The prospect of robotic process automation (RPA) is exciting for the future of business and outsourcing. To make sure you get the most out of your RPA experience, and to make the best business case possible to your executive, it’s helpful to identify the business processes where RPA can make the biggest difference.
RPA in its current state can dramatically alter how businesses are run, but in areas of complex decision making and intuition, human beings still outperform robots by quite a lot. Robots, both mechanical and technical, are inherently rule-oriented, which means that not all business processes are ripe for RPA deployment. In the landmark 2013 report “Framing a Constitution for Robotistan”, analyst Charles Sutherland identified several key characteristics of business processes that would be well-suited for RPA. Here are the top five:
- The process requires access to multiple systems: One of RPA’s strengths is its ability to work across systems using the presentation layer. Before this advancement, automation was really only possible within a single program. Now RPA can jump between desktop windows without any human assistance. Of course, RPA can also handle processes contained in a single program if that’s what you most need.
- The process is prone to human error: Humans make dumb mistakes; robots don’t. Especially with repetitive processes like cutting-and-pasting where attention can waver, RPA is a perfect fit.
- The process can be broken into unambiguous rules: As stated above, robots are very good at following rules, but they have to be well-defined rules. “If X, then Y” should apply to the majority of transactions (exceptions can be dealt with separately).
- The process, once started, needs limited human intervention: The best business processes for RPA are those that can be run solely by a robot from start to finish; think payroll or accounting. However, there are plenty of decision-heavy processes that could really benefit from even partial automation as well.
- The process should require limited exception handling: Similar to the ‘unambiguous rules’ characteristic, a process where a robot would report many transactions as errors or exceptions would not be a good fit for RPA at this time. RPA is intended to lessen the need for human attention to these lower processes, not increase or maintain it.
These characteristics are intended to be guidelines, not rules. Even if a process meets two out of the five listed above, RPA could still make a revolutionary impact in the system. As technology continues to improve, the possibilities for RPA in the workplace will be even greater.
Image from Flickr user Logan Ingalls, used under a Creative Commons license: https://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/847695350/
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