There is probably no other word combo that can cause such a mix of excitement and fear at the same time as automation and robots. And if you’ve seen the latest videos from Boston Dynamics, I’m sure you know what I mean. Although robotic process automation is (still) a very elementary form of automation as compared to stunt robots, it’s not surprising there’s so much hype around it. So, if you’re implementing RPA in your company, or simply considering it as a possibility, this blog post is for you.

Here, I’ll talk a bit about RPA, when you should use it (and when you shouldn’t), and share a few pieces of advice and cautions for a successful implementation. For a more in-depth conversation, check out our recent Tech Talk RPA: Hit or Miss

Implementing RPA webinar

Why RPA?

According to recent studies, workers spend more than 40 percent of their day on manual digital administrative processes that are not part of their main job and are ripe for human error.

The value proposition of RPA is that it automates these repetitive and manual tasks with the use of bots, thus freeing workers to do more strategic and impactful activities. You can configure these bots to mimic certain mundane and tedious human activities, such as:

  • Log into applications
  • Connect a system to APIs
  • Copy and paste data
  • Move files and folders
  • Extract and process structured and semistructured content from documents, PDFs, emails or forms
  • Read and write to databases
  • Open emails and attachments
  • Scrape data from the web
  • Make calculations

So, it’s no wonder that RPA is one of the fastest-growing technologies out there. Some of the pros of choosing this automation technology include: 

  • A straightforward value proposition: Instead of having dozens or hundreds of collaborators performing tedious and time-consuming tasks, you have just a handful of robots explicitly programmed for that task. This way, you not only reduce the risk of human error, but you free your people to focus on more valuable tasks for the business—like innovation, for example.
  • Fast return on investment: According to a survey by Deloitte, the payback on RPA investments occurs in less than 12 months, with bots delivering an average of 20 percent full-time equivalent (FTE) capacity in the process.
  • Low barriers to adoption: Because you’re essentially automating something you already have and not replacing it, it is not like RPA to be a disruptive technology to the business organization, which can allow for smoother adoption.
  • Bridge gaps as systems are modernized: With RPA, you’re able to address a specific need and move the needle forward quickly.

Now, let’s get down to what brought you here. If you’re planning your RPA adoption plan, there are a few things you need to keep in mind for a successful adoption. 

Advices for a Successful RPA Implementation

First of all, let me make a quick disclaimer. OutSystems is not a RPA solution. We’re more of a full-stack platform with out-of-the-box development features. But several of our customers integrate RPA technologies, like UI Path, with their apps built in OutSystems—we actually have a UI Path component in our OutSystems Forge to streamline the integration.

That said, the next section is based on the lessons learned by our customers and advice from industry analysts, like Forrester.   

1. Choose the First Use Cases Wisely

It’s common for early-stage RPA programs to struggle with identifying business cases and finding the ROI of their first projects. That’s why your first RPA project should be something you can quickly obtain value from. If you go with a complex multi-year solution, for example, that may stifle the overall adoption of the technology.

RPA can be used for any process or activity with well-defined rules. So, begin with time-consuming, repetitive, fairly static processes. 

Some of the most common initial use cases for RPA are:

  • Staff onboarding
  • Staff maintenance
  • Report aggregation
  • Payroll processing
  • Customer due diligence
  • Competitive pricing and monitoring
  • CRM updates
  • Order processing
  • Shipment scheduling and tracking
  • User setup and configuration

2. Consider Forrester’s Rule of 5

Although RPA allows you to automate repetitive tasks, you shouldn’t try to automate all processes. To give you some guidance on which business processes are more suited for RPA, Forrester developed the “rule of 5”. According to the analyst firm, processes with the following attributes are best suited for RPA:

  • No more than five decisions made
  • No more than five applications accessed
  • No more than five hundred clicks

3. Don’t Buy the Hype or Over-Invest

Thus far we have discussed some of the benefits of RPA, but there are also some limitations we should keep in mind:

  • Changing interfaces adds complexity to deployment: Because RPA usually interacts with user interfaces, even minor changes to those interfaces may lead to a broken process. After all, robots can’t adjust their behavior the same way a human would. The same goes for process changes. And, even though some vendors are combining AI with RPA in an attempt to solve this issue, the deployment of this kind of solution is still pricey and in its very early stages.
  • Bots need management, maintenance, and security: Deploying lots of bots to automate processes often requires different types of technology and integration, which encompasses a host of added IT overhead. You are adding another layer of architectural complexity, so IT has to make sure your RPA deployment is sound and working.
  • RPA can take the focus away from larger, strategic projects: Being a tactical, simple way to acquire process efficiency gains quickly, RPA may divert attention from strategic and critical projects such as creating new systems to support disruptive business processes or replacing legacy core systems that are holding you back.
  • The marriage of RPA and AI is still not fully mature: While the possibility of using RPA with AI to address complex and sophisticated processes is exciting, it’s still in its early stages. This can result in fragmentation, rework as technologies evolve and higher setup times.

These limitations show you that RPA is not always the best solution, and that finding the right use cases is a really important factor for success.

RPA is a great option to bridge a solution. For example, if you need to automate a process that involves navigating legacy systems or external sites, RPA can act as a band-aid by enabling you to make a process automatic and potentially more efficient. But, as we’ve just seen,  it can also be a brittle integration. For those cases, you may need another technology to fill in the gap. And that’s where platforms like OutSystems can help.

Want to Learn More About RPA?

If you want to learn more about how OutSystems and RPA can work together to overcome these limitations and extend the power of your bots, I invite you to join me in my on-demand Tech Talk RPA: Hit or Miss? In this session, I’ll show you how to implement RPA into OutSystems apps, based on real-life scenarios such as when you need to loop a human activity into a business flow.