This article was originally published in the Autumn 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
In the last few years, robotic process automation (RPA) has seized the spotlight in enterprise process management. The reason is simple: RPA bots can handle a wide variety of repetitive tasks at high speed, shaving minutes off the execution of processes that run thousands of times a year. Bots are being adopted across enterprises to help with processes such as employee onboarding, payroll processing, bank record reconciliation and month-end sales reports.
As enterprises discover the power of RPA, there has been a tendency to view it as the answer to every automation need. But process challenges take many forms, and multiple technologies have been developed to address them. It’s important to understand that RPA bots mimic human keystrokes; they are not designed to make decisions. And since they operate through user interfaces, they can break when the interface changes – something that happens frequently.
Fortunately, a variety of tools are available to cover the spectrum of process automation needs. To apply them most effectively, Nintex recommends taking an end-to-end approach that includes three stages: manage, automate and optimise.
In the “manage” stage, an organisation maps and documents its existing processes, then seeks broad buy-in from key stakeholders on how they want key processes to work. Few organisations have done this well, with the unfortunate result that they wind up merely accelerating bad processes.
Next, in the “automate” stage, the organisation decides which technologies to apply. As mentioned, RPA is well-suited for repetitive, manual processes – extracting data from one place and moving it to another, over and over.
But many processes, such as evaluating job candidates or preparing sales proposals, require collaboration, judgment and decision-making. These types of processes are well-suited for workflow automation, which routes the information to the right person at the right time and make sure that everyone is consulted before a decision is made. Other forms of automation technology to consider are digital forms, mobile apps, document generation and e-signatures.
Once you’ve mapped your processes and selected the right tools, the next step is to “optimise” using tools that allow you to continuously monitor, analyse and adjust your processes to run most reliably and efficiently.
In sum, RPA is an important automation tool, but it’s one of several. Think of building a house; you have saws, hammers, screwdrivers, and other tools available, and you’ll probably use them all. Process automation works the same way.
Neal Gottsacker is the chief product officer at Nintex