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Do you need a digital workforce?

17 Dec 2018
‘Software robots’ may sound like the next buzzword, fitting perfectly into the list that features terms such as ‘AI’ and ‘block chain’. However, robotic process automation – the official term for software robots – is a lot more pragmatic. In this blog, we’ll explain what software robots are and when to use them.

What can robotic process automation do for you?

As early as in the eighties, it made sense to automate high-volume processes – like payrolling or order management – using dedicated, purpose-built systems. As automation costs have decreased, more and more processes have been automated – even lower-volumes processes such as CRM and management reporting. Fast-forward to the present, and we're left with manual tasks that haven't been automated because their volume isn't high enough, they are too complex to automate, or they change too often. Most of the time, these tasks fall under either of the 2 categories below.

1. Far-from-perfect integration

Even today, systems don’t always interact smoothly. Within many organizations, customer requests have to be entered into several systems, or one system’s output needs to be transferred to another system. Often, this is done manually. Possible reasons: integrating the systems is not worth it from a cost perspective or the tasks involved are changing too frequently.

2. Resource-intensiveness

Some tasks require employees to aggregate information from a large number of resources and systems. Banks, for example, have to run comprehensive background checks on potential new customers. Although this is not a complex job, fully integrating so many systems and sources is simply not worth it.

In both categories, robotic process automation offers a solution. Why? It is flexible enough to mimic employee behavior and cost efficient enough to deploy in smaller contexts.

What is a software robot?

Briefly put, a software robot is a computer program that performs your tasks on your computer on behalf of you. It uses your login codes and your existing applications, entering information into fields you normally fill out. Since it uses the exact same interface as a human being, it is always compatible. A software robot sees what people see and uses the same keyboard and mouse – only 10, 20, or even 100 times faster, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now, there are 2 ways to tell a software robot what to do. Your first option is to have it perform tasks based on decision rules. This involves a form of programming, so you'll need to define each step of the process very clearly, which may be challenging. Another possibility is to train the software robot: it watches and learns as you work, and after a while, it can take over. This is similar to training an employee, and it doesn't require any programming knowledge.

No matter which option you choose, implementation time and expenses will be minimal compared to traditional automation. After all, you don't have to change your systems, and the robot can get to work within days to weeks.

New capability: managing your digital workforce

Flexibility is a great benefit of the software robot. Changing its behavior is easy: you change its programming and tell it to do things in a different way. There’s no need to change any other part of your IT landscape. Robots adapt to a new process as quickly as humans.

So is ‘robotic process automation’ just another way to describe the outsourcing of manual tasks – only to robots instead of outsourcing companies? In fact, it's not. To make your new digital employees successful, you need to manage and direct them. This requires you to build a new capability within your company which is responsible for running your digital workforce.

Robotic process automation: benefits at a glance

Finally, here are the benefits of software robots at a glance:

• They are more accurate than human beings: they don't make mistakes when it comes to typing out or sorting out data

• They create solid order trails (or log files)

• They are flexible to change

• They are fast, decreasing throughput times

• They are cost efficient, requiring a fraction of what you’d spend on a human employee

Should we use software robots for everything, then? Of course not – for high-volume processes, ‘traditional’, purpose-built systems still form a much better automation option. But for manual yet intellectually non-challenging tasks that depend on humans mainly for their flexibility, the software robot is perfect!

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