Robotic Process Automation: Beyond Off-Shoring
In recent years, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are often discussed in the same forums. BPO and off-shoring have been widely used by businesses trying to reduce back office and operational costs by the use of low cost labor markets. Now RPA is being seen as the next way to continue the drive for business process efficiency and cost reduction. At the same time, RPA is acting as a fundamental disruptor to the conventional wisdom of labor arbitrage.
So what exactly is RPA?
Forget the idea of walking into an office and seeing humans replaced by rows of androids; the "robots" of RPA are invisible. They sit inside your systems, moving between different applications, inputting, checking, updating and processing far faster than any human could.
Sometimes they’re only "hired" to work an hour a day, or overnight, by a particular business unit – so a single robot could be shared with another department or even organization.
Like workflow-building applications, RPA software can lead to an immediate increase in process efficiency, accuracy, compliance and speed of completion – while removing manual errors and increasing customer satisfaction.
Actual results will vary for each organization and for different processes, but RPA programs typically deliver cost savings of 25-45 percent. Pay-back periods are often measured in weeks, instead of the months and years required for software development projects.
In the context of BPO, RPA can enable the business to bring the processes back onshore for the same or less cost, with the advantage of gaining increased control over those processes. Instead of the vanilla, one-size-fits-all of BPO, the business can tweak the processes according to local imperatives.
Which processes suit RPA?
All the usual suspects can benefit from RPA: mundane, repetitive, frequent, high volume tasks; rule-based vs judgement-based decisions; manually intensive and error-prone processes.
However, because it’s so quick and easy to make changes, RPA is also highly suited to processes that regularly change and adapt – especially those that are too costly or complex to re-engineer the traditional way within the short term.
Good candidates for RPA are processes which intake structured data and transfer it across multiple systems – as well as time-consuming, low-volume activities that require frequent "system hopping" – for example, HR onboarding.
Apart from the availability and emerging value of RPA technology, there are some strong business drivers for adoption:
- Backshore to reduce total costs
- Bypass the IT project backlog
- Let process experts take control
RPA is not the end of the workplace as we know it. The winners in the digital world will develop an effective "digital pairing" strategy – where robots perform the mundane tasks while humans manage exceptions and orchestrate the robots to interact with each other through end-to-end digital, process orchestration.
Start small on your RPA journey. Spend time to conduct technology proof-of-concepts on a few different processes, so you’ll understand the nature of processes which are most suitable for RPA.