Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a highly successful way of taking over basic and repetitive organizational tasks that must be done manually. RPA speeds up throughput, minimizes the error rate and reduces some costs. However, companies often need help when they take the term RPA too literally and try to use the technology to actually automate entire processes rather than individual tasks.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a highly successful way of taking over basic and repetitive organizational tasks that must be done manually. RPA speeds up throughput, minimizes the error rate and reduces some costs.
However, companies often need help when they take the term RPA too literally and try to use the technology to actually automate entire processes rather than individual tasks.
Robotic Process Automation And Its Limitations
As mentioned at the beginning, robotic process automation is not intended for the automation of processes but rather for highly repetitive manual activities. These micro-workflows are designed to simulate human activity on the screen and are task-oriented rather than process-oriented. A good example is filling out a form (data entry).
There are many reasons to use RPA technology, especially for larger projects involving two or more systems that need to be integrated.
RPA increases process efficiency and optimization by automating standard processes, especially for high-volume workflows, which are also easier to scale. RPA also helps with the integration of data from legacy systems: The software robots act like a human across systems, can access relevant databases and applications, copy information, enter it, collect data and in a single front end, whether an app, software or Voice User Interface, play out. All this happens without any technical intervention in existing systems. In this way, it helps to make the provision of suitable interfaces less complex and time-consuming and allows interfaces to be created for systems that do not have an API.
When it comes to compliance and security, RPA shows another strength: The virtual robots automatically document every work step the same according to defined business rules. Automated documentation increases compliance – the company always has a clear overview, can make informed decisions based on reliable data and the reporting quality increases.
Despite its great utility in manual tasks, RPA is not a panacea for business process automation. RPA cannot simulate human intelligence. It only works according to the rules that define actions – the technology cannot interpret data or even conclude them. Everyday use cases illustrate three fundamental tactical limitations:
- Validity of RPA bots: When an application is updated and its UI changes, an RPA bot becomes invalid.
- Resources: Each bot session can become resource intensive on a large scale. Additionally, since it is common for RPA vendors to price their platforms based on the number of bots running simultaneously, it can be prohibitively expensive to deploy.
- Readability of IDs: Part of bot integration depends on identifying data through unique IDs. While database queries and function calls to use them, they don’t always appear on the screen. If the ID is not visible, RPA cannot read it.
- And even if a master item’s ID is visible, there’s no guarantee that visible IDs will appear for line items or related data – e.g., B. the equipment list of a purchase requisition or information on preferred suppliers.
The most significant limitation, however, could be more tactical but strategic: a misunderstanding on the part of users about what a task is and what is a more extensive process.
Task Versus Business Process
To illustrate the difference between a simple, automatable task and a process, let’s look at onboarding a new hire as an example. The following individual tasks can be found in this onboarding process:
- negotiating a salary
- Set a start date
- Allocation of office space or arrangement of remote work
- Allocation of parking privileges
- Creation of security badges and keys
- Procurement and shipment of equipment
- Creating network credentials
- Allocation of licenses for a variety of software that supports single sign-on
- Creating usernames/passwords for software that does not support single sign-on
- participation in the orientation
- Explanation of the expense report
- Explanation of travel procedures
- Registration of the choice of service package
- Set up payroll and direct deposit
- Scheduling a review at the end of the initial trial period
This is an example of a managed process comprised of various activities, some automated and some not. RPA can help speed up the onboarding of a new hire in various areas. But each of these potential RPA implementations represents an isolated task. The overall onboarding involves:
- Multiple parts of the organization (e.g., HR, IT, the team that hired the employee, etc.).
- Representing an amalgamation of individual tasks.
- Decisions and workflows.
With such complex processes, RPA quickly reaches its limits. However, many companies need to recognize this in time and push these limits to the limit or try to compensate for the platform’s limitations with error-prone workarounds. The result is often frustrating results and failed projects.
In addition to an RPA tool, a company’s software repertoire should include digital process automation and business process management platforms (DPA, BPM) to avoid such outcomes. These can automate and accelerate processes and complicated workflows that are far more than just sets of tasks.
Business Process Automation With Low Code
Low-code platforms can help companies to meet the high demands for adaptability and speed in process automation. The promise of many manufacturers: Citizen developers take over the creation of applications for automation themselves, and the IT teams are relieved.
However, outsourcing this to citizen developers alone often has several disadvantages: Many of the applications developed need to be more scalable and fit into the workflows of the entire company, and process and information breaks arise. In addition, they often need to follow a uniform design principle, which reduces their user-friendliness.
Instead, the method of citizen-assisted development helps, in which the work is divided differently between non-IT employees and IT experts: The citizen developer creates an initial prototype based on his requirements and his process knowledge, with which his specialist knowledge can be conveyed more quickly. The prototype is created within the framework of the standards and technical limits. This means that everyone involved knows what is possible – and what is not.
In this development process, IT is responsible for the operation and development of the applications to guarantee their professional implementation. This includes aspects such as usability, security, documentation and audibility.
The low-code platform ideally supports such an approach without IT becoming a bottleneck. This makes implementation faster and supports communication with the specialist department based on easy-to-understand process models. Changes can be implemented at any time and with little effort.
The results of this development process are optimized collaboration, faster development cycles and better applications. In addition, thanks to this cooperation, the applications ideally correspond to the design requirements and can be better integrated into the existing IT infrastructure. In this way, they advance the entire company and not just individual tech-savvy employees.