What is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic process automation (or RPA) is an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.

As the push to go increasingly digital and do more with available resources intensifies, the need for companies to empower their workers through technology increases. RPA is at the forefront of human-computer technology and provides players in the financial services industry with a virtual workforce that is rules based and is set up to connect with your company?s systems in the same way as your existing users. With robotics, you automate and build an automation platform for your front office, back office and support functions.

Software robots as a paradigm for automation

A software robot is a software application that replicates the actions of a human being interacting with the user interface of a computer system. For example, the execution of data entry into an ERP system - or indeed a full end-to-end business process - would be a typical activity for a software robot. The software robot operates on the user interface (UI) in the same way that a human would; this is a significant departure from traditional forms of IT integration which have historically been based on Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) - that is to say, machine-to-machine forms of communication based on data layers which operate at an architectural layer beneath the UI.

Historic evolution

As a form of automation, the same concept has been around for a long time in the form of screen scraping but RPA is considered to be a significant technological evolution of this technique in the sense that new software platforms are emerging which are sufficiently mature, resilient, scalable and reliable to make this approach viable for use in large enterprises (who would otherwise be reluctant due to perceived risks to quality and reputation).

By way of illustration of how far the technology has developed since its early form in screen scraping, it is useful to consider the example cited in one academic study. Users of one platform at Xchanging - a UK-based global company which provides business processing, technology and procurement services across the globe - anthropomorphized their robot into a co-worker named Poppy and even invited her to the Christmas party. Such an illustration perhaps serves to demonstrate the level of intuition, engagement and ease of use of modern RPA technology platforms, that leads their users (or trainers) to relate to them as beings rather than abstract software services. The code free nature of RPA (described below) is just one of a number of significant differentiating features of RPA vs. screen scraping.

Deployment

The hosting of RPA services also aligns with the metaphor of a software robot, with each robotic instance having its own virtual workstation, much like a human worker. The robot uses keyboard and mouse controls to take actions and execute automations. Normally all of these actions take place in a virtual environment and not on screen; the robot does not need a physical screen to operate, rather it interprets the screen display electronically. The scalability of modern solutions based on architectures such as these owes much to the advent of virtualization technology, without which the scalability of large deployments would be limited by available capacity to manage physical hardware and by the associated costs. The implementation of RPA in business enterprises has shown dramatic cost savings when compared to traditional non-RPA solutions.

RPA vs traditional automation

Software robots interpret the user interface of third party applications and are configured to execute steps identically to a human user. They are configured (or trained) using demonstrative steps, rather than being programmed using code-based instructions.[ This is an important concept in the RPA market because the intention is not to provide another coding platform for IT users (who already have the benefit of mature and tested software development and middleware platforms). Rather, the intention is to provide an agile and configurable capability to non-technical business users in operational departments. The paradigm, in summary, is that a software robot should be a virtual worker who can be rapidly trained (or configured) by a business user in an intuitive manner which is akin to how an operational user would train a human colleague.

The benefit of this approach is twofold. Firstly it enables operations departments to self serve. Secondly, it frees up the limited and valuable skills of IT professionals to concentrate on more strategic IT implementations such as ERP and BPMS rollouts. Such programs are often upheld as being transformational in nature, delivering huge returns in the medium to long term, whereas RPA is typically focused on immediate operational effectiveness, quality and cost efficiency. RPA is classically seen therefore as complementary to existing automation initiatives.

Characteristics of RPA software

Code-Free

RPA does not require programming skills: Business operations employees - people with process and subject matter expertise but no programing experience - can be trained to independently automate processes using RPA tools within a few weeks.

Many RPA platforms present a flowchart designer, much like Microsoft Visio: process definitions are created graphically by dragging, dropping and linking icons that represent steps in a process.

Non-disruptive

One of the challenges of traditional IT deployments is that the transformation or change of existing systems is complex and risky. Thus, many large organisations are reluctant to redesign, replace or even to enhance existing systems through the creation of new IT interfaces (or APIs). For this reason, the philosophy behind RPA is to avoid the complexity and risk of such changes where they are not warranted, (or indeed to enable such changes to be prototyped and tested, simply by simulating equivalent input/output via the user interface in lieu of APIs).

RPA tools therefore lean towards light IT requirements and do not, for example, disturb underlying computer systems. The robots access end user computer systems exactly as a human does - via the user interface with an established access control mechanism (e.g. logon ID and password) - so no underlying systems programming need be required. This is an important point because, from a security, quality and data integrity perspective, the UI of many applications encapsulates many years of requirements and testing for error prevention, data integrity and security access control. To bypass a UI by creating a new API is a risky undertaking and requires extensive testing in order that the same levels of functionality and protection are maintained.

Business user friendly

RPA is ease of use and low requirement for technical support perhaps explains why adoption typically originates inside business operations and not inside Information Technology (IT) departments. Because RPA projects do not require expensive IT skills and investment in new platforms, the economic threshold of processes with a viable business case for automation is substantially lowered.

RPA software vendors

RPA software vendors followings :

  • Automation Anywhere
  • BlackLine
  • Blue Prism
  • Datamatics
  • EdgeVerve
  • HelpSystems
  • Kofax
  • NICE
  • Openspan (acquired by Pegasystems)
  • Verint
  • Impact of RPA on employment

    According to Harvard Business Review, most operations groups adopting RPA have promised their employees that automation would not result in layoffs. Instead, workers have been redeployed to do more interesting work. One academic study highlighted that knowledge workers did not feel threatened by automation: they embraced it and viewed the robots as team-mates. The same study highlighted that, rather than resulting in a lower headcount, the technology was deployed in such a way as to achieve more work and greater productivity with the same number of people.

