17 August, 2023

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? …and Intelligent Automation?

Let’s answer the question, what is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? And let’s also look at Intelligent Automation.

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What is RPA?

Definition from Decode the Jargon of Artificial Intelligence:

Software systems that mimic the way humans follow business processes, and therefore automate those processes. They are faster and more consistent than human operators at doing repetitive rule-based tasks. They can be:

  • Attended RPA (triggered by humans),
  • Unattended RPA (initiated according to programmed rules), or 
  • Hybrid RPA (a combination).

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They work via software scripts called software robots, or ‘bots’, that mimic rule-based tasks such as extracting data, filling in forms, moving files, or transferring information. They can deploy a combination of automation, computer vision, and machine learning. 

To create an RPA automation, users create bots by observing human digital actions, stringing them together to create processes or workflows, and then letting them do the work. And they can do the work around the clock, nonstop, faster than humans can, and with 100% reliability and precision.

RPA bots can become your Digital Workforce or Digital Personal Assistant. 

How Does RPA Work?

Let’s start with an Application Programming Interface, or API. This is a way of connecting two pieces of software.

RPA uses these APIs to link software tools like enterprise and productivity applications. And has a user interface (UI) to allow operators to set it up and adjust it. 

RPA uses scripts (simple programs or sets of rules) that copy human processes that perform and chain together repetitive tasks. The RPA software can perform business process tasks quickly and at high-volume, freeing up people to work on more complex tasks. 

Typically, RPA software tools has the following core capabilities:

  • Ability to build automation scripts with minimal (or no) formal software programming
  • Integration with a wide range of enterprise applications and productivity tools
  • Ability to administer the RPA processes to change the configuration, monitor outputs, and ensure data security

What about Intelligent Automation (IA)?

Modern RPA tools need to move beyond task automation and include ‘Intelligent Automation’ or (IA). This expands RPA functionality by incorporating artificial intelligence tools like machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision.  

This allows Intelligent Automation to go beyond simple rule-based systems of RPA. You can think of RPA as ‘doing what it’s told’, while Intelligent Automation can learn (with Machine Learning) and mimic thinking, with Artificial Intelligence. 

With Intelligent Automation., instead of programming sequences of steps, we train it to find the right algorithms. IA software can perform tasks, more efficiently and can better adapt to a wider range of cases.

What are the Benefits of RPA and IA?

RPA and IA enable businesses to gain massive efficiency savings. They are driving digital transformation efforts to create an increased return on investment (ROI) from their staff.

The benefits of RPA and IA, include:

  • Cost savings
    RPA reduces the workload of teams, reducing labor costs and allowing staff to be reallocated to other, higher-priority work that needs human attention. Increased productivity and high ROI for RPA implementation. 
  • Productivity, Accuracy, and Reliability
    24/7 operation with no errors (if the coding is accurate) can:
    • Increase accuracy
    • Eliminate human error
    • Ensure compliance with procedure and standards
    • Automatic creation of a full audit trail
    • Strengthen operational security
  • Scalable 
    RPA can process high volumes and scale by adding additional processing power.
  • Better customer experience and higher customer satisfaction
    Automated processes are performed the same way every time. So, customers get timely, predictable responses. Bots can work around the clock, reducing waiting times for customers. 
  • Improved employee morale
    RPA relieves staff of repetitive, tedious, high-volume workloads, allowing people to focus on more rewarding tasks.
  • Existing systems remain in place
    RPA causes minimum disruption to underlying systems because bots follow existing processes, using the same applications. 
  • Less coding
    RPA doesn’t always need a developer to configure it. Many RPA solutions use no-code, drag-and-drop configuration.

What is RPA Used for?

RPA can be used across most business functions to automate repetitive tasks. Scripts can be deployed and executed to: 

  • Connect front- and back-office processes
  • Organize and process complex data

Examples of RPA use cases include:

  • Customer research and pre-qualification, account creation and handling
  • Customer relationship management, marketing communications, feedback gathering, and issue reporting
  • Chatbots to enhance customer support and relieve staff of routine inquiries
  • Evaluating and processing completed forms, and highlighting incorrect completion of fields
  • Pulling data from online sources, allocating it to database fields, and producing reports
  • Compliance monitoring and risk scoring based on staff logs of actions taken. Notification of non-compliance and missing actions or records.
  • Order processing, invoicing, account management, and revenue analyses
  • Risk evaluation and fraud detection 

What can we use RPA for, in Project Management?

A lot of these examples track through into the Project Management world. Pure RPA can find uses in:

  • extracting data
  • data entry
  • filling in forms
  • creating and moving files
  • report generation
  • risk processing

If we add in machine learning and AI capabilities to create Intelligent Automation, we can also, for example:

  • Summarise and evaluate individual reports
  • Compile reports into a single summary
  • Generate templates
  • Suggest narrative for business case and project definition documents
  • Interpret emails and Slack messages into task lists
  • Allocate work assignments from meeting notes

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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