There is a growing trend of robotic process automation that is beginning to have an effect on many working environments. UiPath, who specialises in RPA, has recently attracted big-name investors such as CapitalG and Sequoia Capital as they closed their series C round, collecting $225 million and earning a $3 billion valuation. Furthermore, a recent survey conducted by HfS and KPMG suggests that RPA is the top priority for corporate purchasers.
If you haven’t considered RPA in your project management tasks yet, it will likely be something you need to factor in soon.
What is the definition of robotic process automation?
When someone mentions robotic process automation, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a manufacturing line setting with robot arms doing repetitive, precise tasks. While that is the origin of RPA, nowadays it usually refers to software applications.
If you have ever used macros or other automated programs, you likely have a basic comprehension of RPA. This technology can help automate processes such as creating new accounts or inputting invoice information into external software, and is more intricate than macros due to its ability to handle multiple applications concurrently. Additionally, RPA tools feature a drag and drop interface which renders the construction of process workflows straightforward; this is simpler than writing custom scripts.
An example of RPA in action is shown below:
- A robotic process automation (RPA) bot receives an email with a standard Excel invoice form.
- The automated system accesses SAP, a business management software, and downloads Excel data to be inserted into SAP.
- Generates an invoice in SAP for the requester.
- An automated notification is sent to confirm that the invoice has been created and sent.
After initialisation, RPA bots can autonomously complete regular duties, thereby allowing companies to reduce the number of personnel needed to facilitate operations. Nonetheless, the configuration, upkeep and exception management of the bots necessitate human personnel.
Quicker Turnaround Time
Robots programmed for RPA are capable of completing the same repetitive tasks much faster than humans, and without needing a break. In certain processes, these bots can eliminate delays caused by bottlenecks. For example, an RPA bot can be deployed when a salesperson is on the phone with a client, allowing them to open the account without dedicating multiple hours or days to the task in contrast to a purely manual approach.
Eliminates Human Mistakes
When transferring data from one program to another (i.e. invoice numbers, amounts, etc.), it is easy to make mistakes by manually typing it in, or even by accidentally clicking or copying the wrong information. However, with the help of robotics process automation (RPA) bots, there is almost no risk of errors due to the bots’ careful selection of the right data based on the user interface.
Reduces Staff Turnover and Exhaustion
Upon review, the jobs being automated usually involve mundane, repetitive labour. This kind of labour is typically done by people, yet can lead to high rates of employee attrition. By taking over these duties, robots can grant people the chance to focus on more creative and fulfilling tasks.
Easily integrates with existing business systems
To improve a process, it often needs to be restructured and the software it relies on must be upgraded. Unfortunately, this is an expensive endeavour, so only the most necessary procedures can be conducted. Fortunately, RPA, a system that works similarly to a human but more efficiently, can be implemented to make the process more cost-effective.
All new personnel must be trained on the job and become proficient in the completion of any task. On the other hand, to increase capacity, you can quickly deploy additional robotic process automation (RPA) bots that will follow the pre-programed procedures after a single setup.
If you want to extend the automation capabilities of RPA to include a process that is similar to the one that has already been automated (e.g. obtaining a customer’s account number), you can duplicate that section of the automation workflow.
Potential Dangers of Robotic Process Automation
RPA bots can substitute human labour, as previously noted. This might give employees more opportunity to focus on other artful tasks, yet they could be limited in their ability to switch positions.
Unreasonable assumptions regarding the cost and duration of setup
Despite the appealing promises of RPA manufacturing companies, McKinsey‘s findings suggest that transitioning to automation has proven to be a lengthy and difficult process. It is not guaranteed that operating costs will decrease drastically with the automation of 30% of tasks.
Outputs from Source Programs are Generated
It is clear that RPA offers the benefit of being compatible with already existing corporate software. However, installing new software updates and changes can be difficult for the bots to adjust to and this should be taken into account when a business is deciding whether or not to use RPA. This is especially important to consider when it comes to the technological debt of the business.
What Makes RPA Enduring?
