According to a Business Wire report, Scandinavian Logistics Partners AB(Scanlog), a fast growing logistics company specializing in international transports, embraced Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to help transform its order booking process.
In this age of instant gratifications, their results are nothing short of amazing.
Average Handling Time (AHT) per customer order is reduced from 4 minutes to just 20 seconds. And Scanlog achieved a 15% Return on Investment within 2 months by automating just this one process.
Scanlog is but one of the many case studies now emerging of how companies are leveraging this innovative new technology to digitally transform their business operations and achieving significant, tangible results.
From automotive to hospitality, no matter which industry your business is in, company executives can ill afford to brush RPA off as just another fad.
What is RPA?
You can think of RPA as introducing a digital or virtual workforce that is being governed by your business operations team.
This workforce consists of software robots that emulate human execution of mundane, repetitive tasks via existing User Interfaces (UI).
This is beneficial because a typical knowledge worker is often required to work with a myriad of different applications and systems, including Microsoft Office suite, email applications, Enterprise Resource Planning systems, Customer Relationship Management systems, web applications, legacy systems and many more.
Often, your employees are simply performing what are known as swivel tasks — taking data from one source system, apply known business rules and entering the data to another target system. RPA can therefore help to automate such swivel tasks, freeing your employees up to perform more meaningful, differentiated work that brings more value to your organization and himself/herself.
The other thing to note is that these bots sit alongside existing infrastructure controlled by your IT. In other words, there is no need to invest in costly new IT infrastructure to enable RPA to work. In addition, because these bots interact with the various systems through the UI, RPA is compatible with your legacy and/or bespoke IT systems without the usual costly IT spend for systems integration.
Technical architecture of a robotic workforce
Perhaps due to its novelty, many company executives are confused about RPA and what it comprises of. In many ways, a robotic workforce is analogous to your human workforce and typically contains the following 3 components — Robots, Robot Manager and Robot Trainer.
Firstly, the Robots itself, which are tasked with executing your business processes in a clockwork-like manner. In the world of RPA, these Robots come in 2 flavours — attended and unattended.
You can think of Attended Robot like a virtual assistant that works hand-in-hand with your human employee. Typically, your employee will trigger the Robot as required, and there are usually some form of interactions between your employee and the Robot during the automation. Attended Robots are most frequently associated with front-office activities.
Unattended Robots, on the other hand, are like a virtual worker that runs 24/7 based on a defined schedule or triggers. There are usually no requirements for employee-Robot interactions and these Robots are commonly associated with back-office activities.
Secondly, you have what we call the Robot Manager. Depending on your choice of RPA software, this is more commonly known as the Orchestrator,Control Room or Control Tower. The concept is simple. These Robots require a Robot Manager to supervise them, similar to how you assign a supervisor or manager to manage a team of employees.
Some of the key tasks of the Robot Manager include: assigning tasks to the next available Robot, monitoring and logging the actions of the Robots, job scheduling, exceptions handling and many more.
Lastly, you will need what we call the Robot Trainer. Again, depending on your choice of RPA software, this is more commonly known as the Studio, Bot Creator or Process Designer. It is important to recognize that when you purchase a Robot, the Robot knows nothing about your business or processes.
Hence, just like when you hire a new employee, you need to train your Robot on your business processes before it can be productive. The good news is that most RPA software are relatively low-code, and ease to learn and use. This empowers a trained business user with no IT background to write simple scripts to automate his or her processes.
For the more technical readers, the following is a more comprehensive look at the enterprise architecture of Automation Anywhere, one of the leading RPA software vendors in the market:
What can RPA do?
The core capabilities of RPA include: data entry procedures in workflow processes, data extraction from standard databases and routine, static decision-making processes.
In other words, the software robots are often deployed to automate the following types of tasks:
- Data entry (order, invoice, etc)
- Post document into system
- Run and download reports
- Prepare a template
- Get user inputs
- Reconcile data
- Apply static business rules
- Read and reply email
- And many more
To be sure, not all processes will be suitable for automation using RPA. Prior to any RPA implementation, it is a good practice to first conduct a process feasibility assessment. Good candidate processes for RPA usually share some or all of the following attributes:
- High transaction volumes
- Low exceptions
- Stable and well-defined processes
- Low system change
- Structured data and readable electronic inputs
For more on this, check out our previous post — Great Tips for Evaluating Whether a Process is Suitable for Robotic Process Automation.
What are the benefits of RPA?
The following list some of the well documented benefits of RPA:
- Reduces manpower costs as each software “robot” costs only a fraction of a FTE
- Increases speed to market as the software “robots” execute tasks instantaneously
- Eliminates the risks of human errors
- Ensures regulatory compliance
- Improves productivity as the software “robots” operate 24/7 with minimal downtime
- Flexibility to scale up and down the robotic operations depending on business requirements
- Improves employee engagement by removing mundane, menial tasks from them
- Transforms the operating paradigm from labour-intensive to technology-centric
As with any other automation technologies, it is inevitable that there are widespread fears of job losses with the introduction of RPA. But this view is rather misguided. According to a McKinsey report, less than 5 percent of all jobs can be fully automated based on existing technologies.
In fact, the bigger opportunity for RPA resides in the approximate 60 percent of jobs where more than 30 percent of constituent activities can be automated. Just think of how much more exponential value your employees, freed from dreary tasks, can generate.
The truth is that RPA is not a zero-sum game. When applied meaningfully, RPA has the potential to achieve the “triple-win” for shareholders, customers and employees.
For your employees, value from RPA comes in the form of more interesting work, learning a new technology, increased employee engagement, recognition from management and enhanced reputation as an innovator.
The other thing to note is that many organizations tend to overestimate the benefits of RPA in the short term, while underestimating the benefits in the medium to long term. As with any new emerging technology, it might be more prudent to “under-promise and over-deliver”.
The time for RPA is now
During the Second Industrial Revolution, industrial robots automated production in the shop floor.
We now stand at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where a different wave of automation is now disrupting the way administrative, clerical and/or knowledge work is being performed.
The time is ripe for organizations to digitally transform their operations from being manpower-intensive to being technology-centric.
And to change the operating paradigm from people following processes and supported by technology, to technology (i.e. software robots) following processes and managed/supervised by people.
Question is, are you ready for this shift?
Are you ready to embark on your own RPA journey? Please feel to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to understand more on how RPA can be implemented for your business.