What is RPA?

Part 1

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is a software technology that allows for the automation of various computer tasks or computer-based business processes. If you have ever found yourself spending a significant amount of time on the computer completing repetitive, manual, low-value tasks or projects that require more work from your hands than your brain, it may be time to consider using Robotic Process Automation software.

RPA is a broad term for process automation or workflow automation technology used to streamline both complex and simple processes that are typically done by a human being on a computer. Automation is achieved by deploying software “bots” that have been trained on the exact mouse-motions, keystrokes, and rules-based logic underlying a given task. RPA software mimics exactly what a human being would do on the computer (given the underlying rules and instructions of the task), by autonomously using a mouse and keyboard at a much faster rate and without the risk of human error.

RPA is meant to be intuitive. If you know how to do the process yourself, you can teach the software. Anyone can start using an RPA software solution pretty quickly; it’s not meant to be used solely by IT professionals or programmers. RPA use in HR, sales & marketing, accounting & finance, operations, purchasing & inventory, and IT & security has grown significantly over the last few years. Business users are finding a multitude of tasks can be completed or scheduled for completion by quickly teaching an RPA software how and when to complete them.

Artificial Intelligence vs. RPA

In the last decade, we’ve witnessed a surge of discussion around and utilization of “Artificial Intelligence" or AI. While the idea of a computer being able to make decisions on its own is appealing to some business owners, the realistic utilization of powerful artificial intelligence requires a lot of money, expertise, and data.

Artificial intelligence mimics traits of human intelligence in that it enables machines to learn about, plan for, and solve problems. AI uses algorithms and data to come to the same intelligent conclusions that a human would, without any actual human guidance or hand-holding. While this type of technology can have infinite applications and pose immense value to the business world, most businesses don’t feel the need to outsource decision-making to a machine. Furthermore, they are not willing to allocate the time, money, and expertise needed to fully implement and benefit from advanced AI.

There is no organic decision-making happening with RPA, only rule-following. To some, the ability to adapt to unknown circumstances is what defines “intelligence”. By that definition, RPA would not be considered intelligent, because not only are the circumstances known, they are clearly defined in a set of rule-based instructions, called scripts. In other words, while scripting may seem like a complex AI process, it’s really not. RPA is not “AI-powered,” but it is fully user-defined. Instead of operating completely autonomously, it acts more like an extension of your team — something to which you can delegate manual, repetitive, and low-priority tasks.

Business users are finding a multitude of tasks that can be completed or scheduled for completion by quickly teaching an RPA software how and when to complete them.


Part 2

Why is RPA Important?

It is a misconception that RPA is complex and difficult to implement. This may have been true over a decade ago, but not today. Not only can you can find RPA being used all around you, you’re already using it in your everyday tasks.

Say you’re working on a presentation and your word processing application doesn’t save automatically. If you shut your computer down, or close your application, you could potentially lose everything you worked on since your last save. A quick RPA script scheduled to run on your system could save your work every 10 minutes so that you don’t lose your work after forgetting to save. Some apps, like Microsoft Word, have this autosave feature built into their product.

Another example of RPA would be setting an “out of office” reply message from your email. That automation feature is built into most emailing platforms, so you don’t have to manually let people know that you’re out of the office. A lot of what we do today on the computer currently incorporates automation. An RPA software helps you fill in the gaps where those built-in processes don’t exist, letting you build your own automated functions.

Today, businesses harness many different applications to run their operations, support their websites, acquire new customers, or support their current customer base. As a result, businesses dedicate budget to the license and maintenance costs of these systems. To limit additional, hidden costs outside of this budget, business leaders are regularly concerned with how their employees are utilizing these applications and whether a complex computer environment leads to inefficient use of employee time.

Robotic process automation software should not be thought of as just another application to add to the collection. Instead, think of RPA as an actual employee that gets the job done. While other applications, like a CRM, ERP, or Excel, are used by businesses to store important information, RPA is used to interact with information on a computer screen exactly how you would as a human being, so you don’t have to spend time on it yourself. RPA is an application that can actually reduce a business team’s use of other applications.

Businesses frequently hire temporary employees to complete manual, labor-intensive, repetitive tasks that require little training or low skill levels. RPA is a low-cost alternative solution that eliminates human error and can be deployed almost immediately, as needed.

