Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
1. What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) refers to the use of software "robots" that mimic tasks usually performed by humans. These robots are especially helpful for automating rule-based processes that require interaction with multiple, disparate IT systems. It is widely expected that in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, clerical work will be automated the way industrial robotics automated production on the shop floor. RPA benefits businesses in many ways.
2. RPA or AI - Which is better?
This depends a lot on your use case. RPA is suitable for automating repetitive tasks that are rule-based and well-defined. A good example is copying and pasting data from one application to another. On the other hand, if you need to extract data from unstructured documents or to make predictions based on large datasets, AI will be more appropriate.
However, do note that RPA and AI are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many enterprises are now combining both RPA and AI to automate complex processes on a straight-through basis. This is also commonly known as Intelligent Automation or hyperautomation.
3. Is RPA free?
Yes and no. There are plenty of open-source RPA software, including TagUI and Robot Framework. In addition, some of the leading RPA software offer a community edition, including UiPath and Automation Anywhere. Then, there is Microsoft Power Automate for desktop which is now built-in with Windows 11. However, do note that most commercial RPA software requires a paid subscription plan, typically on an annual basis.
4. Is coding required for RPA?
In general, no. RPA belongs to the category of low or no code software which are suitable for business or non-IT users. Such software typically has a graphical user interface which allows users to perform actions through simple drag-and-drop. Hence, the learning curve for RPA software tends to be much lower.
5. Who executes RPA processes?
For attended RPA, it is normally the business user who is responsible for executing the RPA process. For unattended automation, the process is either scheduled to run automatically or is triggered by certain events, for example, a transaction item being added to the queue. The latter scenario does not require any human involvement or intervention, and is frequently associated with back-office activities.
6. Can RPA recognize voice commands?
Perhaps surprising to some, the answer is yes. You can think of RPA bot as a general-purpose digital worker, and the really cool thing is that you can equip this digital worker with various skills such as speech to text conversion. Such a bot becomes very useful in a customer service setting, for example recognizing a customer’s order placed verbally through a self-service kiosk and transmitting this order to the order management app.
7. Can RPA work on unstructured data?
Strictly speaking, no. RPA traditionally works best with structured data and rule-based processes. Having said that, most RPA software vendors have expanded their product offerings to encompass the broader category of hyperautomation which includes intelligent document processing.
One such example is invoice processing. In this use case, RPA is used to automate the grunt work of retrieving emails, downloading the attachments (i.e. invoices) into a folder, and creating the bills in the accounting software (mainly through copy and paste actions). On the other hand, AI is deployed to intelligently “read” the invoices, and extract the pertinent information such as invoice number, supplier name, invoice due date, product description, amounts due, etc.
8. RPA vs macros – what’s the difference?
Many people often make the mistake of referring to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a glorified macro. While there are definitely similarities, a RPA software is inherently much more powerful than a simple macro script. For example, the use of RPA provides the unique ability to integrate multiple, disparate IT systems at the User Interface (UI) level. Furthermore, most of the enterprise RPA tools place a lot of emphasis on governance, which is not something you get with macros or scripts.
9. Can RPA learn and adapt?
Yes, RPA bots are now commonly augmented with machine learning skills that enable them to learn from the data processed and perform better in future, for example making better predictions about customer or employee churn. In addition, many platforms are now using AI to analyse business processes and suggest suitable ones for automation. It is predicted that in future, AI algorithms will even be helping to automate automation itself.
10. How do we get our employees on board with Robotic Process Automation?
The key to successful implementation of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is change management. Many business leaders commit the mistake of viewing RPA as just another IT project when in fact, it is all about its people.
Fears by employees about job displacements are understandable, and over-hyped. At the end of day, employees are simply looking for an equitable distribution of the gains from automation. This is what one of our clients (who by the way is extremely successful in introducing automation) has to say - "We use automation to help our employees increase productivity amid a tight labour market. As long as our employees remain open to retraining, the company will never allow automation to take their jobs away!"