Robotic process automation (RPA) – what is it good for?
Robotic process automation (RPA) stands for SW programs that use an organization’s information systems as people would use them. The exception is that software robots don’t get tired and they’re quicker than a human.
Does this mean that we no longer need humans in knowledge work?
Software robot frees human resources from monotonous tasks – such as copying information from one information management system into another – for tasks that really require people. Therefore, it allows people to focus on tasks that require cognitive skills like complex customer service or demanding expert work.
RPA is especially suitable for automating computer-based tasks or processes that are repeatable, rule-based, error-prone (for human) and routine.
We have studied the application of RPA in RoboÄly (http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/161123) – a Prime Minister’s Office project carried out in cooperation with VTT, Etla, Aalto University and City of Oulu. Software robots are already utilized in both the private and public sector, and it is expected that their use will increase in various domains over the next few years.
What are the categories of routine tasks that an organization can automate with software robotics?
A study (http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/161123) that was based on extensive case material revealed that core and support functions of various types of organizations are most suitable for RPA.
The most common use cases related to RPA are reporting, updating data and different kinds of checks.
Figure: Most common RPA use case types (n=878) (http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/161123)
We have also generated a software tool for assessing the suitability of tasks or processes for RPA based on expected benefits. We have continued this work in the DigiLeap project (https://www.apuadigiin.fi/) by modifying the criteria to support the analysis of SME companies’ tasks/processes. This tool and assessment has been applied in several real-life cases in the project in cooperation with an RPA company called Botlabs. First experiences have been promising. The tool provides an easy and lightweight way to evaluate if processes are suitable for automation with RPA. The criteria provides a quick overview and scoring of the processes. Based on the results, processes can be selected for detailed analysis.
Based on our experiences, it is important to involve “business people” as domain experts to the analysis, as they have best understanding and tacit knowledge regarding the automation potential of different tasks. Examples of domain experts include different kinds of secretaries and specialists, who encounter a daily struggle with poorly functioning information systems.
Senior Scientist, Ph.D.