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Best Practices

Robotic Process Automation: The Next Big Thing in Process Improvement


Process improvement is cyclical in nature, continually revamping itself to meet current demands. A process that resolved the issues of yesterday may not address the problems of today, thus making it critical to have process improvement stitched into the fabric of an organization's DNA. As external and internal environments change, markets evolve, new opportunities and risks present themselves, the processes that support an organization must adapt. One such change on the market to impact process improvement is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It’s an emerging technology that works hand in hand with Process Mining under the umbrella of BPI.

To understand RPA as the next big thing in process improvement, we must ask the following questions: How will the Robotic Process Automation impact process improvement? What opportunities does RPA present for the field of Process Mining?

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What is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation is an artificial intelligence application that automates administrative processes or tasks. RPA automates otherwise manual processes and essentially says “I’ll take it from here.” RPA can take on repetitive, administrative tasks at scale and execute with speed and efficiency. Further, RPA not only handles structured if-then scenarios and copy-paste activities but can also make sense of and act upon unstructured data.

How do organizations benefit from RPA?

Time is money — that is RPA’s value proposition in a nutshell. Organizations benefit from RPA because it gives employees more time to add more value. RPA allows bright-minded, human-centric, analytical employees to spend precious company time adding unique value to the organization while mundane, clerical tasks are taken care of by automation.

Think of introducing RPA into an organization as introducing a calculator into mathematics. Humans have the ability to calculate the sum of a long string of numbers, but a calculator will always perform the task faster and with exact precision. Now, advance that one step forward with the example of 65,000 lines of invoicing data. Can a human find the largest number in the list? Sure. However, a robot is much better suited to the job. Instead of the accountant taking several hours each day to manually add up a balance sheet or find the biggest number, they use a calculator or formulas in excel to do the menial work. The calculator isn't displacing the accountant. The device is aiding the accountant. The accountant can now move on to interpreting the financial implications of the balance sheet and making recommendations that impact economic outcomes.

RPA is an amplified version of this small accounting example and can be applied to a variety of clerical tasks done by humans. Examples include: shipping updates, onboarding, accounts receivable, payroll, claims processing, compliance reporting, procure-to-pay, data entry, citizens services and mortgage applications, among a multitude of others.

Organizations benefit from the freedom RPA brings to the daily lives of employees. RPA frees up knowledge worker’s time to focus on intellectual tasks that benefit from human ingenuity and creative thinking. Hours on the clock spent performing robotic copy-paste functions and manually moving a process through defined if-then scenarios, does not benefit organizations. Clerical activities which are essential to the healthy functioning of any organization are necessary but don’t necessarily need to be performed by a living, breathing human. RPA is further extending itself into the public sector, aiding governments in social welfare programs and citizen-related processes. An unbelievable 58% of government citizen-facing processes are paper-driven in the United States, and only 20% of public service employees in the UK do strategic work that requires analytical thinking. RPA has the potential to reform stagnant bureaucracy and free up employee time for human-centric activities.

How does RPA relate to process improvement?

Business Process Improvement (BPI) is the umbrella to Process Mining; Process Mining lives within BPI’s context. BPI is concerned with the continuous promotion of operational efficiency while Process Mining is one such tool that allows BPI to succeed. The connection between Process Mining and RPA is in process nomination and quality control.

Process Mining effectively nominates a process for robotic process automation. Process Mining scrapes the data, leads process discovery, visualizes the process and exposes process weakness, vulnerabilities, and opportunities. RPA is one such opportunity that can be discovered through Process Mining. Process Mining is the activity that says look here; we have factual proof that this is a time drain activity for humans and might be better suited to robotics. Being a time draining activity in and of itself doesn’t make the activity useless, it makes the process eligible for RPA. Process Mining helps identify processes that waste knowledge worker’s time and require multiple systems to complete and nominates that process, or part of it, to be transferred to a robot.

However, it’s easy to forget about robots. Once a process is qualified for RPA, Process Mining jumps to the other side of implementation and plays an ongoing role in quality control. Just as Process Mining catches the mistakes and performance inefficiencies of humans, it catches the errors of robots.

Systems “talk to each other” behind the scenes and it is often assumed that once established they can continue operating without monitoring. However, one small change to a process, human-initiated or otherwise, can impact a robot’s duties without the initiator considering the change’s impact on automated. Process Mining behaves as a continuous quality control mechanism for both humans and robots.

The future of RPA

RPA is estimated to reach $9.7 billion by the end of this year. That’s a massive jump from last year’s numbers. As this technology booms so too will process improvement tools such as Process Mining software. The two are a match made in optimization heaven and Minit is ready for this future.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) with Minit Process Mining

Richard Lipovsky

19. 10. 2018