Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – the revolution in business process automation?

Voit, Stefan | 29.07.2019
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Definition of RPA: What is behind the technology trend?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the automation of business process steps that are repetitive and structurally the same every time they are performed. RPA software works like a human employee on the user interface of existing software systems. A separate interface does not have to be configured for this. RPA "robots", commonly abbreviated to "bots", operate exclusively digitally. They cannot process analog information and work without separate hardware, just like any other software.

Advantages and fields of applications for Robotic Process Automation

RPA applications are compatible with nearly all types of software. This expands the potential fields of applications. The low implementation costs have a positive effect on the Return on Investment (ROI). Work processes can usually be automated within a few days. In-depth programming knowledge is generally not necessary.

The following advantages are indicative for the use of RPA software:

  • Increased workload: Robot software can work 24/7 at a consistently high speed.
  • Permanent error-free operation: RPA systems perform error-free within planned processes. Robot-supported software can also be used for quality assurance. Forms or other entries are proved for completeness and correctness.
  • Enhanced employee motivation: The machine can take over monotonous tasks or activities that require a lot of typing. Human employees can devote themselves to more varied and strategically important tasks.
  • More transparency: Robotic Process Automation software is also suitable for creating regular reports in which the data must be extracted from several systems and displayed in a structured manner. Through automated analyses of large amounts of data, RPA can also be used as an early warning system if, for example, certain data is read out regularly and reported. In case of previously determined deviations or unforeseen events, a system generated message can be sent to a regular employee. The employee then decides whether an action is necessary.
  • Improved business processes: If a Robotic Process Automation application is to be used for the first time, a company is forced to deal with its own business process structure. When creating the "if-then rules" that will later apply to the bot, the company's internal processes must be analyzed in detail. What does the digital landscape look like? Which business processes are unnecessarily complicated? Such questions should be clarified in detail when using RPA for the first time. This "forced" process analysis makes it possible to revise and optimize existing workflows.
  • Efficient value chain management: The value creation process of information and materials is optimized. This ultimately leads to improved competitiveness.

Robotic Process Automation is more profitable in some industries than in others. Especially in the areas of finance, logistics, production and HR, there are many routine tasks that are always performed according to the same scheme and at the same time require a high level of accuracy. Working with databases is also suitable for robotic automation processes. Both maintaining and reading data records is time-consuming, monotonous and error-prone. RPA systems are perfectly suited for these types of tasks. Robotic Process Automation does not replace an existing IT architecture, but complements it selectively.


Limits and challenges of robotic business process technologies

The specific functionality of bot software excludes some activities that are currently difficult to handle by RPA:

  • RPA software is unsuitable for work steps that require creativity, problem-solving thinking or strategic action.
  • Every single action must be specified, including all conditions. If one single unforeseen event occurs within the execution chain, the robot cannot continue working. Therefore, RPA bots have to be readjusted regularly because they use existing software systems. If one single step in a work sequence changes, the bot must be configured manually - which in turn entails test phases and costs resources.
  • Unclear or ambiguous data structures impair the functionality of robotic process automation systems.
  • RPA bots need to be coordinated, monitored and set up at the beginning, which costs resources.

The more complex a RPA structure becomes, the more it makes sense to use RPA bots for the coordinated monitoring of all the RPA automatisms used. This approach is called "process orchestration".

What does Robotic Process Automation mean for OMNITRACKER?

OMNITRACKER is not RPA software in the strict sense. However, there are intersections between RPA systems and our Business Process Ecosystem OMNITRACKER. On the one hand, business processes can be automated, reducing processing time and error susceptibility. This saves time and money and improves the quality of internal and external offered services and products.

A major advantage of Robotic Process Automation is that it can be used across programs, since it only works at the front end. No special configured interface is required, which makes it easier to work across different system types. However, There is a risk that you will have to check whether the robot's work is affected by changes or updates of the software you use. This can have a massive negative impact on the profitability of RPA systems. With the Business Process Ecosystem OMNITRACKER, all applications (software modules) are already perfectly coordinated. You are not dependent on other software producers. This means that you decide yourself if and when you want to make changes to the system. You act independently and do not have to react to external circumstances (e.g. updates from third-party systems).

With process automation via RPA, you can start quickly and comparatively easily, but the field of application is limited to simple work steps. The more complex the network of workflows, the less profitable RPA software is. This is exactly where the modeling language Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) comes into play. With the OMNITRACKER BPMN Engine you can individually design complex automated business processes where RPA fails. With BPMN 2.0, you have unlimited design options and you can automate extremely interwoven business processes. The designed workflows are performed reliably and quickly, which closes the circle to Robotic Process Automation.

Do you have questions about RPA and BPMN? Please contact us.

Conclusion: RPA vs BPMN

The underlying technology of Robotic Process Automation is very similar to that of BPMN systems. Since RPA works like a human user at the front end (i.e. the user interface), complications can occur as soon as there are changes in the back end, i.e. the programmed system base, or the interface. BPMN operates in the back end, giving a company more control over automated processes and independence of external influences (other software programs).

Especially for the automation of complex business processes RPA is not suitable with the present state of the art. For that, automated BPMN models are the best choice. Nevertheless, Robotic Process Automation offers great future potential for some industries. The degree to which RPA can be reconciled with artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to play an important role here. Equipped with self-learning AI technologies, RPA solutions could become even more flexible and thus more practical. It remains to be seen how quickly this development will take place.


Learn more about optimized business processes with BPMN 2.0

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