Join Ian Barkin for an in-depth discussion in this video What is robotic process automation (RPA)?, part of Introducing Robotic Process Automation.
- And now, what you've all been waiting for, what is RPA? Well, lucky for us, the concept's been around long enough and some very good definitions have been developed. I myself have used several definitions but for this course, I've chosen a more comprehensive one to help illustrate several critical points. Here we go! RPA is a configurable software tool that uses business rules and sequences of actions to automatically complete processes in any number of different applications the same way a human would, with the help of people for exception management.
If you understood that, then you're set. But there is a lot covered in that definition so let's unpack it a bit and take a closer look at some of the elements. I'll be focusing on the bolded terms as they're the key to this concept. First, configurable software. Configurable software is out-of-the-box software that comes with built-in functionality and doesn't involve writing lines of raw code. Think of Microsoft Excel. You don't write a spreadsheet application every time you need it, you just build macros and models using the existing features that come out-of-the-box.
Second, business rules. Business rules are the decision criteria or constraints that determine how a process is to be executed. These are the bread and butter of getting your complex processes done right. For instance, in accounts payable, if the product you ordered is received, then the firm pays for it. The rules are pretty simple. Third, sequences of actions. This consists of a series of steps taken to complete actions across multiple systems. RPA can handle sequences of actions ranging from simple tasks such as creating and updating reports to more complex tasks such as managing work absences or balancing taxes on erroneous invoices.
This concept is fundamental to identifying the right processes to automate. I'll cover this topic in more detail in a later lesson. Fourth, automatic means that the completion of tasks is done independently. Once the rules are programmed, the processes are just carried out. Fifth, the definition references operating across different software systems. I'm willing to bet that your organization is running on thousands of systems. In fact, this is the inside joke almost every firm makes to me when I'm supporting them.
That's a reality that's not changing anytime soon. Teams interact with and integrate across these systems to get work done. The key is that RPA mostly operates on the front end of applications, similar to the way that people use them. Like I said, there are thousands of these but for illustration, think of mainframe terminals or SAP, Oracle, BlackLine, Internet Explorer, Windows, and so on. Finally, exception management.
As capable as RPA is, there will be times when a person needs to step in. Exception management is when employees are tasked with resolving unforeseen events, or contributing their judgment or discretion. Sometimes this is a full intervention in which a person takes over a transaction. Sometimes this is just a small request for input, after which the automation continues on its merry way. Okay, we've spent a lot of time on this definition but it's time well spent. Now let's revisit the whole definition one more time and put all the pieces together.
RPA is a configurable software tool that uses business rules and sequences of actions to automatically complete processes in any number of different applications the same way a human would, with the help of people for exception management. In summary, RPA is a versatile form of software automation that allows businesses to relieve teams from many of the repetitive, rule-based actions, and processes that might otherwise exist as pinpoints within the operation.
- What is robotic process automation (RPA)?
- The RPA vendor landscape
- Differences between RPA and other tools
- Best practices at the process and enterprise levels
- Identifying opportunities for automation
- Prime opportunity areas for automation
- Key stakeholders in your RPA journey
- Tips for success from the front lines