Robotic process automation: Your new favourite digital colleague

Jul 4th, 2022

Imagine the most banal, repetitive parts of your day-to-day job.

Now, imagine having an assistant that you can hand all of that over to… Wouldn’t that make your life easier and allow you to focus on the best parts of your job?

That’s exactly what robotic process automaton (RPA) is all about. It’s the robot colleague you’ve been dreaming of – able to handle those mundane business tasks to free up your time for more innovative work!

What is automation?

Automation isn’t a new thing. Way back in the early 1900s, industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford looked to how the existing process of manufacturing cars, where labourers were responsible for the production of a vehicle from start to finish, could be improved and streamlined. Instead, he believed in allowing different teams to own individual tasks across production. This ultimately led to the introduction of the assembly line which reduced the time to production by 12 hours, boosting production rates and increasing profits.

Nowadays, automation is everywhere – in our homes, in our daily work, quietly making our lives simpler and more seamless.

In the software industry, automation can be split into two key types. The first, traditional automation, is used specifically on software and involves the use of tools such as Selenium and UFT/QTP. Requiring both coding knowledge and hands-on experience of how to use these tools, this type of automation targets specific flows of user journeys like a log-in functionality on a web application, dashboard verification, upload transactions or test case automation.

The other, business process automation, offers a means by which time-consuming and repetitive processes and procedures within a business are automated. This is where RPA comes in.

Get ready to meet your new digital co-worker

RPA, in simple terms, is a software ‘robot’ that makes use of a combination of automation technologies to emulate human actions and automate repetitive tasks on digital systems and software. This reduces the need for human intervention by programming the robot with predetermined decision criteria, subprocess relationships and related actions. The extent of what a robot can do can be set out in one of three ways:

  1. Fixed automation: Here, a robot can follow a fixed sequence flow. An example of this would be purchasing airtime on an app. You input the amount, how you intend to pay, and the robot will process the purchase
  2. Programmable automation: This type of automation leaves room for changes in the sequence. This would be when the robot has the ability to make predictions based on certain criteria. If you make a flight booking, the robot would assess the time of your flight and automate your meal type based on the time that you plan to fly
  3. Flexible automation: Here a robot has the ability to produce a variety of sequences, meaning it can complete multiple tasks. For instance, the robot might read multiple timesheets and then run payslips, manage leave and process overtime

“Currently, there are so many industries using RPA,” explains Akshay Deole, RPA evangelist and BBD test analyst. “Already major players such as AT&T and Amazon are making use of RPA for store management.” Some of the ways RPA can be leveraged by businesses include monthly payroll management where standard amounts are paid to employees based on set calculations; attendance registers that calculate leave days and provide specific leave records for employees; and counting inventory stock or assets. In the medical industry, RPA is being used to capture patient medical records, upload and keep track of these files. In the financial services sector, it can be a useful tool for establishing scheduled payments and money transfers. In essence, while your robot colleague won’t quite be able to make you a cup of coffee (yet!), RPA is a dynamic way to sharpen existing digital processes, ultimately saving time, ensuring accuracy and freeing up work forces for more innovative and human-centric tasks.

So how can businesses start to make use of RPA? Well for the most part, having this software created can be time, cost, and resource heavy. However, there are open source and template-based tools available which makes RPA much more accessible to companies looking to optimise their processes with automation. Companies can opt to either have custom software created to suit their needs, ormake use of off-the-shelf, readymade solutions. Some of the existing industry tools which are offering RPA include UIPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, among others. “These tools are incredibly comprehensive and easy to use” says Deole.

A workplace run by robots?

RPA is becoming so commonplace, that in 3 to 5 years we can expect to see job roles specifically geared to work with it, such as RPA engineers or RPA analysts explains Deole. This is why picking up skills in RPA is a good investment, he adds. To calm luddite fears that RPA will put people out of work, a robot is only able to do as it’s told, ‘this means that it frees people up to do high value activities such as crafting complex strategies, interacting with others and innovating” says Deole. Just as RPA changes the face of certain jobs, it will create a range of entirely new ones. “There will not be mass job loss as a result of RPA. Instead, there will be an abundance of opportunity as the popularity of RPA increases” he adds. Furthermore, domain experts who understand HR, payroll or whatever process is being automated, will be as vital as ever in providing context to the process.

BBD consistently strives to stay at the forefront of software development, endeavouring to add value for our clients wherever possible. In line with this, “BBD is looking to expand our domain expertise in RPA,” says Deole “as we move ahead, we’ll be looking to upskill our staff in this area”. Looking for innovative, forward-thinking software and technology solutions to help simplify your processes and procedures? Check out BBD’s service offerings.