Not Your Father’s Robots: Robotic Process Automation and How It’s Changing IT
The word “robot” probably brings to mind classic clunky androids like C-3PO or Rosie from the Jetsons—not exactly what you expect to find in real-life modern businesses. And yet, robotic process automation (RPA) is poised for rapid growth across many industries. RPA isn’t done by humanoid robots, but smart software that interacts with business applications to streamline processes. That being said, robotic process automation does have a few things in common with your favorite fictional robots.
Automation software has been around for decades. There’s a good chance you’re using at least one automation tool in your organization. Maybe it’s a custom script written to take a single task off your hands, or maybe it’s a job scheduler that can schedule tasks for a certain time of day, every day.
Robotic process automation is smarter than that. What happens if the workflow you want to automate requires a certain file, but that file hasn’t arrived yet? Your traditional automation tool will probably try to run the process at 2:00 p.m. like it always does, and the task will fail. Robotic process automation software makes decisions like a human operator would. It can kick off your automated process based on whether that file has arrived. If one of the subsequent steps of the process fails, the RPA platform can choose an alternate task for the next step of the workflow.
It Does What a Human Would Do
Robotic process automation software may not be the kind of robot that looks human, but it manipulates your applications at the graphical interface level, just like you. That makes it easy to set up your robotic process automation solution to follow all the same steps in a process that a person would, even if the process includes interfacing with multiple applications in the same workflow.
Robotic process automation is a great way to automate your ERP system, for example. Say you need to enter data into your ERP application, and that data gets uploaded to SharePoint. Your RPA tool can notice when the data arrives on SharePoint, loop through it to find the specific data needed, enter it into the ERP, and email you to let you know the process is complete.
Given the growing complexity of IT infrastructure in most enterprises, this kind of intelligent process automation has a big advantage over point-to-point application integrations. And it’s easy to set up new processes—as easy as telling your friendly office android which keys to press. RPA can also run workflows that automate applications and systems like:
It’s There to Make Your Life Easier
All robots (even the evil ones) were created to help people with their workload. Wall-E compacts trash, Data scans for life forms, and robotic process automation ensures that you aren’t bogged down in unnecessary work by greatly reducing the necessity of human intervention in repeated IT processes.
IT professionals often think that while automation works for straightforward tasks, their processes are too complex and unique to run completely unattended. But since robotic process automation can interact with all the same interfaces that you can, it’s possible to set up very customized workflows. For example, this company that makes store shelf signage. Their process involved receiving data from customers, transferring the data to a production server, using two homegrown GUI-driven applications to cleanse and transform the data into print-ready files, intervening at strategic points to apply customer-specific business rules, and sending the cleansed files to a print center. The previous automation solutions the company had tried lacked the necessary GUI automation and business logic abilities. After fully automating the process with an RPA platform, the company saved 200 hours per week. That’s one helpful robot!
These days, IT departments are under more pressure than ever to find solutions that support business objectives while reducing IT costs. Robotic process automation frees you and your team up to tackle the things that are really important—the strategic, innovative solutions that move the business forward. What else can you do with robotic process automation? RPA software provides the intelligence and flexibility to tackle almost any business process, including:
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