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RPAs are software programs that can replicate human actions, such as mouse clicks and are used to automate a wide variety of computing tasks | Photo source Pixabay

Tech Explained: Robot Process Automation

Computing & Tech

How RPA works and how is it different from other enterprise automation tools

Although it sounds like the start of an apocalyptic thriller movie, robot process automation (RPA) is actually a technology that allows anyone to configure computer software (the robot) to copy the actions of a human. RPA is generally used to mimic human actions and automate a wide variety of repetitive tasks. 

So, how does RPA work and how is it different from other enterprise automation tools?

How robot process automation works

RPA uses software, (again, which is the robot here) that performs tasks on a computer using the same interfaces used by human workers. 

For example, the software robot can click, type, open applications and use the keyboard. This ability to mimic human workers allows the software to capture data, run applications, move files, fill in forms, scrape browsers, communicate with other systems and more. 

RPA has its roots in simple screen-scraping programs (these collect screen display data from one application and translate or update it so that it can be used by another application). 

By the early 2010s, screen-scraping programs were developed that could use image processing and were very flexible. Software companies then began building business process automation solutions on top of the screen scrapers. 

However, it was the rise of AI that allowed the development of software that could also take on cognitive tasks like pattern recognition.

Today, there are a large number of different RPA technologies available. Most include RPA developer tools, a controller and the robot software itself. The developer tools allow businesses to easily configure the software for their exact needs.

Once installed, the software bot follows the user’s clicks, mouse movements and actions. It then analyses these using artificial intelligence. Once enough data has been analysed, the bot will be able to complete the process itself. So, basically, the start of that freaky movie mentioned earlier.

Advantages of RPAs

One of the big benefits of RPA is that it uses existing (or legacy) infrastructure to automate business processes and tasks, and does not require system integration. Because it does not require a new platform to operate, using an RPA minimises the cost and disruption to businesses. 

This is a big advantage for businesses with large amounts of legacy infrastructure, such as banks, insurance companies, telecoms companies and utilities. Using RPAs allows these businesses to engage in digital transformation at a relatively low cost of investment in new technology. This also makes RPA especially useful for small-to-medium sized enterprises.

Real-world examples include processing thousands of sick leave certificates, validating and consolidating closing information for cash registers across hundreds of stores and gathering information needed to automate the credit limit request underwriting process. In each of these examples, the automation of routine but time-consuming tasks freed up workers to devote more time to customer service.

Other advantages include the high accuracy of these systems. The RPA robots not only execute their commands reliably, but allow users to monitor every action. This makes it easy to ensure compliance with regulations and standards. 

By reducing processing times and eliminating errors, RPAs can reduce processing costs, allowing the systems to pay for themselves. RPAs can also be scaled by having them perform operations in parallel and by adding additional robotic systems.

Growth of RPAs

According to research and consulting firm Gartner, the RPA market grew by 63 percent in 2018, making it the fastest growing enterprise software category. The market for RPAs is expected to reach almost €3.57 billion by 2025. 

One of the fastest-growing companies in this market is UIPath, which has raised nearly €1 billion in venture funding on a valuation of over €6 billion. The company increased its revenue by 630 percent in just one year, and has around 14 percent of the RPA market share. Close behind is startup Automation Anywhere, which has raised close to €500 million in funding.

The real key to getting the most out of an RPA is to first determine the best way to use one. Not every business will need an RPA, and there is no point in automating a process just for the sake of it. But for businesses that have a strategic use for RPAs may find them to be an essential tool.