like to direct your attention to RPAaaS, or RPA as a Service. This term refers to the implementation of automation bots in the cloud as opposed to the in-house servers. This approach is especially beneficial for smaller companies without extensive IT infrastructure and high-growth businesses that need to scale their operations quickly.

The RPA as a Service model offers the essential advantages of traditional, server-based robotic process automation, such as:

  • Fast and efficient data processing
  • Intelligence-based business decisions
  • Short time-to-value cycles
  • Increased customer satisfaction and retention
  • Significant operating cost reduction

You can tap all of these benefits without substantial upfront investment and maintaining your own RPA infrastructure. Using the cloud deployment model means that you won’t need to set up any servers, purchase expensive hardware licenses, and struggle with costly maintenance.

Many RPAaaS options come with convenient pay-per-minute and pay-as-you-go plans, so the financial expenditure is limited to the very minimum. Moreover, you only pay for the services used, without bearing the costs of irrelevant functions and features. Additionally, by deploying RPA in the cloud, you gain enterprise-grade privacy and security features.

Would you like to know more about RPA as a Service? Talk to us!

Closing thoughts

For beginners, RPA may seem daunting, especially that many misconceptions about the technology prevail (like the one that automation bots are going to make people redundant). We hope that by outlining the main concepts related to robotic automation and demonstrating its strengths, our guide has made RPA much more approachable and clear.

We honestly believe that robotic process automation is a perfect proposal for businesses that want to embark on the digital transformative journey but don’t have money to burn on experimentation. Unlike other emerging innovations, RPA — when done right — requires low-cost investment and provides immediate impact.

To make the most of the RPA potential, we recommend you start small. Automate one or two key processes before adding more tasks into the pipeline. Once your first bots are up and running, scaling up will be smooth sailing. And you will be ready and eager to take the next step into more advanced intelligent automation.

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Michał Rejman

Chief Marketing Officer at Flobotics. Communication strategy consultant for tech and process automation buff. Remote work evangelist, surfer, and doggo lover.

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