    Conversely however, some analysts proffer that RPA represents a threat to the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. The thesis behind this notion is that RPA will enable enterprises to repatriate processes from offshore locations into local data centers, with the benefit of this new technology. The effect, if true, will be to create high value jobs for skilled process designers in onshore locations (and within the associated supply chain of IT hardware, data center management, etc.) but to decrease the available opportunity to low skilled workers offshore. On the other hand, this discussion appears to be healthy ground for debate as another academic study was at pains to counter the so-called myth that RPA will bring back many jobs from offshore.

    Others, such as UiPath Raghunath Subramanian, believe that RPA will directly increase productivity across multiple industries, especially in countries that have high levels of highly educated workers, but limited size and scope for productivity growth, such as Singapore. RPA will relieve workers of the mundane, repetitive tasks that are required thanks to firms inefficient legacy IT systems, allowing them to perform higher value tasks. This will improve efficiency, with a resulting knock-on effect for the rest of the economy.

    The future of RPA

    The future of RPA is subject to much speculation, as the early majority adopt the technology and discover new uses and new synergies. Possible future trends may include:

  • A convergence of BPM and RPA tools, much in the way that the distinction between BPM and workflow tools is now blurred. The acquisition of OpenSpan in 2016 by Pegasystems is perhaps just one early indication of such a convergence.
  • Greater incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) for advanced decision making and inferencing. There is much in the way of analyst speculation, [13][14][15][16][17][18] marketing[19][20][21] and hype in industry media[22][23] forecasting such developments but, as yet, it is not easy to identify verifiable public domain case studies which provide evidence of this type of technology being deployed alongside RPA.
  • The benefits of robotics

  • Cost Saver Reduce by 80%
  • Time Saver Reduce by 80 - 90%
  • Integration
  • High Quility -> Increase quality by reducing hulman erros
  • Scalable Solution -> that fit into your current system
  • Local Competency -> Keeping compencenties and control locally
  • What processes are relevant for robotic process automation?

    Financial services institutions can automate a wide array of processes with robotics across industries in the financial sector.

      Banking
    • New account entry across systems ? moving data and doing multiple entries
    • Account reconciliation ? duplicating and moving data
    • Report generation across systems and generated
    • eForm extraction ? taking data from forms and making systems entries
    • VAT reporting
    • Accrual support ? making and updating entries
    • Mortgage approval ? moving data place to place and making calculations/li>
    • Notification of delinquent loans ? emails and letters to clients
    • Processing of credit card orders ? from web form to mainframe
    • Audit support and validation
    • Fixed asset amortization
    • FX accounting and write-offs
    • Cost accounting and Purchase Orders
    • Bad debt write-offs
    • Month end close heavy lifting
    • Journal entry accounting
    • Credit note accounting entry
    • Accrual booking
    • Pricing reviews ? performing calculations and entries
    • Fraud detection ? by tracking account activity
    • Account cleansing ? purging known old data

      Capital markets
    • Client onboarding - documentation requirements check
    • Compliance, legal, credit and identification checks
    • Operational set-up of account in trading, collateral and settlement systems
    • Transparent status of onboarding process
    • Consistent data mapping between source and downstream systems
    • KYC/AML authentication: collection and analysis of basic identity information (CIP); name matching against lists of known parties (such as PEP)
    • Fraud detection - determination of the customer risk in terms of propensity to commit money laundering, terrorist finance, or identity theft
    • Reconciliation - user defined rules to generate alerts on chargeback, retrieval request and response
    • Automated scheduling of reconciliation activity
    • Force match option facility to manually settle un-reconciled entries
    • Multi-level reconciliation that supports international & domestic networks across multiple delivery channels
    • Entitlement engine - providing timely, accurate distributions of dividends and interest
    • Receive/track dividend, interest, and amortized principal payment information and collect the distribution of all dividend and interest allocations
    • Simplifies/Enforces the management of complex entitlement policies

      Insurance
    • Pension Auto Enrolment assistance
    • Product Administration - update systems and produce client details for sales of new products
    • Policy Document Data Transfer from legacy system to new Applications, Systems, 3rd Parties.
    • Products Sales Support - customer data gathering, adherence to compliance and rules of sale
    • Broker CUE (Motor) - compares customers reported accident claim history data with actual.
    • Bulk Payments (Motor) - updates policies following claims made through specialist claims companies.
    • Bulk Recoveries (Motor) - updates policies of vehicle recovery amounts and fees supplied by third parties
    • Unallocated Cash Report - works a report and writes off any cash discrepancy under a certain value.
    • Deceased Notification - processing of insurance policies following notification of a death.
    • Insurance Comparison - downloads leads from Internet Comparison providers and loads entries to lead management system
    • Compliance Reporting Automation - automated preparation of reports for the PRA
    • Marketing Campaign Support - high speed response for back office automation to support new product launches, product incentives
    • Credit Card Rejections - works a report of rejected card payments and over a period sends letter to the customer before ultimately cancelling the insurance.
    • Credit Card Unmatched - retrieves cases to work from a report and, where applicable, writes off any cash discrepancy.
    • Accounts Data Mismatches across disparate systems.

    Robotic process automation checklist

    To identify processes that are suitable for robotic process automation you can use this check list.

  • The process should be rule based and not depend on human judgement
  • The process should be initiated by a digital trigger and be supported by digital data
  • The process should be functioning and stabile
  • The bigger the volume of executions of the process the better
  • For a Proof of Concept project, it is key that the process leverages the key systems of the company
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    Eng. Ravi Kumar Verma

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    Ravi Kumar Verma