In this blog, we will discuss what Robotic Process Automation/RPA is, how and why we are using it, and what for. Mary will help us achieve this. If you ask yourself who Mary is, you will learn that she can be your colleague, your friend, maybe you. And why is that? Because most of us find ourselves carrying our repetitive work on our computer.
Who is Mary? Mary is an accountant at a multinational company. She needs to handle multiple invoices and other financial records by copying all the relevant information (name of the company, date, execution date, balance, among others) into a spreadsheet with multiple rows and columns. Mary prepares a daily report and sends it to her superiors. Mary must do this every day. After a few months, Mary finds this task mundane and repetitive. She would also like to focus on more high-value and creative tasks. Discouraged and overwhelmed, Mary tries to find a way to work faster, smarter, and become more efficient with her tasks. She feels that she needs a digital assistant, which can be operational 24/7. Her assistant would need to help her with the considerable workload and manipulating data and documents just like humans do - in a nutshell, a software robot built on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology.
What is RPA? Although the term 'RPA' was only used for the first time in early 2000, it follows a series of traditional automation processes. Somebody can define RPA as computer software or a 'robot' that can emulate and integrate humans' actions to capture data and execute a digital system process. In other words, these software robots can mimic many repetitive activities performed by human users, such as logging into applications, moving files and folders, copy-pasting data, filling in forms, reading emails, copying and pasting data, making calculations, among others. The European Commission's Joint Research Centre classified RPA “as a mature technology which is sufficiently developed, resilient, scalable and reliable to be used in large government organisations”.
Things to know about RPA
1. RPA acts like a software robot or a digital assistant, it is not a traditional physical robot and does not look like a human.
2. RPA is here to help humans, not to replace them.
3. RPA works in tandem with the person involved in the process, it does not have its own brain, even if the software is intelligent and flexible.
Where is RPA used? RPA can help public and private organisations across the EU ensure the continuity of their operations and scale fast when faced with high volumes of tasks due to shifting market dynamics or crises, such as the current pandemic while improving productivity and efficiency. The software robots are now being used in almost every industry, including banking and finance, healthcare, utilities, manufacturing, or the public sector.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private sector organisations worldwide have deployed RPA to help them handle high volume office processes to deliver a timely outcome. For example, RPA was used in April 2020 by an EU airline company to process the tremendous number of flight cancellations refund requests. As a result, the company was able to save more than 3000 working hours in the first 14 days, leading to a faster document processing and finally to better customer experience in the light of the pandemic.
RPA as a key tool in restarting the EU economy and boosting productivity. Automation was mentioned in the European Parliament Plenary in 2019 by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, saying that "we will automate work that is wearisome for us humans: carrying heavy loads, performing repetitive tasks in factories or in offices. And this will give us time. Time for what distinguishes human beings. Time for what computers can't do: empathy and creativity."
Across the world, companies are increasing their digital transformation capabilities as a response to the pandemic. RPA and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a key role in boosting productivity, helping the workforce adjust to the “new normal”, ensuring more flexible modes of work, and enabling a strong recovery.
About the author. Margareta Chesaru is leading the public affairs and public policy activities at UiPath. She has an extensive background in public policy, legal and regulatory affairs. In her current role, she is bringing her energy and know-how into shaping a multi-stakeholder dialogue on the role of AI and automation technologies in the context of the digital economy while also looking for solutions to address today’s educational and societal challenges.
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