Automation may not be a new term to many of us. Since the age of the First Industrial Revolution, mundane and routine tasks were automated at an increasing pace. Take the example of a printing press that reduced the pain of copying and allowed humans to deploy creative energies in penning newer ideas. Pretty much the same thing is now happening with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the enterprise software world. For over a decade, there has been gradual and steady progress in automating repetitive desk jobs. With the advent and ubiquitous availability of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, the possibilities of automation have broken new frontiers.
A medium to large organization would have an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system in place, which is the central system of record for the entire organization. Therefore, any significant transaction in core lines of business of Financials, Materials Management, Procurement or Sales needs to be recorded in the ERP system. However, we see that in day-to-day business, certain transactions are executed on 3rd party applications, and in some cases information gets accrued from various sources such as emails, Excel sheets etc. This information should be recorded back in the central ERP system for consistency and accuracy of data. We see the business users in these LOBs spend a lot of time in transferring the data into the central ERP system by manually creating these transactions. All such processes could benefit greatly by deploying RPA.
A case in point is how the world of ERPs is imbibing RPA and cognitive technologies into routine tasks and transforming how transactions are executed. SAP, for example terms this iRPA – intelligent RPA. Prior to the advent of RPA, certain degree of automation was achieved through programming the required automation on a case-by-case basis with tight coupling between the programmed script and the application to be automated. The development of such programs were expensive and required heavy maintenance. Any change in either the application or the script would break the given automation. Enter RPA, we see the new tooling allows almost a Zero code approach to developing these automation workflows. These are adaptable to changes in the application.
Delving further into a few scenarios where RPA can offer a significant boost to productivity, let us consider the case of a purchasing clerk who needs to key in the information received from a supplier as a printed doc, PDF, JPEG etc. into a Supplier Invoice on their ERP system. This is manual, repetitive and laborious and if the volume of such invoices is huge, it could lead to monotony and reduced efficiency. The same case when handled by an intelligent Bot, will require almost no efforts from the purchaser apart from triggering the bot. The bot would scan the PDF or physical documents, extract the required information and create the Supplier Invoice in the ERP system.
Another case could be of year-end closing in a large organization where there could be hundreds of cost centres and profit centres that need to be locked for consolidation. This could typically be accomplished manually by locking each profit centre in the application. But RPA could provide a very efficient alternative where in you just list the profit centres to be locked in an Excel sheet and let the bot pick up each row and execute the locking action.
In Summary, Intelligent RPA is the way forward for any enterprise to achieve the multi-pronged objectives of optimum business processes and empowered employees, which will ultimately result in improved customer service and satisfaction.