7. November 2023

Creating a digital workforce: The benefits of process automation and RPA


In today's dynamic business landscape, staying competitive often hinges on the ability to streamline operations, reduce costs, and enhance productivity. Process automation, particularly through robotic process automation (RPA), has become a game-changing solution that offers a wide array of benefits. This article will delve into the advantages of process automation and how RPA technology is driving efficiency and innovation across different sectors and functions.

A confident approach to RPA

Robotic process automation (RPA) has been around for a while. It's not an experimental or avant-garde approach - today it's a proven and important solution for many successful businesses. RPA is different because it's an affordable way to upgrade and automate your systems that's typically faster and less disruptive, compared to wholesale systems redevelopment. 

In today's climate of budgetary pressures, skills shortages and ever-rising expectations for both customer and employee experience, RPA can help you do more with less by using automation in an innovative and targeted way. Smart organisations in most industries are using it in a range of departments and functions to work more efficiently and serve customers better. 

If your organisation hasn't yet adopted RPA, you have a potentially major opportunity to optimise your business operations and service delivery. So, how should you go about defining the opportunity and initiating an RPA project? 

What is RPA and what does it achieve?

Your organisation probably has lots of manual processes that could be carried out more efficiently if automated. RPA can eliminate these repetitive, manual tasks and accelerate workflow execution. It ensures that processes are executed consistently and error-free, freeing up human resources for more strategic and creative endeavours.

You may have considered replacing or upgrading a system which requires a potentially major IT transformation project. Although the processes it carries out are inefficient and executing them takes up too much staff time, you may have discovered it's difficult to make a business case for a major, end-to-end system replacement. 

At the same time, these processes may be too complex for simple macro or desktop automation. This means that you're stuck with inefficient workflows that are hindering your business, because they fall into the gap between two traditional improvement approaches. 

RPA gives you a middle way. It's a more tactical and agile approach that you can apply exactly where you need it. Small-scale projects are financially viable. You can automate a single process or identify a suite of related processes to address with RPA. Or you can launch multiple RPA projects focused on priority areas. It's a great approach to apply to functions in your business that crunch a lot of data or continually repeat the same processes and tasks. 

The target processes may operate across different IT systems and software. RPA bots can bridge these gaps and cut out time-consuming manual intervention, so you can free up staff for higher value work without having to redesign an entire IT ecosystem or end-to-end process. RPA systems also excel at handling repetitive tasks with a high degree of accuracy. This reduces the margin of error in critical processes, leading to reliable and consistent outcomes.

RPA systems can operate 24/7 without fatigue or downtime, so you can complete tasks around the clock, including during non-working hours, weekends, or holidays.

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What do you need RPA to do in your organisation?

Although robots and automation sound high-tech, RPA shouldn't be an IT led activity. It's all about identifying your business priorities and understanding how your current systems and processes are helping or hindering you to achieve them.

Organisations often choose RPA to help them tackle challenges like labour shortages, a need for greater efficiency, faster operational delivery, better customer service or customer experience, a demand for more accurate reporting and real-time data analysis to support business planning and to ensure compliant data processing.

Sometimes a specific market situation or business decision creates a need for RPA action. If your organisation is cutting hires or reducing headcount, you need to be able to do the same or more work with fewer people to do it. If a backlog of work or cases is building up and your organisation doesn't have the human resources to tackle it, you need to find a more efficient way to process the tasks faster. 

RPA is particularly effective when you need to link legacy systems that don't seamlessly connect to more modern digital systems. It can help you close gaps in processes that previously had to be handled manually.

The sectors and functions that benefit most from RPA

RPA has been widely adopted by organisations in all sectors, to help them streamline core business functions and reduce manual intervention. We work with clients in the public and private sector, from insurance, retail and finance firms to utilities and government agencies. 

At first, RPA was viewed as an enterprise technology, deployed only by the largest organisations. Increasingly, today it's applied by mid-size organisations because it's a flexible and low-friction approach that doesn't demand enterprise-scale investment and resources.

In our experience, the most common functions to make use of RPA are customer service, invoice processing, payroll, data reporting and account management. 

In customer service, RPA bots can power automated customer care systems and help to segregate enquiries, so they reach the right information or agent. Invoice processing is a repetitive manual task where human error can create delays - RPA can connect data input and ERP systems to speed this up and cut out inaccuracy.

Payroll is well suited to RPA because it's a repeated, monthly bulk process. For reporting, RPA can accelerate the process of extracting data from multiple systems, pulling in the latest information to populate management reports and forecasts in real time, so analysts can focus on insight rather than searching for, formatting and validating data.

In account management, RPA may look for dormant accounts or sequences of action or inaction, carry out simple checks or validations and then flag selected accounts for human attention.

What kinds of processes are suited to RPA?

RPA bots are good at taking on human processing activities that use keystrokes, clicks, data uploads, transfers and other repetitive actions. Here are some typical characteristics of the processes that present an ideal opportunity:

data-intensive transactions involve reconciliations or cross-checks prone to human error require data migration between systems calculations overnight processing governed by rules, not judgements

How to prioritise your RPA opportunities

Before you embark on the journey of process automation and RPA, it's crucial to understand where and how to begin.

The best RPA opportunities for your business will deliver value by creating substantial cost savings per iteration, on a significant scale. Often, these processes are particularly inefficient because they require a lot of manual intervention to carry out individually straightforward but repetitive, connected actions. High volume processes that handle many transactions multiply the value of the saving, so you can reinvest overheads and redeploy your precious, skilled staff.

If you're starting out on your RPA journey, we recommend looking at your accounts receivable, billing, credit and collections processes, as well as accounts payable and tax processes. RPA can often make a rapid difference to productivity and capacity as well as raising service levels in these areas.

Mapping your processes across the organisation and understanding how your employees are spending their time will help you identify resource-intensive processes that RPA could take over. RPA can help you if your staff are spending a lot of time on these kinds of activities:

  • Moving or copying data from one system to another, directly or with minor adjustments (swivel chair processes)
  • Responding to alerts or events to trigger actions
  • Checking that data in different systems is consistent
  • Updating the same data in different records on different systems
  • Gathering data from different applications and bringing it together to achieve a calculation, report or action

Once a suitable process has been identified, we place huge emphasis on the upfront discovery exercise. Before proceeding further, you need to understand clearly how the process works and how it interacts with other parts of the business as well as the technologies involved. We recommend spending almost 50% of time upfront understanding processes in depth and identifying exception cases.

What next?

At Inpute, we've been big fans of RPA since it first emerged - we use it as part of our intelligent automation toolkit. It's a technology that allows a pragmatic and individual approach to many customers' needs and end goals.

If your business has functions and processes with the characteristics we've described, now's the time to take a step towards RPA. It's proven technology and it's a highly accessible face of AI.

Selecting processes where RPA can deliver real value to your particular organisation is key. This demands a good blend of business and technology perspectives. Focus on discovery, so you'll identify the best opportunities to gain rapid benefits and avoid unforeseen knock-on effects to other processes and systems. 

Ready to take your business to the next level with process automation, RPA, and expert business analysis? Let's start the conversation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our team of experts. We're here to help you drive success, efficiency, and growth.

AUTHORED BY Aidan Mullin  Aidan is the Director of Client Services at Inpute. Aidan has over 20 years of experience designing and implementing complex document capture and process solutions.


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