Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a tool used to automate processes/workflows using software bots, which can be used to cut down on repetitive, boring tasks a firm may face in day-to-day operations. Robotic process automation is not an “intelligent” form of technology like AI is, as its goal is to simply mimic steps that a normal human would on their computer screen. RPA can run on user’s desktops, in servers, or elsewhere and can be used to streamline a multitude of activities including data collection and accessing webpages. RPA flows are created by entering specific steps to achieve the desired result – following the creation of this flow, the software will emulate the process provided by the user. Popular RPA solutions include Power Automate (Microsoft), UiPath and ServiceNow.

An example of a flow would be opening a web browser, navigating to an email provider, logging in, searching for a specific email subject line, and downloading the attached file. Another example of a useful way in which RPAs may be used is through web scraping, in which data is collected from the internet. Oftentimes, complex processes or custom code functions and drivers (i.e., Selenium for C# or finding the XPath of each element on a webpage) needed to be used, however now RPAs are able to simplify and streamline this process. RPAs are used in a variety of sectors (inventory management for manufacturing, data entry in finance, or chatbots in online commerce), making them essentially industry agnostic and scalable to a large degree. It is easy to see how manually doing these aforementioned tasks each day may not be effective – RPAs cut down on time spent doing menial tasks and allow end-users to focus on more productive activities. RPAs can also be run at any time and are not constrained to normal business hours in which employees may be.

Figure 1) An example of an RPA flow used to access the most recent blog post on Sapling’s website

RPA software is often based on a low/no code design, meaning it should be relatively straightforward to put together even if one does not have coding experience (for example, Microsoft’s Power Automate is relatively low code, with the option for users to enter code in certain areas if desired). They also lower the chance of human error and contain systems in place to log where an error may have occurred in the flow. One slight disadvantage to RPA is that the flow design may need to be tweaked if webpage layouts are to change, but this is a relatively simple workaround should the event occur.

Two kinds of RPA processes exist – unattended and attended flows. Unattended flows run without human interaction and are usually placed on remote servers, where they can proceed to complete a task without human oversight. Attended flows can run on a local desktop (or a remove server) and allow the user to observe the process in live time, adding in an extra layer of scrutiny vis-à-vis process flow progress whilst allow allowing for humans to intervene if the process cannot be fully automated.

RPAs are proving to be beneficial to organizations, resulting in increased productivity and accuracy through reducing the likelihood of human error, whilst being easy to scale. Sapling Financial Consultants Inc. is able to integrate RPAs into businesses’ existing strategies to help streamline digital transformation.

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