Part 3

How Can You Use RPA?

RPA is best suited for tasks and processes which require a human to manually perform a repetitive action. Because this requirement is so minimal, there are

Many businesses look for RPA solutions when they are in 1 of 2 scenarios:
  1. An upcoming large project that requires significant work with data or different systems to integrate/communicate with each other
  2. Tasks are manual and/or routine (daily, weekly, monthly, triggered, etc.) which require company resources

Sure, RPA is a solution for either of those scenarios. But, an organization will get the most out of RPA if it is used in both of those scenarios. Think of RPA software as a member on your team that can automate any task that is manual and repetitive, no matter if it’s routine or project-based. 


Common Applications & File Formats used by RPA 

RPA users can build automated processes for the majority of applications and document formats that businesses employ. Whether the task uses desktop apps, web apps, Excel workbooks, PDF forms, terminal emulators, or a combination of several different application sources, the RPA system will be able to jump from source to source to complete the automated task. These are a few common applications that ca be used with RPA:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • VMWare
  • Citrix
  • Accounting software (e.g. Quicken, Quickbooks, etc.)
  • CRM (e.g. Salesforce, etc.)
  • Real Estate listings (e.g. Zillow, Redfin, etc.)
  • ERP (e.g. Oracle, JD Edwards, etc.)
  • Core Banking Systems (e.g. Fiserv, Jack Henry, FIS, etc.)
  • PDF Files
  • CSS Files
  • Internet Explorer (10,11)
  • Online databases (Labor Stats, Census, Real Estate Listings, Directories, etc.)

 robotic process automation for conversions



Who can use RPA?

One of the driving forces behind RPA’s growing popularity is that users no longer need a technical background or programming experience to use the software. Some RPA products are now designed for business users and offer an intuitive interface as well as training to help users get started right away. This is not to say that all RPA software is so easily accessible. There are still more robust RPA products in the market that require a dedicated IT staff for implementation and maintenance.

Part 4

What Can You Automate with RPA?

RPA is sometimes associated with certain specific functions, like IT or data processing. The truth is, RPA can be leveraged across almost any manual, repetitive task, regardless of department, business function, or industry.

The most common use cases for RPA are:

  • Report generation
  • Routine system maintenance
  • Data entry and data maintenance
  • Data consolidation, clean up, and de-duplication
  • Data manipulation and catalog updates
  • Data extraction and information gathering
  • Integration of various systems that use different data formats
  • Aggregation of data from different sources
  • Mass migrations
  • Transactional processes
  • Actions that are triggered by an event (notifications, reminders)
  • File transfers
  • Systems conversions
  • Mergers, acquisitions, and expansions

If a business decides to use RPA, they’ll discover more and more use cases across different business functions and departments, leading to higher returns on investment. Nearly all businesses will be able to find manual work tasks related to HR, sales & marketing, accounting & finance, operations, purchasing & inventory, or IT & security that can be automated with RPA.


 Department / Function
Tasks to Automate
 Human Resources
  • Payroll processing
  • Vendor cost analysis
  • Audit trails
  • Archive & clean up
  • Employee onboarding & offboarding
  • Job posting distribution
  • Group email and notifications management
  • Employee benefits and insurance election
 Marketing & Sales
  • Social media updates
  • Competitive intelligence research
  • Customer behavior data management and analysis
  • Contact list segmentation
  • Email or sales automation
  • Sales or marketing platform maintenance
 Accounting & Finance
Operations & Purchasing
  • Inventory monitoring, replenishing, and status notifications
  • Inventory, pricing, A/P reporting, and report distribution
  • Updates to product catalog (i.e. SKU numbers, serial numbers, pricing, etc.)
  • Vendor & supplier onboarding
 IT & Security



Part 5

What to Consider When Buying RPA?

Determining what solution is right for your organization and the tasks you want to automate is key as it will impact cost, customizations, usability, and any staffing requirements needed to manage the RPA software. Key characteristics to consider when evaluating RPA solutions include:

Scale of Tasks - There is a range of RPA solutions on the market designed to meet the varying needs of business customers. Some software packages are better suited for larger enterprises, so mid to small-sized business may find that they will be paying for integration, functions, and services that they don’t necessarily need. For some products, scaling RPA down can be difficult, while scaling up is less of a problem. Scaling up is just a matter of creating and performing more automation. RPA software has many applications, across different departments, functions, and industries. The more tasks you can identify that would benefit from RPA, the more value the RPA software will have for your organization.

