What Process Should You Choose to Automate with Robotic Process Automation?

Question
How do you know when a process should be scripted with image recognition and automated via robotic process automation (RPA)?

Answer
Business managers want to know what characteristics a process should have to be a good candidate for robotic process automation.  There are different criteria for selecting a process to automate with RPA.  Here are 10 traits of a software business process that using robotic process automation would add value.

1)  High labor costs for the process.  Clerical or administrative employees can have an expensive hourly rate to a business.  Such activities include workflows data entry with optical character recognition (OCR).

Replicating a sequence of tasks with software can allow a business to save money over time.  Some businesses could use RPA instead of outsourcing certain back-office functions.  RPA could allow the business to keep more records on their own premises using virtual employees, called robots or bots, while lowering their annual costs.   

2)  The process is in a stable enterprise with sufficient communication about a new change to the business that will obviate the task in the near future.  This is more about the environment of the process and less about the process itself.  Some executives may change processes that eliminate the benefit of developing robotic process automation.   Unpredictable businesses may be justifiably reluctant to investing in RPA.  Optimal gains from RPA development come from coherent business operations with adequate communication across the business who are decision-makers governing the process to be automated.  A disadvantage of RPA is that it lends itself to vendor lock-in.

3)  The tasks in the process are pre-determined and repetitive.  Procedures that involve structured data that apply simple logic lend themselves to robotic process automation.  Allowing employees to focus on less mundane tasks can improve business efficiency and improve morale when the cycle of a workflow is automated in an unattended or mostly unattended way.  Employee roles can be transformed in a positive way.

4)  The individual activities involved in changing the state of the data are deterministic insofar as images on the screen are displayed. Deterministic is a quality that involves producing identical output for the same process' input.  Automation can be thought of as computation; the word deterministic is common in the realm of computation.  Random or varying output while holding input constant (keeping the input the same), does not lend itself to automation.

5)  The task is rule-based.  Data (either graphical patterns or strings of text) may need to go through a transition process.  The operations may put the data in different states in a predetermined sequence.  If there are predictable constraints for processing this data, it is a candidate for automation.  

6)  The process is not subjective.  The apparent characters represented in highly obfuscated captchas may be subjective.  RPA can be flexible but only to a certain point.  Processes that are objective tend to be good candidates for RPA.

7)  Human error in the process can be costly.  Having a software robot perform the task can improve accuracy and reliability of the process.

8)  There is no API for the applications involved.  APIs can often be leveraged with consistency and efficiency.  For  processes with no exposed API or a complex, undocumented API, robotic process automation may be the best solution.

9)  It is an end-to-end process that is trans-applicational and has heterogeneous vendors.  If the data must go from  one application to another and the respective vendors are not the same.  Crossing the boundaries of applications and  vendors can be difficult by design.  RPA can open up possibilities for creating a "continual application" (a changing  process that is adaptive and uses artificial intelligence) through multiple applications.  Integrating diverse  applications including the use of Remote Desktop or Putty on Windows workstations is feasible with RPA.

10)  The operations are mostly GUI in nature.  Text based operations can often be automated with programs written in  traditional computer programming languages.

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