Recent investments in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) companies have caused a lot of attention from CEOs and media outlets, but does this make RPA a lasting trend in the tech space or is it just a fleeting phenomenon?
A 2018 research survey conducted by HfS Research and KPMG, dubbed “State of operations and outsourcing,” has shown that RPA is highly sought after by business organisations.
Those unfamiliar with the operational side of business or ones who’ve yet to work on an RPA project may be surprised to find that robotic process automation was ranked higher than cloud, IoT, analytics, virtual/augmented reality, blockchain, AI/Machine Learning/Cognitive Computing, drones, and self-driving vehicles.
KPMG conducted a survey that revealed which organisational goals would be top priorities in 2018. This survey can provide us with insight into the reasons why there is so much interest in Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
- Decrease expenses even more.
- Invest in updated, state-of-the-art, and timeless IT solutions.
- Invest more in robotic process automation.
- To take full advantage of automation, streamline processes and activities.
- Channel optimisation to enhance global service provision, focusing on Global Business Services.
- Revamp core business processes.
- Invest in cognitive computing and AI technologies for further development.
- Introduce innovative products or services; increase or develop research and development.
- Attract and retain skilled employees from diverse locations.
- Restore the work that had been sent outside the company; use in-house digital resources to replace external services.
Ranking third on the list is RPA but, upon closer inspection, we can see that many of the other highlighted goals are related to this as well.
Executives are very interested in RPA due to its ability to help lower costs, expand quickly, and connect with other systems easily. Although it can be attractive as an easier alternative to overhauling processes, it’s important to understand that faster setup and less expense may not always be feasible.
Are PMs able to be automated?
Given the current discourse about automation and artificial intelligence, it is reasonable to question if project managers should worry about the impact of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) on their job security.
A short answer is no. Being a Project Manager is not usually done by following a strict set of protocols, rather it relies on using one’s expertise to complete tasks effectively. As more Project Managers employ Agile techniques, it may become increasingly difficult to generalise their workflows. This is in line with the main concept of the Agile Manifesto, which emphasises people and collaboration over processes and technology.
As businesses are becoming more reliant on RPA,
Project managers should be prepared for RPA’s growing importance in their roles. As B2B projects increasingly include RPA initiatives, it’s likely that you’ll need to consider them in the near future. We’ll explore the details of this further in the following section.
Potential Applications of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Bots
Other Options for Backlogs
When managing the development of new software, the Project Manager must always look into how it will be maintained after implementation. This involves getting in touch with various divisions such as client support, finance, and administration to make sure resources and responsibilities are allocated. As RPA technology can help reduce the costs associated with such maintenance, it provides a great addition to the PM’s toolbox.
RPA Enables Quick Adaptability
Obtaining resources from different departments for a limited project, such as a pilot, is hard. Utilising RPA bots can lighten the need for extra human personnel. It is simpler to look for a part-time client support specialist for a couple of months instead of three full-time employees for the same amount of time. Moreover, if the pilot does not achieve the desired results, these bots can be easily stopped and the project can be halted at an agile pace.
Knowing that the product will necessitate human assistance once it is released may limit the objectives that you and your squad have set. Certain concepts may be deliberately or unintentionally disregarded when constructing the project vision and creating the backlog because of the lessened Return on Investment (ROI) they will create. When incorporating Robotic Process Automation (RPA) into your arsenal, you can contemplate numerous alternate strategies since it will furnish a wide range of advantages.
- The implementation of automated systems can lower the expenses associated with future operations.
- It is straightforward to scale up bot support, enabling you to quickly respond to customer requirements.
Implementing Structured RP
If you are introducing RPA in a non-IT department, where industry-standard software delivery procedures may not be known or followed, it can be hard to set the guidelines for how bots should be developed and deployed. This article provides more information on how to handle the challenges of legacy solutions that can arise from this. As the project manager, it is essential that you facilitate a well-structured RPA deployment to avoid any issues.
Designing programs for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) machines can be challenging.