User Interface - RPA software can be categorized into two main types of user interfaces: User-Level GUI Emulator vs. Apps Integration.

  • User-Level GUI Emulator - This type of RPA solution allows users to perform a series of tasks or processes using the relevant applications on their device, while the RPA records the series of actions as a script. When this recorded script is deployed, the RPA will complete the automated tasks or process. The advantage of this type of RPA is that processes involving multiple applications can be easily automated. These solutions are typically lower in cost because the software developers did not have to build many integrations with the applications used in automation.
  • Apps Integration - This type of RPA solutions is built with integrations between the RPA system and some major applications used by businesses (i.e. Excel, Outlook, Oracle, Salesforce, etc). Generally, this type of solution is better suited for larger enterprises where these types of applications are used at great scale. Mid to small-sized organizations may find that they are paying more for a lot of integrations with applications that they do not use, so scaling back this type of solution to contain costs is difficult, if not impossible.

Access - RPA solutions can be hosted on a local device drive, on a private network server, in a secure cloud, or some combination of the three. The main difference between these options is control over the software and storage. Hosting locally or on your internal network servers means only your company will have access to the software and scripts created. Cloud hosting means you would be using the software and storage from the RPA provider’s servers. Many App integration RPA solutions offer cloud hosting due to the large scale and volume of tasks being automated. While having both cloud and local/network access may be convenient, this option also tends to be more expensive.

Hosting will also depend on how many people in your organization are using the RPA. If it’s just one or two people, then maybe individual, locally hosted licenses will suffice. If several people or a few departments are using the RPA software, you may want to consider a network license.

Implementation & training - Implementing an RPA solution and then learning how to use it effectively can require varying degrees of effort. Some solutions allow users to implement the software themselves and get started right away with video tutorials. Others may need dedicated IT staff for implementation and maintenance, and may even require a business to use channel partners for implementation. If you must rely on a channel partner, be wary that third-parties could have different service level agreements than the RPA provider. As a result, your RPA provider may not be accountable for integration or maintenance, and may be unable to guarantee support on some issues.

Staffing requirement - As mentioned above, some solutions require dedicating IT staff to manage, maintain systems, and add workflows for automation. This could be an additional expense for your organization and prolong the implementation process if you need to hire staff or vet third-party partners.

If the additional cost and time does not fit within your budget, there are RPA solutions that do not require dedicated IT staff for implementation or maintenance. Look for RPA vendors that offer professional service teams as part of the software package to assist your organization with getting the software up and running.

Customer support - The level of support offered by an RPA provider can be a critical factor in your satisfaction with the experience. Some solutions come with dedicated technical and training support included, while others give the option of support (or insurance) as an add-on for a fixed fee or subscription. Check if support staff are located domestically or internationally and if their hours and contact methods are convenient for your organization. Regardless of the support type, be sure to read customer reviews to get a real sense for responsiveness and helpfulness of your RPA solution support. Some RPA software also comes with self-support resources, training resources, and user forums at no additional cost.

Costs - After considering the points listed above, it’s time to consider costs. Depending on which considerations are most important to your organization, the price of an RPA solution can vary significantly. Those characteristics, as well as how many users will be using the RPA software, determine whether the cost will range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The best way to figure out the right cost of RPA is to request a consultation with a solution expert. An RPA expert can help you determine the right functionality, access, and support for your organization’s needs and create a package that both meets your requirements and fits your budget.




Best Value RPA Solutions by Business Size 

Small to Medium Businesses
Enterprise Businesses
  • User level license or network license
  • Immediate use with low effort implementation and no need for dedicated IT staff
  • Usable with many desktop apps, web apps, and document formats
  • Scalable for multiple processes, departments, and functions
  • Local or network hosting, sufficient for scale of automation
  • Dedicated and domestically-located support
  • Self-support and training resources
  • User forums for quick solutions
  • No hidden costs for support, insurance, implementation, or dedicated staff
  • Network license software package for larger teams to access software
  • Internal IT team that can handle implementation, maintenance, and tickets
  • Usable with many desktop apps, web apps, and document formats
  • Scalable for multiple processes, departments, and functions
  • Network-hosting or cloud-hosting option to accommodate larger scale task automation
  • Dedicated and domestically-located support
  • No hidden costs for support, insurance, implementation, or dedicated staff

Part 6

How Can RPA Grow Your Bottom Line?

