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You were right all along - Robotic Process Automation really is the answer. But what’s the question?

06 Jun 2018

Article by Michael Pyliotis, vice president Asia Pacific, Basware

Business process automation, robotic process automation (RPA), and AI have rapidly evolved from being far-fetched notions (with little follow-through) to being real-world business practices (placed at the pinnacle of success).

Organisations far and wide have finally found that they have the data and the tools to be able to automate processes and start becoming more data-centric, and they are acting on it quickly.

In fact, according to Telsyte, Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) organisations are ramping up investment in robotic process automation (RPA) – predicting that the market will reach $870 million by 2020.

Despite being one of the simplest tools on the digital transformation agenda, RPA is still widely misunderstood and underutilised in the businesses world. So, here’s what you need to know about this technology, right now.

What is RPA, and why should I care?

RPA is one of the most-talked-about developments in automation today.

But while a few companies have created a proof of concept and some have even implemented RPA into their processes, most organisations don’t yet understand what RPA can be used for or how to evaluate its potential for their own use.

Put simply, RPA is a “virtual hand” that mimics how people use software in order to perform tasks on people’s behalf.

It allows organisations to automate manual and repetitive tasks that already exist through the use of virtual ‘robots’ that integrate with existing software.

These robots replicate desktop actions, like mouse-clicks, and are driven by simple rules and business logic.

RPA has many uses across industries with large customer support and request processing requirements, for example, finance, banking, telecommunications and insurance. We’re already seeing finance and insurance providers adopting the technology, with more to follow.

Who can benefit from RPA?

RPA is constantly cited as the technology that will take people’s jobs, leaving us destitute in a world governed by machines.

However, RPA isn’t (and has never been) focused on creating human-like robots.

Instead, RPA is centred on removing the mundane to (theoretically) make our lives easier.

For example, in a procure-to-pay world, RPA will automate activities that are labour-intensive, require accessing multiple systems, are repetitive, or that need to be periodically audited for compliance.

Tasks may include: maintaining a vendor database, acknowledging the receipt of goods, resolving price or quantity discrepancies, establishing payment data, and updating the general ledger.

RPA is one of the many ways that technology is helping people to become more productive, focus on the right tasks, and allow laborious tasks to be automated. RPA can help aspiring professionals take their hands off the repetitive routine tasks, enabling them to focus on adding value across the business.

The real question is: can RPA change the world?

RPA provides a simple and effective solution for specific problems; for example, solving issues that span across multiple systems, require many manual steps, and where tasks need to be performed repetitively.

However, often times it pays off integrating systems together more deeply, eventually removing the need for RPA. After all, the less “hands” that are involved, the better automated systems work together.

The virtual hand of an RPA has a role, but for “touchless invoice processing”, you would eventually want to remove hands – even virtual.

RPA is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Research suggests that RPA is now being investigated by a number of ANZ organisations, with 12% already having an RPA strategy in place.

For the businesses playing catch up?

There is a clear business case for RPA, across a number of industries and job functions, and it will be critical to delivering competitive advantage in today’s digital economy.

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