Robotic process automation (RPA) gets a lot of attention these days. In fact, there is so much information floating around the internet, you can get downright overwhelmed on where to start. My objective today is to help you get more comfortable with the concept of RPA and how it creates operational efficiencies and reduces costs.
Most importantly, I want to show you how to do a quick self-assessment based on a real-life business case for RPA – so you can determine what can and should be automated, how to perform your own cost business analysis, and how to determine your return on investment for each bot created.
What exactly is a bot?
The key concept of RPA is the bot, which is shorthand for robot. Simply put, a bot is a program built to mimic human behavior. A bot can’t make any important decision or any judgment calls. Rather, the genius of a bot is its ability to do a simple task – i.e., routine, highly repetitive activities historically performed by people.
Adding bots to your workforce offers clear advantages:
- Increased efficiencies. Bots free your SMEs’ time to work on tasks requiring discretion, expertise, and reason.
- Reduced costs. Bots can reduce the need for full time employees (FTEs).
- Improved data integrity. Bots can eliminate human error in data entry.
Before we move on from bots, a point of clarification. There are bots that are designed to be interactive. Think of those pop-up “Can I help you?” chat bots that you encounter on websites. Those are called attended bots. What we’re focused on here are unattended bots that do their work behind the scenes.
What processes are right for RPA
Before you seek out an RPA solution, you need to know which of your processes is a best fit for RPA. Here are some questions to consider when doing your self-assessment:
- Is this a task that can be defined? Can someone explain what is done, why it is done, and can map the steps?
- Is this a repetitive task? Does this process occur with high frequency?
- Is there a lot of human error? Does the amount of rework end up taking more time and therefore costing the company more money?
After you have done this self-assessment of determining the right processes for RPA, here is a simple formula for determining if the cost of building a RPA solution is worth the return on the investment. This cost analysis is completed by answering a series of questions that determine the complexity of your bot.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s keep it to a few items:
- # of processes (average volume)
- Average time per process
- # of FTEs supporting the activities
Your answers will help you determine 1) if RPA is the right tool and 2) the level of complexity required of the bot. This will give you a ballpark estimate of how much it will cost to build, the impact on your operations, and your estimated ROI.
RPA use case
Let’s leave the theoretical and move to real life. Here is a use case demonstrating how one of our clients—a Permian-focused upstream company—turned a self-assessment into reality. The target process: vendor invoicing.
This client was processing in excess of 30,000 invoices a month at approximately two minutes per invoice. This spanned a multitude of over 1200 vendors and took 11 (yes, 11) full time dedicated employees to process manually.
So in comes RPA. It took our team less than six months to build the automated process using UiPath’s RPA software. The benefits include reducing the manual invoice processing time by 75% while reducing direct involvement of FTEs by 66%.
This is a true case of solid ROI. What’s more, this particular project provided additional benefits including the ability to ensure the required steps and information were complete (i.e., validation) and that the amount of re-work was reduced (i.e., a win-win). If those aren’t enough, the solution is scalable and future-built—meaning we took account the ability to add machine learning for approval workflows and application integration. How’s that for forward thinking?
RPA as team member
There are so many instances within our organizations where we find ways to use RPA. What you have to do is educate your employees so they understand what RPA is used for and help you build out the bots by finding the efficiency gains for you. But that’s a story for another day.
In closing, when you consider RPA solutions, make sure to look outside of the obvious, because there are plenty other positives you may not have thought of:
- Bots don’t take vacation.
- Bots don’t get sick.
- Bots work 24×7 without having to pay overtime.
- Bots don’t make mistakes.
- Bots are scalable solutions.
Bots are definitely players you want on your team.
About the Author
Stephanie Wilkin is a principal consultant at Stonebridge Consulting.