While the result of a human and a bot carrying out the same task may appear to be identical, the processes they respectively use to achieve their goal are entirely different. RPA companies often tout the efficiency of their bots over humans, noting that they can complete the same tasks but more quickly and accurately.
The two most frequently used methods for bots to communicate with programs are:
- Element identification – locates the name of a UI element within the properties of a program or the HTML structure of a browser. This is usually done when the bot is able to access the program directly from its environment.
- With computer vision, the bot is able to identify certain data, fields and buttons that are set up during initial configuration. If the program is not accessible through a physical environment, then this method can be used to interact with them.
It is clear that bots and people process data in very different ways. This poses a challenge when developing software meant to be used by both humans and robots simultaneously.
Automated Programs Create Dependencies
It’s essential to note that bots and humans interact differently with software applications. Consequently, any maintenance or updates may have an effect on the bot’s workflow.
If the characteristics of the UI elements are altered, the bot may not be capable of locating them. Such an adjustment would have no influence on a human worker.
A human worker may have some initial difficulty when the UI has been altered, such as with different colours, fonts, etc., but they would be able to adapt quickly. However, automated programs powered by bots would be unable to cope if the updated version of the UI does not match the original images used to teach the bot.
If the additional dependencies are not properly managed throughout the development, testing, and support stages, the bots are likely to fail, resulting in further complications.
Corruption of Data
If the bot stopped working and notified someone of the issue, you’d be lucky. Alternatively, it could also switch to a new UI element without any problems.
Dan French, CEO of Consider Solutions, emphasised that without proper rules in place, bots will replicate mistakes on a large scale. Automation can worsen issues at a rapid pace, and bots may have the capacity to cause massive data loss.
Arriving: Outdated Systems
Let’s look at a case where bots are running as expected.
Chris DeBrusk draws parallels between RPA bots and the solution to the Y2K time-clock bug in an article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
To get around the constraints of their outdated systems, companies utilised the capabilities of Microsoft Excel and Access to develop intricate and essential programs on personal computers. Unfortunately, there was no supervision of these makeshift tools, including quality assurance protocols, release-management measures, and other organised IT processes, leading to a range of issues.
Bots are quickly becoming more widespread and this could be problematic if certain standards are not met. Bots should be created using accepted software development protocols and should be logged and tested to ensure quality. Otherwise, the same mistakes from the past may occur.
It is clear from this study that the installation of bots is being heavily emphasised by RPA providers. Traditional methods of system organisation can often be cumbersome. Additionally, when working with agile methodology, problems may arise if projects are rushed at the expense of governance initiatives.
Taking Shortcuts Instead of Offering Genuine Innovation
Although RPA may seem like an ideal solution, it is important to consider the potential ramifications of automating certain processes. By providing an abundance of resources to carry out mundane tasks, workers may not feel the need to innovate the product. Additionally, RPA can prevent necessary changes from being made to outdated processes.
Steve Gordon, a high-ranking executive from Becton Dickinson, has clarified that RPA is not about building new roads, but instead, its purpose is to repair potholes on existing roads.
Things to Consider When Implementing Change
Executives are far more likely to be in favour of robotics and RPA than transactional workers, according to Consider Solutions’ poll results, which indicated that 87% of executives supported the technologies compared to only 17% of transactional workers.
To better manage people’s expectations, it is beneficial to refer to robotic task automation rather than the process itself. As RPA technology is not yet able to carry out complex operations, it eases the pressure on those responsible for the tasks. The software will take on the laborious tasks, allowing the people involved to feel greater security in their roles.
Due to the high influx of venture capital and the need to streamline internal operations to save funds, RPA is a great option that many businesses have taken advantage of. With the technology growing, it is likely that project managers will encounter the use of RPA bots either directly or indirectly.
RPA provides many advantages and opportunities for your projects, however it can also be challenging. As a project manager, it’s crucial to be mindful of potential issues like data corruption and legacy system development. Taking extra time during the planning stages of your project will help you avoid potential problems down the line and ensure that your stakeholders are satisfied with the end result.
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