In our previous post, we discussed five reasons why you should use robotic process automation (RPA) to optimize your business processes. We talked about profitability, rapidity, efficiency, interoperability, and traceability. This post will cover when to use RPA. It’s not a silver bullet for every problem your business has, but when applied correctly, it can drive significant efficiencies. We’ll discuss the necessary characteristics of process that leverage RPA, as well as the ideal characteristics that would make RPA especially profitable for your organization.
1. The process is rules-based.
RPA works by getting software robots to follow a precise set of instructions in a closed system. There must be rules the robot can follow for each step of the process. This doesn’t mean the robot must complete the entire process, however. A top 30 US bank verified loan application addresses by having the robot copy and paste each address into a form in the United States Postal Service’s address verification website. The address would either be verified or not, then the robot would attach a screenshot. If the address could be verified, no further action was needed. If it could not be verified, the address was flagged for the human worker to reconcile. While the robot could not solve the non-reconciling outcome by itself, it had definite instructions to follow when that outcome did occur and could move onto the next case—the system was closed.
2. The process is or can be performed on a computer.
This might seem obvious, but the process, or components of a process, you’re looking to automate must be performed on a computer. RPA isn’t like the Amazon warehouse robots or the Roomba that vacuums your floor. Think of an RPA bot as a human looking at a screen performing repetitive tasks. If you’re implementing RPA, it might be useful to consider what paper or human-based processes could be digitized and then automated.
3. The process is stable.
As noted earlier, for RPA to work, it must be able to follow a precise set of rules. If the process you’re trying to automate is constantly in flux with rules changing frequently, RPA isn’t much help as it will need to constantly be reprogrammed to follow the new rules.
1. The process has high volume.
Robots are faster than humans, so the gains from automation are highest when the number of transactions is high. A Fortune 100 diversified bank automated the processing of ACH (automated clearing house) payments of which there were a total of 25 billion in 2016.
2. The process involves interacting with several different applications.
RPA shines when it is used to access multiple programs on your computer. A leading construction equipment manufacturer used RPA to automate the correction of sales orders errors. Prior to automation, the process involved manual verification of the system as well as user notification, consuming significant time. The RPA robots on the other hand, automatically search for the correct order, update the data, and access a different system to notify the user of completion.
3. The process can be done outside normal working hours.
Some industries, like logistics, have components that operate at all times of day. Crete Carrier, one of the largest privately-owned trucking companies in the United States, manually scheduled deliveries prior to its installation of RPA. Since the location of its vehicles was tracked manually yet often changed overnight, scheduling was a complicated and tedious process only made possible a few days in advance. Now, having automated significant aspects of the scheduling and tracking process using over 380 robots, Crete can respond to scheduling requests outside the workday and over the weekend. This has allowed Crete Carrier the ability to schedule further in advance and improve its estimated time of arrival (ETA) conformance from 15.4% to 99.9%.
4. You are in a compliance-critical environment.
For many institutions, regulatory compliance is an important, yet costly necessity of doing business. RPA is accurate in that it follows its instructions without fail and leaves an audit trail for all its steps. This makes it especially useful in ensuring adherence to financial regulations. The commercial loan team of a top 10 US bank was often out of compliance with SOX regulations due to the manual, error-prone process it had in place. Using RPA, it automated document field extraction and other aspects of the process, increasing accuracy by over 80% and handling loans 50% faster. It does this all while keeping a record of each step performed, ensuring auditing is possible.
5. You have better things for your employees to do.
One of the chief benefits of RPA is that it automates boring jobs so that humans don’t have to do them and can instead do more interesting, challenging, and rewarding tasks. Zurich Insurance has automated most basic underwriting processes, allowing its commercial underwriters to “devote their time to more complex policies.” The benefit of this to employee morale should not be understated.
Our next post in this series will cover best practices for implementing RPA.