Whether you’re simply upgrading to newer technology or going through a complete transformation process, robotic process automation is the key to a successful transition. Because much of the work of a digital transformation means replacing outdated practices with new digital ones, it is important to have the right tools available to facilitate the changeover. Manually attempting to re-write processes that have been in place for a long time is not only time-consuming, but it is also inefficient and costly.
To truly understand how robotic process automation (RPA) can help your business as you undergo a digital transformation, you need to understand the purpose and function of rpa in direct comparison to manual alternatives and AI. We will then explain how digital transformation is facilitated through rpa over other methods.
One of the ways that businesses stay competitive is by constantly growing and evolving. That’s why as industries change, jobs change, and digital transformation becomes standard practice. How this is implemented, however, is the difference between success and failure in most cases.
Because digital transformation has a primary impact on manual processes being moved into the digital space, the ability to replicate those processes and then automate them allows businesses to experience faster growth as well as a number of other benefits. We will discuss these benefits as part of the guide as well so that you know what you’re getting out of your digital transformation.
The first thing to understand is that RPA is not the same as an AI program such as a bidding program used in advertising. While some process automation does use machine learning, such as natural language processing to function, RPA is the equivalent of programmed repetition of a particular task.
Robotic Process Automation allows businesses to take tasks such as manipulation of a program or application and allow it to be done automatically. RPA seeks to mimic what a human user would do and repeatedly perform that task. Whereas AI has to be fed input and then learns what it is supposed to do through that learning process, RPA focuses on a singular task that it is programmed to do, not through fed input.
We know this sounds overly complicated, but the basic point is, AI learns and adjusts over time to perform different tasks. RPA is programmed to perform a certain task and does just that. One example is a chatbot that is programmed to respond to user queries with a number of set responses and directives. The program doesn’t actively learn what the user is asking, but is instead responding to natural language and displaying a list of options based on pre-programmed responses.
RPA not only works more accurately for many given situations, it is much faster to set up for a given task. The lead time on AI can take weeks, and each time new input is needed, there is a delay in implementation to complete the learning process. RPA has no such limitation. You can program a new robotic process and implement it much quicker than an AI can learn and adjust to new input.
This also makes RPA more versatile. It can be used across the whole of your business to speed up processes and improve efficiency across the board. There is also less need for oversight than with AI, as the automated processes used in RPA are done based on artificial intelligence programming and then that program is taught to staff. AI can be considered ever-changing and therefore it must be watched to ensure it doesn’t deviate from its intended purpose.
Digital transformation is all about moving away from the manual processing of important tasks and moving them into the digital space or upgrading your existing digital infrastructure to newer technology. This sounds simple in process, but actually doing it can be difficult.
RPA itself doesn’t transform your business. If you think about it in a logical way, robotic process automation is a facilitator of digital transformation. It takes away mundane tasks and does them for you.
The way it works is that a programmer creates a program that is taught to do a specific task that an individual would have previously done. We used an example of a chatbot, but in more practical applications, RPA can be used for several tasks that have an end result that is defined, such as processing orders, aggregating data, or publishing reports.
The benefits of RPA are growing as the technology expands beyond the simple repetition of the “do this, then that” type of task and implementing character recognition technology to allow it to operate on a more complex level. At its most basic level, RPA is used to facilitate smoother day-to-day operations. Using a robotic process takes very little training and can be up to speed much quicker.
For example, you can install a program that completes user transactions and then sends the report to your accounting department automatically. They can then have a program that takes those reports and inputs them into the business’s balance sheet. This shortens the amount of time on the front end of the user experience and on the back end of the accounting experience for the business.
This all sounds wonderful of course, but there are some guidelines to using robotic process automation for digital transformation to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
The types of processes that you choose to automated should be determined by the intent of your business. For example, if you are a service-based business or in the eCommerce space, your primary focus is on improving the user experience. Streamlining the point of sale process is one way to improve that experience. Automating the order processing and shipping process can speed up the delivery of items so that customers get their orders quicker.
As we talked about in the beginning, an intelligent chatbot can help answer user questions and improve their ability to access information about your services. Another benefit of this type of RPA is that you can store this data and send the reports to your IT and administrative departments to improve site performance, address user issues that persist, or make general improvements to the UI or UX.
For businesses that operate more on the back end, such as marketing agencies and financial facilitators, the focus of improvements should be on the handling and processing of data. In other words, moving business along by helping to do the things that need to get done. In this way tools like language processing software can help a RPA be able to interpret language and select the appropriate action.
