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Dreading opening up Excel to do that one month end report that just takes that bit too long?

We all have that monotonous, repetitive, unchanging task. Familiar, yet not familiar enough to breeze through. The time invested does not reflect the value you gain from completing it. It’s a blocker, something that stops you from clearing that “to-do” list.

UiPath’s Anthony Ryan walked the crowd at the RPA Meetup #4 through how to build a robot. It turns out that robotics has become rather more democratized recently, in an example of what Microsoft term as “citizen development”. He showed off a standard invoice payment procedure, recording his every click and tap of the keyboard.

When completed, he had what amounted to an order sheet for his new robot. With some minor tweaks, noting what figures to pay attention to and what email addresses to use, Anthony could turn his invoice payment procedure from a 15 minute task to one executed as fast as the processor can spin up. One blocker removed from a potential finance departments to-do list?

photo from RPA Ireland Meetup 4 at Azon Recruitment Group, 46 Kildare Street
Top right: Rebecca Keenan, Expleo Group. Bottom right: Anthony Ryan, UiPath. Bottom Left: James Alexander, Azon Recruitment Group.

Send in the robots

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation, an emerging field of technology that combines automation with process management. We were not treated to a Boston Dynamics robot gymnastics display downstairs in 46 Kildare Street however. No, the vast majority of robots being talked about here are far more discreet and in many ways, far more practical.

The invoice case study was just scratching the surface. Complex, multi-department, border crossing tasks are being improved, sped up with the result of tens of thousands of hours being saved. Examples ranged from Finance to IT to Customer Service. It’s not a prescribed approach, not a pull down from the shelf product either, as no one company, task or process is the same.

This was more about sitting down, mapping out exactly how something is done and then finding where robots can help smooth out those monotonous, repetitive portions of it. Time saved could be invested back into teams and people, giving them better opportunities to do more, enhancing the day-to-day.

The human touch

Where can you start? Who do you turn to champion RPA in your business? Rebecca Keenan from Expleo Group detailed her, and Expleo’s story growing out as an RPA business. While, as detailed above, RPA is a powerful technology that can have amazing benefits, it isn’t a panacea nor can it just be thrown into an organisation without due care.

There is a nice cross-over between RPA implementation and what one of it’s outcomes can be. The need for soft skills: effective communication, stakeholder management and the like. Rebecca talked about how no Product Design Document, the genesis of any RPA project, survived to deployment without some level of change. No matter what line of work you are in you can appreciate the fact that any project internal or external not ending up being exactly what you had done on paper is a universal occurrence. The need to be flexible, responsive and agile is key.

Working towards the future

There are new avenues and opportunities in the space seemingly everyday. OCR let’s robots read scanned documents, machine learning helps them to adapt to unexpected outcomes, business intelligence gives access to a plethora of actionable data. If you read any report on the future of work, automation, whether it is through RPA or otherwise, is an inevitable development.

So, for those wanting to work in the future, RPA is not something to be afraid of. Get familiar with what it can do, understand the constraints and where that human element has to come in. Look out for RPA Meetup #5 to help keep you up to speed in this rapidly moving space!

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