The future of work: understanding the landscape of RPA and DPA

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The future of work: understanding the landscape of RPA and DPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is getting a lot of attention in the IT world at present, as a new way of driving efficiencies and reducing costs in the workplace.

So, what is RPA?

According to UiPath, a leading RPA software provider,

Robotic Process Automation is the technology that allows anyone today to configure computer software, or a “robot” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. RPA robots utilise the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. They interpret, trigger responses and communicate with other systems in order to perform on a vast variety of repetitive tasks. Only substantially better: an RPA software robot never sleeps, makes zero mistakes and costs a lot less than an employee.

The potential benefits of RPA are obviously huge. Automation of repetitive tasks done by humans frees resources up to deal with more high-level tasks. Other potential benefits include better customer experience, cost reduction, improved service delivery, increased compliance and better insight and analytics into your business processes.

So how do “robots” work? A robot can mimic any user interaction with software, such as logging into or opening applications, copying and pasting data, creating and moving files, filling in forms and even extracting semi-structured data from documents or web pages.

What is a typical use case for RPA?

RPA is best used for a repetitive, rules-based process like invoice processing.

Imagine a scenario where a company receives invoices in a common inbox and employs a team of people to open each email, extract the relevant invoice information from the attached file, and then copy that information into an invoice processing system to enable payment. Whilst being repetitive (and boring), this process is also time-consuming and prone to error (it’s easy to add an extra digit to a payment amount!). And most of the time the information needed to process the invoice is in a similar format (e.g. pdf).

Using RPA, robots could be used to perform this process. A robot can be configured to read emails, extract attachments, scrape relevant data and then log in to the invoice processing system and enter this data. A robot could process an invoice in a matter of seconds, compared to minutes for a user.

When you start talking about thousands of invoices a week, that would add up to a lot of time saved by using robots.

Robots are very fast, and can follow rules, but they cannot think for themselves. So, what happens if the robot encounters a situation that prevents it from completing the process for an invoice?

For example, if it cannot locate the payment amount on the PDF. We can use quite sophisticated techniques to tell the robot how to try and find data such as the payment amount on an invoice, but there will always be instances where the data cannot be found. Another example might be that the customer the robot found on the invoice does not exist in the invoice processing system. We could potentially get the robot to create the customer, but this might not be acceptable to the business as there might be strict protocols around who can set up new customers in the finance system.

In these examples, the robot cannot finish processing this invoice, and another process, typically involving some human intervention, will need to be followed. We can predict these scenarios and check for them in the robot’s process, but to allow the robot to continue we need handoff that invoice to another process to fill in the missing info.

This is where a Business Process Management (BPM) tool like K2 fits in perfectly!

Let’s take the two scenarios outlined above, where a payment amount cannot be found by the robot, or the customer the robot found on the invoice does not exist in the invoice processing system. We are going to need a human to intervene and take some action (locate the payment amount on the invoice, or get the customer added to the finance system) before the invoice can be processed.

This is where a BPM platform like K2 comes into play. K2 is a low code automation platform that includes a powerful workflow engine, feature rich web-based forms, the ability to integrate with any data source, and analytics and reports to gain deeper insight into your processes.

In the example of the missing payment amount, the robot could start a K2 workflow and hand off the relevant information needed by the human to locate the missing value (e.g. the Invoice pdf). The K2 workflow can create a task for the relevant user or group of users, and present the information needed to complete the task in a K2 SmartForm (web form). Once the user opens their task they can locate and enter the missing value, and then mark the task as complete. The K2 workflow can then hand back to the robot the missing information and it can then complete the processing.

A similar pattern can be used for the situation where the customer does not exist in the finance system. (The robot could trigger a K2 workflow that gets the necessary approvals to create a new customer by creating tasks for the required approvers (determined by business rules). Once approvals are obtained, the workflow could then automate the creation of the customer (if integrations with the finance system have been configured) or create a task for a user to manually create the customer. Once all tasks are completed the invoice can then be handed back to the robot to complete its process.

The advantage of using a system like K2 to manage these scenarios, where the robot encounters a blocker to finishing its process, is that we can create automated workflows that follow business rules, and these workflows are traceable and auditable. So, if a task is created for someone to approve a new customer, we can track who that task is assigned to, how long it has been with that person, and even escalate it to another person if it has not been actioned in a given timeframe. In addition, we can run reports on the workflows to get metrics on how the process is performing.

I am sure you can imagine a lot of scenarios in your business where RPA might be a good fit. Invoice processing is a typical example, but there are many others, including Payroll, Inventory Management, Work Order Management, Sales Order creation, and even IT processes like software deployment and server monitoring.

For nearly all these processes, there will always be exceptions where human intervention is required, whether it be simply finding missing data values, or completing another complex business process such a customer creation.

When you think about digital transformation, consider how a combination of RPA and BPM can play a key role in automating your workplace. Robots are great for automating repetitive, rules-based tasks that involve interaction with computer systems, and automated workflows are perfect for managing business processes that need some human decision making or input. Working together these two technologies present a compelling case to consider for your digital transformation journey.

If you are looking at RPA and/or BPM, the good news is that it is very easy to integrate K2 workflows and UiPath robots. UiPath Robots can start K2 workflows and interact with K2 SmartForms, and K2 workflows can start UiPath robots, giving you the best of both worlds. For more information on the integration between K2 and UiPath please see https://www.k2.com/news/k2-partnership-with-uipath