Repetitive work is one of the most mundane daily working tasks. But this doesn’t have to be the case in the age of digitisation, where software robots can take care of it, enabling employees to use the time to engage in work of a more fulfilling nature. In this way, Robotic Process Automation bridges missing interfaces and takes digitisation a step further.
Text: Andreas Heer, Images: iStock, 7
Business cards are a prime example of the dilemma faced by digitisation. These relics from an analogue past continue to be used in the age of Xing and LinkedIn. Whenever we meet interesting people, we exchange business cards, only to have to transfer their contact data manually into Outlook or our CRM system. A laborious routine task that involves a high margin of error. And when we finally have the data in one system, we cannot transfer it to another, because the two applications cannot talk to each other, let alone agree on a suitable format in which to exchange the data.
We can employ the aid of a scanner app if we often have to digitise business cards. This scans in the cards with their various designs, converts the contact data using text recognition and inserts it into the correct fields. Ideally, the app even offers suitable export functions so that we can transfer our new contacts into our CRM system and Outlook and are able to invest the time saved in keeping our contacts up to date.
This is a prime, albeit very simple, example of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA involves automating recurring routine tasks using software robots that can perform repetitive tasks faster and with far few errors than a human. This saves time and accelerates response times, letting we humans devote ourselves to work that is challenging.
RPA is currently experiencing a veritable boom. This is not surprising in times when data volumes are growing rapidly and the market is demanding ever more efficient processes. According to Gartner, RPA is the fastest growing area of business software. Last year, RPA providers registered a whopping 63% increase in revenue over the previous year.
RPA should not be confused with Business Process Optimisation/Automation, which involves the automated handling of entire processes that, for example, use certain keywords to automatically respond to e-mail inquiries sent to customer support. RPA, in contrast, automates individual steps in a process. A software robot can, for example, copy and paste support requests that cannot be answered automatically into another system.
Process optimisation is usually part of Business Process Management (BPM). RPA can be an optimisation measure within such a framework. However, RPA is also often used to accelerate an existing manual process without changing the workflow.
The use of RPA makes sense wherever large amounts of data have to be entered manually or changed on a regular basis. Such work is not only laborious for employees, but also involves a large margin of error. Typing the number of a house the wrong way round means that post arrives late. And typos in an e-mail address generate error messages instead of positive customer feedback. RPA reduces error rates and lets employees devote their time to more meaningful tasks.
The examples already provide an indication of where RPA can be put to use: in processing customer data such as inquiries, orders, invoices or changes of address. Software robots accordingly often work in departments that are in direct contact with customers, or at least their data: sales and support, but also marketing and accounting or invoice processing.
However, RPA has a lot more to offer than this. Combined with artificial intelligence models, software robots can also automate manual decision-making processes, such as the processing of error messages. Humans are only involved where the next steps require manual intervention.
A lot of data and systems, some of which lack the appropriate interfaces with each other, are the preferred working environment of software robots. Such environments can be found in companies that have a large customer base: banks and insurance, healthcare, telecommunications and retail companies.
Such companies mostly have a heterogenous UT system landscape with a lot of legacy systems. Staff have to duly devote a lot of time to entering data manually or copying data back and forth between different applications. Such a constellation is predestined for RPA because the potential time savings more than offset the costs involved.
RPA is becoming an increasing focus of another sector: online retail. The use of software robots is on the rise as sales increase and delivery times get increasingly shorter, cushioning workloads during busy periods, which is in turn further driving the boom in RPA.
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