What is Robotic Process Automation?

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The basic idea behind Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is to automate a certain category of operational activities which are normally executed by the human employees in business enterprises. In RPA, this is achieved through developing and using software robots.
The term ‘software robot’ in RPA connotes software program for robotic automation. These RPA software robots can operate on various GUI-based business information and communication systems just like human employees can do but without any human intervention. As a distant but mirror analogy, an RPA software robot in action might appear like a ghost robot is working on live desktop applications.
The operational activities which can be automated through RPA are usually those which are rule-based, repetitive in nature, large in number and executed through various GUI-based business information and communication systems.

RPA vs Artificial Intelligence (AI)
While the idea behind RPA is to automate only a certain category of operational activities Artificial Intelligence is a much broader concept that seeks to achieve not just automation but also push machines/software applications towards self-learning and emulate human-like intelligence. The software robots in RPA run on programmed instructions to execute a predefined set or series of operational activities and they do not possess the ability to learn on their own. The parameters of input and output are defined in these software robots. These robots will do what they are programmed to do and will continue to do so unless new instructions are incorporated into the programs which run them.

Why RPA?
The simple answer is improved productivity.
In almost every business enterprise, there are several routine, repetitive but still important tasks which are executed by its employees by/while working on the business information and communication system in place. The collective amount of time spent by all the employees of a business enterprise on such routine/repetitive tasks adds up to form a significant figure in a week or in a month and if such tasks are automated through RPA, it can create huge opportunities of resource redirection and cost optimization for the business enterprise.
Software programs/robots can handle enormous volumes of data and process it more efficiently and more accurately than humans. These software robots can work 24X7 and still not get bored. No Monday blues or TGIF. They hardly fall sick. The downtime is minimal (maintenance and upgrades). The RPA costing factor may vary from vendor to vendor but it just may give an overwhelming fight to any fat wage bill. RPA can be applied to the existing business information and communication systems in place.

Applications of RPA
Few simple operational tasks and activities which could be automated by bringing them under the RPA umbrella are depicted in the diagram underneath.

RPA finds enough room to accommodate itself in business enterprises because there are gaps in our existing business software applications which necessitate human involvement. While human intervention is necessary for many critical operations there are several tasks and activities (either wholly or in part) which can be brought under the realm of automation.
Disclaimer: The above content/publication is intended only to provide a general overview and is not to be used as a basis for the exercise of any business or professional judgment.

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