Robotics are not new. They have existed in manufacturing for many years and their potential has been showcased again by Honda in the form of New ASIMO, which I personally think is a fantastic piece of engineering.
But what are software robots?
Software Robots, or Robotic Process Automation to use its correct name, is the “application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems” as defined by the Institute For Robotic Process Automation. Or simply, a piece of software than can mimic a human user.
One interesting aspect of software robots is their ability to solve logic-based problems. Many tasks, although on the face of it require a human user to make a decision, are actually a series of ‘what-if’ calculations, for example, allocating a payment against a series of outstanding invoices. Where the software robot cannot solve the problem or it requires a more subjective decision, the automated process can be paused, the human decision made, and then the automated process resumed.
What types of things can be automated:
- Back and front office processes – pretty much any data related task, data entry or transfers between systems, even if calculations and ’what-if’ scenarios are needed
- Data transfer – often, there is a requirement to move data from legacy systems to new systems, possibly where you don’t have access to the underlying software (such as in a multi-source supply contract). As a software robot mimics a human user, it is far faster to automate data transfer than create a new API etc.
- IT system maintenance – there are many tasks in the IT world that can be automated, such as clearing tables at the end of sessions, password reset across multiple systems etc.
- Repetitive parts of value a dd processes – many processes require human value add such as a subjective decision, but often the person does not add any value to the process either side of that decision.
- 24/7 - as a software robot doesn’t require breaks, sleep etc., and runs at a very low error rate, it is ideal for tasks that need to run 24/7
- Cost saving - although software robots do cost money, in the form of licences, automation can deliver significant benefits to some organisations
- Differentiate through speed – it may seem strange to think of automation as a differentiator, but to be able to transfer data, reduce costs and improve service levels faster than your competition, does enable differentiation.
- Job satisfaction – automating all of the repetitive parts of a process and allowing an employee to focus on the value add decision making, can often provide better job satisfaction for employees.
Software robots are not for everyone. If you have a social or ethical need to employ people to do many of your tasks, then they are not for you. But, if you are looking to reduce costs, speed up your process and engage your people in more value added work, then a software robot could become your best friend and we would encourage you to talk with CGI now to develop a programme of automation for your business.