RPA grows your bottom line in a few different ways.


Time Allocation and Human Capital

Businesses need people and people cost money. To get the best return from money spent on human capital, your employees should spend their 40 - 80 hours per week working on the most value-add activities that their expertise allows for (e.g. you would not have your CEO cleaning the bathrooms). A sales rep should be spending a significant amount of time on deal closing or prospecting -- not cleaning data in the CRM. A customer service rep should be spending time on helping to resolve customer issues -- not hooking up the phone system. One challenge that accounting teams face is manually transferring data from numerous invoices, that come in various formats, into an accounting system. An RPA script can be deployed to interpret information on invoices using optical character recognition (OCR) and automatically transfer the data to an accounting system. The RPA also reduces the risk of accounting issues due to human error and allows employees to focus on more important financial activities including budgeting and strategy.



Operational Efficiency and Human Error

Not only will RPA help organizations complete repetitive operational tasks at a faster rate than a human being, but it can also improve the efficiency of operational processes and eliminate the risk of human error. Many legacy systems rely on conditions being met, or boxes being checked, before a standard business process can be completed. RPA serves as an assurance that those requirements are met before standard business procedures, or workflows, take place. These could be considered maintenance or clean-up tasks; they’re usually smaller checks and balance tasks that humans are unconditionally predisposed to forgetting or accidentally making errors. Relying solely on humans to complete important operational tasks can be a mistake! People forget things, get distracted, and make mistakes everyday. Robots do not.


SMB’s and Enterprises Focus On Different Tasks - Optimized RPA Utilization

Depending on an organization’s size, they may prioritize different objectives. Small-medium businesses (SMBs), for example, are usually most focused on growth, and therefore they seek solutions that will improve revenue generation efforts. Enterprise business, meanwhile, may be more interested in containing costs through operations, eliminating infrastructure, or reducing dependency on human resources. 

RPA can help both kinds of organizations meet their respective goals; it’s just a matter of where and how the solution gets deployed amidst existing processes and business teams. The elimination of a repetitive task related to invoicing and accounting processes at scale will reduce costs for an enterprise business, for example. On the other hand, deploying RPA scripts that will eliminate the need for sales reps to perform data entry could help an SMB reach more prospects and find more opportunities. The sales reps can instead focus more time on building relationships with prospects.

The same system is being put into practice at different organizations, and it’s ultimately performing similar work. RPA’s impact and purpose in terms of bottom line impact simply comes down to how it’s being strategically deployed within a company.


Reporting Accuracy and Data Integrity

RPA lets you spend more of your time on valuable activities. It also improves the accuracy of these activities. By eliminating human error, RPA increases data integrity and makes every analytical activity, and resulting business decision, more impactful. 

What seem to be minor improvements, like no missed decimal points in your accounting, or numbers that are always copied and pasted into the correct cell, can have a major business impact. These type of errors can have serious tax-related consequences, for example. Similarly, having an accurate and up to date inventory status means avoiding placing excess or incorrect orders, ultimately reducing waste. 

Part 7

Cost Savings Exercise

Here are 5 questions to help you determine how your organization will benefit from RPA:

  1. Take a look at your team and your organization. What activities are people spending most of their time on?
  2. Are these value-adding activities or are they low-value, manual, repetitive activities?
  3. If you could automate these activities and assign them to a bot, how much time would that equate to? How much in human capital cost could you save?
  4. Now, if all of that time could be spent on value-add or revenue-driving activities, how much growth could your team or organization gain over the course of 1 year?
  5. What does that revenue growth mean to your team and your organization?

RPA tackles your balance sheet from the bottom and from the top. It enables you to cut down on human capital costs spent on manual tasks through automation. It enables you to grow your bottom line by reallocating that human capital to valuable, revenue generating activities.

A consultation with an RPA expert can help you identify what tasks can be automated and size the opportunity for your organization. To learn about how businesses, big and small, use RPA software, or to conduct your own anticipated ROI using RPA, request a consultation with one of our automation experts today!