Robotic Process Automation: what is it and what is it not?

4 min

Robotic Process Automation is an automated, deterministic software-based technology that is part of Business Process Automation (BPA). Many business departments such as HR, Operations Management, and Marketing can leverage the benefits of RPA by making their processes simpler and more flexible. So, how does it work, and how can it help us in our business?

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

When we think of Robotic Process Automation, we imagine robots that talk and walk voice assistants and machines that manage themselves. This is wrong. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is often confused with software and applications that also integrate Artificial Intelligence. Instead, its function is much simpler: it replaces human input in simple, repetitive tasks. Usually, these are also activities with little added value whose automation saves time and costs. Let’s give a full definition to understand how this software can improve business processes.

Antonio Grasso, CEO of DBI and a leading Digital Transformation influencer, offers a simple and clear definition of Robotic Process Automation:

“It is a technology that, through the use of deterministic software, can assist operators in the execution of predetermined actions for repetitive tasks.”

Basically, all activities that can be coded and do not require human modification or manipulation fall under robotic processes.

What does it offer to companies? Deloitte, a leading company in the world for consulting services to companies, as defined in the report “The future prospects of Intelligent Automation, according to Italian companies” the role that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has in companies:

“has given companies the ability to configure software/bots that, when properly programmed, are able to automatically perform certain tasks (manage data, communicate with other digital systems, etc.), drastically reducing information processing time and ensuring better quality end results.”

What are the other benefits of RPA? Making repetitive tasks autonomous means reducing the chances of making mistakes and optimizing human work. Human intelligence will shift to more complex tasks that need cognitive insight, constant monitoring, troubleshooting, or changes in progress.

Definition of Robotic Process Automation

The difference between RPA, Humanoid Robot, and AI

When we hear “Robotic Process Automation,” the mind often associates the words with something to do with robots: that’s just not the case. A robot, be it an android with human features or an anthropomorphic robot used in factories, is a collection of different technologies and software. In some cases, it also has Artificial Intelligence that allows it to learn by exploiting cognitive capabilities. On the other hand, software robots are programmed to repeat only certain actions and provide pre-coded responses. If we change the sequence of actions of a given task, we have to reprogram the bot.

An example? Recording a new invoice. With software bots to enter an invoice in an Excel file, we will need to identify precisely the position of fields to be read. Name of the row, of the column, beginning, and end of the field. If I modify the Excel file, moving, for example, the fields in which new invoices are inserted, the software will not be able to recognize this modification, so it will continue to output the data inserted in the fields for which it was programmed.

If I associate this automation, also defined a bot, a model trained with the probabilistic programming of the Artificial Intelligence, the things change. In this case, it will be enough for me to create a model (pattern) that identifies the single letters of the word Invoice. And what happens? When I move the fields that contain the word Invoice from the Excel file, thanks to AI, the software will recognize the change. In this way, the data for the new invoice will be entered correctly. The combination of RPA and AI generates even greater process optimization.

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RPA: how can we use it in the company?

If we think about how many activities in the company are repetitive and time-consuming, we realize the importance and efficiency that the implementation of Robotic Process Automation can generate.

Robotic Process Automation allows you to automate repetitive tasks such as reading email, social media but also complex processes such as business management and monitoring. Share on X

Here are some practical examples:

  • Reading emails: this is an activity that all departments do every day, and it forces employees to interrupt the activity they are doing to reply or forward emails to others. With robotic software that automatically reads the email and attachments, you can move forward emails to the relevant departments, automatically reducing time (i.e., an email arrives with an invoice, it is automatically forwarded to the administrative department).
  • Web pages and social: the RPA is also an excellent ally in reading web pages or posts on social media: functional activities for digital marketing strategies. For example, if you want to schedule the publication of a series of posts, you can choose software where you can set the date and time of publication of the uploaded content, and the action will take place automatically.
  • Human Resources: when searching for new candidates, software robots automatically record the data on the documents (CV). This results in a reduction of manual steps and constant updating of data, such as changes in salary or onboarding.
  • Operations management: RPA has proved to be an important ally thanks to the constant monitoring of data for the management of problems and their remote resolution. If the software detects data diverging from the initial model with which it was programmed, it generates a ticket that will be sent automatically to the operator. Another example is the password reset: at the requested email sent by the user, the bot modifies and sends the new password, automatically resolving the request.

Also, read “RPA: how to simplify Business Process Management.”