Robotic Process Automation – RPA – serves to automate tasks and processes and improve the work environment for employees. It is one of many methods and technologies aimed at accomplishing similar goals, leveraging today’s favorable digital transformation.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
In large organizations, private companies, and public services, computer workstation users spend a great deal of time interacting with the information system’s various applications. To do this, they copy-paste lots of data or compare and verify information from two different applications. Robotic process automation (RPA) consists of implementing “software robots” to automate these tedious tasks with no added value.
This “white-collar automation” method frees up 15-30% of the user’s time. This free time can be used for actions that bring real value and improve the quality of the service provided to customers. Last but not least, this automation also improves employee comfort at work.
Historically speaking, companies have always been organized into silos. Computer scientists have adapted and have implemented information systems that themselves are siloed: human resource management, accounting management, logistics management, etc. For decades, computer scientists, managers, general managers, and employees have been saying: “This doesn’t really meet every need, because some processes are cross-functional processes involving exchanges of information, etc.” The desire to streamline information systems is not new with RPA; it is old. But previous attempts have been unsuccessful.
First, there was ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), which was designed to respond to all of a company’s processes. SAP, the most well-known ERP, has lapsed back into siloing. A plethora of specialized components emerged, moving toward cross-functional management without ever going all the way.
Then, Business Process Management came along. Here again, the objective was not achieved, mainly because the BPM approach, with all of its protocols, had trouble subtly integrating into existing systems. In today’s organizations, it is important to be agile in order to make the digital transformation a tangible reality, with ongoing progress toward greater cross-functionality. In addition, many large BPM projects were unsuccessful. According to the top analysts at Forrester and Gartner, half of all BPM projects were disasters.
Third solution: SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture). In an attempt to architect information technology, ultimately creating interoperability with strong ambitions of strategic alignment, promised agility, and legacy application reusability, SOA most often ran up against many managerial, organizational, and technical problems.
Fourth solution: outsourcing to emerging countries. Outsourcing has been popular since the 1970s in the United States, which outsourced to India. Indian computer scientists were skilled, could speak English, and were cheaper. To lower costs, big American companies subcontracted their IT production to India. The use of this labor source was massive. But in the past ten years, the cost of this outsourcing rose. Outsourcing to other countries, like the Philippines, has been inconclusive. Being unable to lower costs through cheaper labor, big companies decided to install software robots. The idea was that robots would replace individuals, plain and simple. Information technology is etched in the history of industry, where machines appeared to automate processes and tasks.
This change affects the value chain. RPA will bring back some processes that previously had been handed over to the workforce of emerging countries. Major call centers that went to India, Morocco, and Vietnam will have a labor problem to be solved. As with any industrial revolution, business changes. They will have to move along to offer other services.
A favorable environment
Two other trends have supported the emergence of RPA: the digitization of companies and the burden and complexity of legacy systems.
After a wave of industrialized IT production, large computer companies wanted to overhaul their information systems. This proved impossible cause such systems were cumbersome and complex. Today, large companies are stuck with sometimes old and highly diverse business and production applications (some still running on an IBM mainframe), including client-server applications, traditional Windows applications, and cloud applications. When a company decides to extract data from this multitude of applications, the most agile way to do it with seamless processes is Robotic Process Automation.
Furthermore, the current context of the digital transformation is favorable to RPA. When major, century-old banks like BNP Paribas or Société Générale compete with online banks whose services are available only on mobile phones and when big retailers like Carrefour or Auchan compete with Amazon which opens stores without a storefront, it’s a sign that we have entered an era where customer experience is digital and end-to-end. Agility helps companies adapt in near real-time to this fast-paced world, and RPA offers a real solution.
RPA: a tool for integration via the visual user interface
Traditional IT approaches primarily consist of computerizing processes and tasks that were not previously automated. Companies with legacy IT, existing partnerships, and a variety of technologies face the problem of connecting an external information system, partner, etc. to existing information systems. The basic problem is an integration problem. If it is not an integration problem, it is rewritten.
Effectively, if a company needs a new functionality or a new product, they can write the code. However, writing the code involves hours of coding, a change policy, hours of training, support needs, and new work habits. All of this comes with a significant IT and human cost. Still, the problem is how to integrate it into the existing system and how to make it available in the business process. With RPA, the new functionality is integrated without programming it in and without altering the existing system. This is therefore a non-intrusive way to streamline processes.
RPA is based on visual user interfaces, focusing on users, their tools, and their practices. This is a functional, business-based approach. RPA designers put themselves in the end user’s position. They add small elements of automation to the work environment. This way, the environment is altered in only one place. In an ERP, for example, we add a button. The button, which did not exist previously, triggers the execution of one or more automated tasks. Yet the ERP or CRM interfaces remain the same. Users continue to work in the environment without their habits being disrupted. But they must not get the impression that the robot takes over and that it takes time. This reflects a risk of rejection.
RPA therefore carries out the integration through interfaces, a graphical user interface. It basically captures information and passes it, captures it and copy-pastes it to another application. These operations go very quickly. Yet it is important for the tool to be streamlined and for errors to be handled. If the tool is secured, this is even more complicated. This is why it is best to do this early and to involve integration professionals from the start.
RPA to quickly and easily create new APIs
The Contextor RPA solution goes even further. It greatly simplifies the implementation of new APIs, which form a new way to access all available data in one of the silos of the information system.
Through user interfaces for the various components of the information system, including office tools, virtual applications, ERP, CRM, legacy mainframe applications, internal databases, SaaS applications, cloud-based applications, and web applications, RPA robots capture useful data and make it visible through a single API. This data then becomes immediately accessible for all new processes and for new applications implemented as part of the organization’s digital transformation.
Testimonials: American Express Belgium, Hello Bank, Klesia, Kleptika
Robotic Process Automation clearly brings more agility to the Information System: by facilitating the setup of a powerful “factory APIs”, it fosters the digital transformation of organizations!
If you are interested by that subject, you can read that valuable research about “Mediated API“, written by Gartner analysts Aashish Gupta, Anne Thomas and Mark O’Neill and published a week after our own blog post: it is exactly what we are doing with Contextor RPA.
PS: If you want to explore the benefits that RPA can bring to your organization, feel free to contact us for more information, or even to launch a PoC!