RPA or robotic process automation is the combination of visual programming language (drag and drop), macro recording features, screen scraping, and object character recognition. These tools allow a super-user or application level developer to automate complicated desktop behavior utilizing many data sources and input systems without writing actual lines of code.
The standard example of RPA usage is the ability to take values from a spreadsheet and enter them into a desktop application that requires field input. However, this isn’t a super exciting example because most desktop applications also have an “import spreadsheet” feature. RPA gets interesting, when we consider processes that receive data from multiple sources and then populate multiple systems. A great example along these lines and one with which most firms could experiment internally is the hiring of a new employee.
I walked down to our HR department and started asking around. I learned that a new hire provides as many as ten data documents which feed into as many as five different systems.
- Data sources for new hires include, driver’s license, resume, application, hiring letter, I-9 form, W-4, and in my case, a rap sheet.
- Systems to be populated include new employee form, Internal HR systems, ADP, etc.
If your company is small like mine and does infrequent hiring, creating a robot to process all of this may be a better experiment than economic decision. But for a large company that hires thousands of people a year, RPA could save thousands of man hours and contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in improved efficiency.
Another obvious commercial application of RPA, is the processing of insurance claims. Data sources may include police reports, driver’s license, estimates from a body shops, adjuster notes, medical reports, etc. And many of these would arrive in paper format. These multiple documents would be used to populate internal systems, send updates to clients, and pay service providers. If you work for an insurance firm or have them in your client list, consider starting this discussion.
These are just a couple examples, but I bet if you look around your firm or that of your clients, you will identify many opportunities for RPA.
Finding RPA resources online isn’t complicated. There are three primary RPA solution purveyors.
- Blue Prism
- Automation Anywhere
The following link will take you to a pretty good video demonstrating some examples:
UIPath offers a sandbox version of their tool for free. Consider creating a robot (who you must name HAL) to automate your expense reports for a trip. It could find your conference registration to identify the reason for the travel. It could read each receipt and validate that it fell within the travel period. It could then populate all the fields in NetSuite, attach reports, and submit. When you complete this robot, please send me a copy.