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The Evolution of RPA

Robotic process automation technology may seem new, but its origins go back to the early 90’s where businesses tried to integrate with older platforms and mainframes without robust APIs (application program interface). Prior to RPA, businesses built and implemented screen scraping, in addition to other workflow automation tools. RPA combines both concepts and significantly improves on each technology.

Screen scrapers are data entry programs that take data from one application and copy it into another recursively until they have iterated through all the available data – automating so-called “swivel chair work.” Such programs have commonly been used for collecting data from an outdated, or “legacy,” application and transferring it to modern one.

Workflow automation has existed since the Industrial Revolution. However, this term eventually extended to include computer-based tools in the 90’s. The earliest digital workflow automation tools combined several tasks into the click of a single button.

For instance, macros serve as shortcuts to execute a series of tasks that might otherwise have required time and effort. Other workflow tools enable automatic switching between multiple applications, even without API functionality.

RPA is currently having a profound impact on many industries by improving efficiency, reducing costs, boosting revenues and increasing customer satisfaction rates. To date, the most affected industries and departments have been those with large amounts of simple, repetitive tasks. Below are just a few examples of how robotic process automation is used for business.

Online Retail – RPA bots can automatically create accounts, accept payments, process orders package and even ship items. The whole order fulfillment process, which once took weeks, now takes just hours. There are also automated systems to handle returns, complaints and inventory management, in addition to several other critical, complicated and costly processes, which were previously done manually.

Finance – Several facets of the finance industry have been automated to varying degrees. One of the earliest and most visible forms of automation was the ATM, or “automated teller machine.” More recently, banks, mortgage lenders and accounting firms have all introduced web portals and have begun automating time-consuming tasks, such as redacting personal information, filling spreadsheets, doing calculations and filing various forms.

Invoice Processing – Bots can eliminate up to 80 percent of the work done by a human to process invoices. By performing tasks such as purchase order acknowledgement, two-way matching, along with a variety of other costly and time-consuming tasks, organizations can dramatically improve their bottom line. RPA allows companies the ability to scale their business without adding more AP specialists.

Compliance – Laws and regulations are, by definition, completely rule based and incredibly complicated, making them an ideal candidate for automation. RPA bots have taken a significant amount of compliance work, that would otherwise demand the attention of teams of lawyers and/or accountants to stay updated on regulatory changes, while going through all the relevant information quickly and more accurately.

Human Resources – RPA systems are currently used to standardize and automate payroll. Bots can find, access and organize employee information across multiple departments and locations. This eliminates unnecessary data entry and human error while saving valuable man hours through faster processing. Many of the same applications have been used in customer service to a similar effect.

Healthcare – Many healthcare organizations are beginning to implement RPA systems in their back-office. For example, some organizations are using bots for scheduling appointments, processing test results, handling billing and other similar tasks. This allows doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to eliminate much of the paperwork from their routine and spend more time with each patient.

RPA has already yielded powerful results. Leading innovators are leveraging RPA with AI and computer vision technologies to enhance their current systems so that they are smarter and more automated. As a result, businesses can operate more efficiently and have more control over their bottom line.

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