What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.

Defining RPA: Taking the robot out of the human
At first glance, RPA may sound like theoretical tech along the lines of self-aware artificial intelligence, but the actual mechanics are much more mundane and connected to modern business operations.

RPA involves the use of automated “bots” to manage a wide variety of internal processes that would otherwise require manual operation. These tasks can include anything from processing insurance claims to opening new bank accounts, but RPA solutions are often used for time-consuming and arduous jobs that don’t take advantage of knowledge workers’ specialized expertise and skill sets. As TechTarget explained, record management, handling transactions and running database queries are all viable candidates for RPA implementation.

When used in the right environments, RPA tools can replace thousands of manhours handling repetitive tasks, freeing up staff members to tackle more value-driven projects.

What are RPA robots?
When we talk about robots as they pertain to RPA, what we really mean is software. Bots in this sense refer to programs that simulate a human activity, like crawling data repositories for information, for instance. By automating bots to respond to particular events with a predefined set of actions, businesses can dramatically increase the speed of their internal workflows, while also minimizing the potential for costly mistakes like data entry errors.

The important criteria to keep in mind when discussing RPA and its potential applications is structure and repeatability. RPA bots are not “intelligent” or “thinking” the same way machine learning and AI tools are. At their most fundamental capabilities, RPA solutions are not able to self-improve or think critically about the task at hand. They just do what they’re told.

In this way, RPA is a very different form of technology than ML or AI. It is arguably more beneficial and relevant to modern-day business, especially among organizations that rely on numerous repetitive workflows to operate. While RPA isn’t a self-learning asset, it can be configured to spot errors and mistakes in internal processes and flag them accordingly. With the combined benefits of accelerated business speed, increased workflow accuracy and employee productivity, it’s easy to see why this technology has generated a lot of interest.

Major RPA software applications
When vetting potential RPA platforms, decision-makers should look for solutions that can be applied to workflows specific to their industry. RPA software may not necessarily be custom designed with a certain vertical in mind, but it should be able to support common processes and the most beneficial applications.

With that in mind, there are three RPA software leaders that can support most automation use cases. They are:

  • UiPath
    Automation Anywhere
    Blue Prism

All are powerful tools that simplify the creation and deployment of RPA bots. Choosing between them will come down to several factors, including your projected course along the RPA maturity curve and the specific nature of your implementation. You can learn more about the different RPA platforms in our vendor comparison white paper, available here.

Industry-specific RPA applications are listed below.

  • Insurance: RPA can streamline time-intensive tasks like claims processing that are both relatively simple to conduct and repeatable.
  • Human resources: Many HR tasks are ripe for RPA implementation. Employee onboarding, for example, includes a number of processes that could easily be handled by automated bots.
    Health care: There are a wide variety of internal tasks that can be enhanced through RPA, including processing medical insurance claims, managing patient records while complying with industry regulations and executing billing jobs.
  • Financial services: Banks and other financial institutions can automate account openings, financial transactions and comply with audit requests.
    Customer service: Contact center operations can be drastically improved by using RPA to integrate information from various databases and place it in the hands of customer service representatives.
  • Payment processing: The processing of clearinghouse payments is sufficiently routine that it can be automated. A Fortune 100 diversified bank recently used RPA to automate its ACH (automated clearing house) payment processing.
  • Request processing: RPA can be used to automate certain routine customer requests. A leading European food producer used RPA to automate the processing of simple customer order inquiries, reducing manual effort by 40-60%.
  • Validation: RPA is also useful in performing tasks involving validation, as it is easy for computers to tell if one thing is not exactly the same as another. As an example, BNY Mellon automated web-based client record reconciliation, freeing its employees from a tedious, mistake-prone process.