Robotic Process Automation

A data gold mine

Even though Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been around us for a while now, its core concepts (and even its name) are not as well known as one would expect. It’s very likely that you use at least one of such systems in your daily life without paying too much attention to it.

So, what is RPA?

RPA is a software that is capable of doing basic, well defined, repetitive tasks that a human would otherwise be doing.

Before continuing, a simple example might help you understand how RPA can be used.

A good candidate for RPA is the process of new employees onboarding: when a new employee starts at a company, he or she might be overwhelmed by all the different systems and technologies used by that company. The traditional way of dealing with this problem would be to assign an experienced employee to bring the recruit up to speed. Unfortunately, this has some drawbacks:

  • It is time consuming, which can be expensive for the company.
  • The experienced employee might want to go back to his work as fast as possible and because of this, not give a clear explanation.
  • The new employee can be too shy or proud to ask supposedly simple questions.
  • The process lacks a common structure: different people explain things differently.

RPA can help with that.

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Automating the onboarding process through iterative software has proven to be very useful. The new employee can navigate through the system on their own pace, focusing on parts they don’t understand rather than having someone else telling them where to click.

At the same time, the experienced employee can make a more efficient use of their time and help only with business-related questions, instead of teaching how to navigate through the system.

Another advantage of RPA systems is that such software is able to record and track the users’ actions, learning and reporting what the users find difficult in the system.

One of the biggest advantages of RPA is its ability to keep records of activities. Once a manual process is automated, all the (big) data that is generated can be used for analysis that can lead to improvements in decision-making and organizational processes within a company.

When a company uses RPA to manage their incoming customer e-mails and to redirect them to the right department, no e-mail will ever sink into oblivion. Furthermore, those e-mails can be analyzed and valuable insights can be derived from them.

Going beyond

In the era of Artificial Intelligence, RPA is no longer limited to functioning in rule-based scenarios. With the advance of Cognitive Computing (computer systems that are capable of mimicking the human brain), RPA systems are becoming more and more powerful.

Chatbots are already a reality nowadays, and when these systems are coupled with RPA software, complex tasks that had to be done by humans can be realized seamlessly by a chatbot. Some flight agencies, for example, are using chatbots for some parts of their customer service. A passenger can send a message to the flight agency through Facebook Messenger, and the conversation can go as follows:

Passenger: Hi, I would like to reschedule my flight.

Chatbot: Sure, no problem. Could you please tell me your name and your booking number?

Passenger: My name is John Doe, and my booking number is 123456.

Chatbot: Thank you, Mr Doe. You have a one-way flight registered in our system. Here is the information of your booking: 01-10-2018, 14:00: Amsterdam → Lisbon
To what date would you like to reschedule this flight?

Passenger: I want to change my flight to the second of October, 2018.

Chatbot: You would like to reschedule your flight to the 2nd of October, 2018. Is that right?

Passenger: Yes, that is correct.

Chatbot: We have the following option for you: 02-10-2018, 14:00: Amsterdam → Lisbon Does this work for you?

Passenger: Yes, perfect!

Chatbot: You will get an email with the new booking information and your new reservation will be confirmed after your payment has been processed. We wish you a pleasant flight.

In this example, the chatbot was able to understand the context of the conversation and identify that the date of the flight had to be changed. Now, the chatbot can create an update request, sending the new data to an RPA system. This system will then fill out the flight reservation form with the new data. The employee, that would otherwise be busy collecting this information and typing it in a form can now focus on more challenging tasks

The domains in which RPA can be used are endless: website scraping, data transferring between systems, call center, form processing, customer data update, and so on. Virtually anything that has well-defined steps and rules can be automated with RPA. The data that is generated by such systems can be precious nowadays. So, take a look around you and ask yourself: what can we do better? It’s likely that you’ll find boring, repetitive tasks that could be automated and free a human being to do more valuable things with his time.

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