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What is RPA?

An introduction to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can start by addressing the question “What is RPA?”.

RPA – Robotic Process Automation, can sound complicated but fundamentally it can best be described in a few examples:

  • Copy & Paste from a spreadsheet into a computer application (e.g. HR, Finance, Stock)
  • Copy & Paste from a computer application to populate a spreadsheet
  • Copy & Paste from Web site information to enter into an internal computer application (e.g. Competitor prices)
  • Copy & Paste information from an internal system to add into a web site (e.g. Supplier portal)
  • Extract (Copy & paste) information from an email into a computer application
  • Extract (Copy & paste) information from a document into a computer application
  • Find and compare values between computer applications, web sites, documents, etc.
  • Copy or move files on a file system based on specific criteria

Of course, in detail it can be much more than the above with the application of logic and rules but it is essentially anything a person would do at their computer.

It is important to remember that RPA cannot do anything a human at a computer keyboard could not do. There is no magic.

RPA is a software solution which is called a “Robot” which mimics a person’s interaction with the computer, there is no physical Robot machine looking at the screen and pressing keys on the keyboard. As an RPA Robot uses the same “User Interface” as human it is non-invasive to existing computer systems which means less disruption when RPA Robots are introduced.

RPA is most effective where there is a need for repetitive tasks, that are predictable and do not require decisions by humans. Of course, people are still required to manage and monitor the Robots which can include resolve errors that are encountered during the processing.

The advantage of RPA is that once in place, it is consistently effective, can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at minimal incremental cost.

RPA can empower a team of staff to increase their productivity, so that they spend time on the important tasks and let the software Robot workers undertake the routine tasks.

In describing RPA, it can also be helpful to say what is not RPA.

For example, a Macro that is executed within an application can do similar actions to RPA but it will be limited to the application that is “Hosting” the Macro. RPA can work across applications.

Another example is a Windows Command File. As a script it can initiate actions and respond to items at the Windows level and not operate within any of the applications that are executing on the machine. RPA can operate at both levels.

RPA is not AI (Artificial Intelligence). AI is very good at understanding patterns, which is how the GenAI products have emerged by being able to recognise patterns in word dialogues. RPA is for process automation, it is the doing activity. RPA technology can use AI to help it understand the “Doing” actions that are required by analysing the request from text in a document or email message or in a chatbot dialogue.

RPA is often first thought about as interacting with the GUI screens that are used by people. As RPA is used to automate the processes that people perform, it is essential that RPA can use that type of interface but the technology can also be utilised to interact with API interfaces of applications. The mixed use can enable more resilient process automations to be achieved and leverage potential performance gains by removing the GUI processing overhead. 

Ether Solutions is a technology focused consultancy that provides services for RPA - Robotic Process Automation, this includes using Artificial Intelligence (AI) where appropriate to enhance the capability of solutions in areas such as Document Understanding and Email analysis. The technology solutions provide practical ways to improve Productivity.

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