What is RPA and how does it work?

Jun 1, 2019 | RPA Blog

Over the last ten years, I’ve been involved in plenty of automation projects, and whenever I talk to people that are new to automation, especially Robotic Process Automation (RPA), I often find it needs a bit of clarification. There’s so much information out there which is only half correct; it’s tough to find the right explanation. This article aims to combat any confusion and let you know what RPA is.

If you search the internet and ask “what is RPA”, you will immediately find information from Wikipedia explaining that RPA is Robotic Process Automation or AI (Artificial Intelligence). Although AI is sometimes used together with RPA, they’re entirely different technologies.

But what exactly is Robotic Process Automation? First, the industry term “RPA” refers to non-physical robots that are installed on a workstation or server session. Besides this technical detail, the beauty of RPA is anyone who has ever used a computer…yes, you read that correctly! Anyone will be able to relate to how RPA works.

So, how does it work? In a nutshell, an RPA bot uses the mouse and keyboard functions from inside the system to engage with various functions inside various applications; the same way you and I would use a computer. The only difference is, to complete the task, the bot doesn’t need to use the mouse or keyboard physically.

Why are RPA bots useful? There are plenty of possibilities to be explored, and I will be creating more content about this topic later; to keep it simple for now, the answer is because it makes sense to employ a bot anywhere you have repetitive and mundane tasks.

What are repetitive and mundane tasks? Well, apart from in the real world where you make your bed and go to work each morning, it’s not always easy to spot these processes. Because we’re doing these tasks manually, we tend to perform the processes in different ways each time.

To test if a process is repetitive and mundane, you can ask the following questions:

  1. Am I always getting the information from a predictable source?
  2. Am I always processing the information using a predictable logic?
  3. Do I always end up performing predictable actions at the end of my task?
  4. Am I doing this activity regularly without having to use my imagination or creativity?

If you answered yes to all those questions, then you’ve spotted a repetitive and mundane process. If not, here’s a relatable example.

Staff onboarding

Whether you are an employer, manager or employee, you will know several activities have to be performed to set up the workspace. For example, someone (usually highly skilled) has the pleasure of creating email accounts, setting up a system, create various users on various applications, document everything (sometimes in multiple locations) and then send instructions and account information to the new the team member. Phew!

Usually, but not always, none of these activities require creativity or imagination, but it can be very time intensive and error-prone. An RPA bot could potentially save a vast amount of valuable time by automating this process.

Once RPA is explained in real day to day activities, it becomes clear that RPA is an important subject but easy to grasp. In my next articles, I will expand on this further. 

David Griffith

 

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