Robotic process automation

04 December 2017

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of software to automate tasks and processes otherwise performed by humans.

It replicates actions otherwise performed by a mouse and a keyboard. RPA can automate end-to-end process either partially or completely.

We use RPA extensively and have deployed this for our own back office operations. RPA solutions process transactions, manipulate data, trigger responses and communicate with other digital systems. Like physical robots in factories, they work well on tasks that are repetitive and rule-based – the sort of tasks that has a disproportionate effort associated with the transactional side leaving little time for conducting analysis, drawing insight and/or understanding root causes.

Why is RPA so popular?

RPA is not a new phenomenon – it’s a reincarnation of traditional point automation solutions using tools such as macros or simple automation solutions, with an aim to reduce and/or eliminate the repetitive task. RPA has evolved over the past four years supported by a robust underlying software which is scalable, user friendly, flexible and secure. Configuring a RPA solution requires no change to the underlying systems or technology; the tool interacts using the same interface as a human and most importantly, there is an attractive commercial proposition.

The market is very buoyant with various RPA software tools and solutions – from the ‘pure play’ RPA tools to those who offer cognitive computing capabilities. Most tools have a user-friendly interface which means that development is possible with minimal software development skills; increasingly a business user with a technical mindset can be involved in the development – but clearly, for more complex solutions a programming background and knowledge is essential.

We weave RPA into our clients’ transformation plans, where appropriate, as part of our solution toolkit. We’ve found the best approach is for business is to have a session with our business analysts to fully document the process steps together, including possible exceptions, and the routes that these may take within the process.

An automation developer can then translate these into an automated process.

Assessment of RPA tools

Capita’s Automation Centre of Excellence’s (CoE) preferred tool to use for RPA solutions is Blue Prism after performing an extensive external and internal review. But this is by no means the only tools, we have a continuous programme of evaluating the RPA market and assessing tools against our criteria.

When to use RPA

When thinking about a business case for RPA, the processes or activities need to have the following characteristics:

  • rule based
  • transactional (ie, non-judgemental)
  • electronic input/ output
  • high volume/ repetitive
  • stable process, ie, there are minimal expected changes.

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