When we talk about robotic process automation, we’re not talking solely about automating a few processes on your website so that you don’t have to respond to user questions, or automatically sending out emails after a user clicks the sign-up button, we’re talking about the ability to automate dozens or even hundreds of processes throughout the whole of your business.
Where many businesses miss the mark is that they don’t scale RPA with intent. They either implement only a few bots to handle the most basic of mundane tasks, or they try to automate everything without the proper training and IT support to guide the bots in their assigned tasks.
While RPA may not be knowledge-driven like AI, the complexity of the tasks that can be performed grows in accordance with the software solutions you implement and the guidelines you set.
Without getting into the particulars of programming a bot, the more options you give it to respond to a variety of situations, the more it can do for your business. For instance, if a user asks a question of a chatbot, the chatbot spits out a response, if the user then follows up, the chatbox should be able to interpret the follow-up and provide relevant information or links to articles and other information on the site so that users find the experience helpful.
Unfortunately, we often see chatbots that don’t accurately represent the information that users are seeking, which in turn leads to frustration and may, in fact, end up taking more time for a support team to follow up. As we said, the purpose of these bots is to keep actual people from having to perform mundane tasks so that they can focus on more important and complex operations.
To that end, you should be constantly implementing new bot programs and new guidelines to go along with them to take as much of the monotony and unproductive action out of the handles of actual employees and place it in the hands of a bot.
Something that is not thought about, but is important, is that bots do not perform well in a rapidly changing environment. Bots are used for the purpose of routine actions. If your network or digital environment is not static, but instead is constantly evolving, then the ability of robotic process automation to facilitate those changes diminishes when you try to scale out.
This is like installing a bot to handle 5 processes, and then you add new processes every few months, the bot would not be able to keep up and would become ineffective. This means either that process automation would be useless in this environment or that you should wait until your business environment stabilizes before implementing process automation.
You need proper oversight and stability to successfully implement RPA to scale. This applies not only to the bots themselves and when to update their programming or when to launch new bots but maintaining training efficacy and proper use. There’s no point in launching dozens of bots if your employees don’t know what they do or how to use them.
While bots handle most mundane tasks, such as processing sales, there will always be some follow-up need by employees. Making sure that employees are trained to interface with bots to finalize actions is important.
This actually sounds more complicated than it is. Say a customer of an insurance company files a claim. The automated processes would then accept and file the claim and then send it to an agent for approval, that person would then be responsible for manually reviewing the gathered information and then approving or denying the claim before another automated process would continue the chain.
If the agent doesn’t act accordingly on their end, then the process is likely stuck in a loop. You also have to adjust for issues that may pop up, such as if the insurance claim needs to be sent back to the customer for further information, this type of contingency needs to be accounted for.
So, as you can see, stability is key in both the network within which the bots operate and in the business itself, otherwise you run into issues that bots cannot handle.
Even though robotic process automation is much faster than AI in terms of implementation, the fact is, nothing works overnight. Setting measurable goals throughout your digital transformation that you wish to achieve through robotic automation will allow you to see your success rate and how you might need to make changes.
If your goal is to improve the processing speed of orders, then tracking your progress before automation, and then implementing bots throughout the process, and measuring your results afterward can tell you how much of an impact the bots are making. In some cases, you may see an immediate improvement. In other cases, you may need to tweak the bots so that they handle processes differently.
The goals you set should also be in line with what you’re trying to achieve from your digital transformation as a whole. A transformation will impact your whole business in one way or another, but your use of RPA should be targeted towards your end goal.
Remember that bots can’t do everything, nor should you try to put bots everywhere without thinking about what benefit they will have. Focus is key to success. If your overall goal is improving customer experience, then focus your automation on that first, before investing the time and money to implement bots in other areas.
You’ll find that you’ll have more success if you focus on one key area at a time. Rapid digital transformation can be more jarring for your business than effective at improving your business’s performance.
We hope this guide has helped you to understand the importance and the benefit of robotic process automation in transforming your business into the digital space. You can and should be using bots to automate much of the day-to-day operations of your business to improve performance, efficiency, and reduce costs.
The key with all of it is to be deliberate and consistent with your growth and implementation of both your digital transformation and your robotic processes. Trying to do too much too fast will only result in complications. Always get the help you need when moving from manual to digital and seek out proper IT support and assistance.
Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations–delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.