What is RPA?

What is RPA?
March 29, 2019 Franzi

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is currently one of the most discussed topics in digital transformation. By 2022, global expenditures in this area are expected to amount to around 2.4 billion US dollars. We explain what RPA is in the following blog article.

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What is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation, or briefly RPA, describes the automation of processes with the help of software robots. Thus are not industrial robots, as they are used, for example, in production. These software robots imitate human behavior on the user interface of the software. By clicking and entering data, for example by entering certain values in text fields, the robot executes functions in a program. An RPA robot is not limited to certain software but can be used for various systems.

In order for the robot to know how certain processes run and are executed, however, it needs to be given the sequence of activities to be performed. This sequence is often expressed in flowcharts that the robot uses to operate. Particularly repetitive standard processes with few variations are suitable for this purpose. These flowcharts are created in the RPA software. This can be done manually or by recording the user’s screen while the user is performing the process to be automated. It is important to make sure that the flowchart contains every single step to be performed, otherwise, the result will be incorrect or there will be no result at all. This also includes common deviations from the standard process.

Benefits and challenges of RPA

Because RPA robots use flowcharts that reflect click and input sequences, RPA engineers do not need to have any programming skills. This enables the business user to automate the processes independently. Another advantage of this direct implementation is that the process is implemented and improved by the employees who perform it daily in the company business. RPA can be classified as a support for the employee and not as a substitution for the employee. RPA relieves the employee of standard tasks such as sending emails, allowing him or her to devote himself or herself to demanding and value-adding activities. If the employees have this understanding, it facilitates the introduction of RPA.

In the context of an RPA project, processes should be harmonized and standardized so that they can be implemented usefully and effectively by RPA robots. In addition, the processes must be mapped in great detail, including all conditions, properties and steps. For both these points, comprehensive process knowledge is necessary. This knowledge has to be partly acquired in (pre) projects, which makes the introduction of RPA very time-consuming. In addition, the mapping of processes as flowcharts with all clicks, inputs, dependencies, and conditions can quickly become very complex.

Overall, RPA is a simple automation method that is close to the end user. However, detailed process knowledge is required. In addition, process abstraction in an RPA program can quickly become complex.

Learn how Process Mining supports RPA here.

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