Robotic Process Automation

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Robotic Process Automation

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00018004

Publication Date: 2201

Report Type: TUTORIAL


The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) defines
robotic process automation (RPA) as “the term used for software tools that
partially or fully automate human activities that are manual, rule-based,
and repetitive.” Robotic process automation exists on the automation
spectrum between business process automation (BPA) software – like
enterprise resource planning (ERP) – and intelligent process automation
(IPA) software, which features machine learning and other artificial
intelligence (AI) techniques.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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The term “robotic process automation” is somewhat misleading. There are
no robots involved, at least not the mechanical variety. The adjective
“robotics” refers to software robots (“bots”) – programs designed to
help automate the performance of common white-collar business processes.


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The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) defines
robotic process automation (RPA) as “the term used for software tools that
partially or fully automate human activities that are manual, rule-based,
and repetitive. [RPA] tools are not replacements for the underlying
business applications; rather, they simply automate the already manual
tasks of human workers. They essentially look at the screens that workers
today look at and fill in and update the same boxes and fields within the
user interface by pulling the relevant data from the relevant location.”1

Importantly, from a software integrity and security perspective, RPA
tools “sit on top of” an enterprise’s information infrastructure, rather
than being integrated in the manner of an application programming
interface (API). This makes RPA tools easier to deploy and, if necessary,
withdraw from business process flows. It also aids in the acceptance of
RPA by business process owners, many of whom are not IT experts.2

Transitional Technology

Robotic process automation exists on the automation spectrum between
business process automation (BPA) software – like enterprise resource
planning (ERP) – and intelligent process automation (IPA) software,
which features machine learning and other artificial intelligence (AI)
techniques. Evan Campbell, a managing director in the Technology Strategy
and Operations (TSO) practice at Protiviti, observes that “RPA is really
the first jumping-off step toward intelligent automation.”3

RPA Types

Analyst Margaret Rouse divides RPA bots into three broad categories:

  • Probots are bots that follow simple, repeatable
    rules to process data.
  • Knowbots are bots that search the Internet to gather
    and store user-specified information.
  • Chatbots are virtual agents who can respond to
    customer queries in real time.”4

Chatbots, of course, are the most familiar RPA type since they feature in
home applications. Note that while chatbots in the form of intelligent
personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are popular among
consumers, an even larger enterprise market is emerging, facilitating what
is known as “conversational commerce.”

Partial Automation

Although some processes are too intricate to be fully automated, RPA
remains a viable process improvement option. According to a leading
provider, Automated Anywhere, “RPA bots can work in both ‘attended’ and
‘unattended’ modes. Typically used for front-office operations, attended
bots are useful when the entire end-to-end process can’t be automated. RPA
processes that require no human input are called ‘unattended’. Not all RPA
solutions are capable of both attended and unattended automation.”5

Task Capture

RPA applications often inform their own execution through “process
mining,” especially “task capture." As described by analyst Kyle L.
Wiggers, task capture “comes as employees move through a work process
they’d like to automate by taking screenshots, using drag-and-drop
designers, and pulling data like window names and descriptions together
into a process definition document.”6

RPA Benefits

RPA is a fundamental ingredient in the “digital transformation” movement,
which Salesforce describes as “the process of using digital technologies
to create new – or modify existing – business processes, culture, and
customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”7

The commonly cited advantages of RPA include:

  1. Accelerating business operations – thereby enhancing
    business opportunities.
  2. Achieving greater accuracy – eliminating tedious and
    unnecessary rework.
  3. Regaining employee time – freeing employees to
    engage in more productive and profitable activities.
  4. Cutting costs – improving the “bottom line.”
  5. Providing better customer experiences – increasing
    customer satisfaction and decreasing customer churn.
  6. Ensuring regulatory compliance – avoiding fines and
    other governmental sanctions.
  7. Improving employee productivity – enabling a more
    satisfying work environment, both for employers and employees.
  8. Permitting cross-platform work processes
    leveraging the fact that RPA is application agnostic.
  9. Allowing scalable processes – expanding or
    contracting processes according to business demand and operational
  10. Harnessing artificial intelligence – extending, for
    example, the boundaries of automation to include unstructured data.8

With respect to employee productivity, while RPA allows employees to
redirect their energies to more complex functions, or activities more
suited to their education and experience, RPA also enables enterprise
management to affect workforce reductions, an issue that must be “front
and center” in RPA planning.


Robotic process automation (RPA) is often distinguished from expert
process automation (EPA), which requires the active intervention of
“expert” contributors, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. RPA Vs. EPA

Figure 1. RPA Vs. EPA

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Prominent Providers

The RPA market space is extremely crowded. Some of more prominent
providers, based on revenue, mind share, and venture investment are:

  • Automation Anywhere
  • UiPath
  • Blue Prism
  • Microsoft

Bot Store

Automation Anywhere maintains a “Bot Store” that “accelerates [clients’]
robotic process automation initiatives by offering pre-built automations
and plug-and-play integrations.” For example, the “Language Translation
and Text Utility Using IBM Watson” bot, which is available for free, can
translate up to 70 different languages from an input string, and detect
character count and word count. Here’s how it works:

Tasks :

  • Detect the input language from an input text
  • Translate the input text into the target language
  • Get the character count of the string
  • Get the word count of the string

Input : The bot can take any text inputs like prompt, excel
file, text, etc.

Action : The bot uses a language detection API to detect the
language of the input text, and uses a language translator API to
translate the input text into the target language.

Output : The output is a translated text which can be used to
log data, fill fields on forms, or even display the text in a message box
for viewing.

RPA Use Cases

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According to McKinsey, at least a third of
activities could be automated in about 60 percent of occupations.


In most cases, robotic process automation is ideal for automating jobs
that are manual, rule-based, and repetitive. In selecting potential
candidates, enterprise officials should prioritize processes that are:

  • High volume – justifying the cost of RPA investment
  • Stable – avoiding the need for periodic RPA “tweaking”10

Business Process Reengineering

To affect substantial and sustainable business process improvement, RPA
should be viewed as one component of a larger, more comprehensive business
process reengineering (BPR) program. BPR is the systematic study of
business processes with the goal of streamlining and otherwise optimizing
business operations:

  • Reducing resource requirements
  • Lowering execution time
  • Cutting costs
  • Improving overall process efficiency and effectiveness

For those enterprise planners seeking an immediate RPA payback, the
following high-return applications are worth consideration:

Receivables & Payables

Historically, processing accounts receivable and accounts payable records
– the proverbial bread and butter of finance operations – has involved
substantial time and manual labor – two valuable commodities that RPA was
designed to conserve. Not surprisingly, Gartner predicted that 73 percent
of corporate controllers would have implemented some form of RPA in their
finance departments by the end of 2020,11 a figure which might
have climbed higher owing to COVID-19.

Returns Processing

While online selling has been a boon to many businesses, processing
returns from dissatisfied customers has reduced overall profitability. As
analyst Kevin Casey reports, Antony Edwards, former COO at Eggplant Software, believes RPA
can reduce the returns burden. “Traditionally, returns processing has been
carried out manually and has been a costly endeavor. With RPA, companies
can manage returns without adding to the cost or causing a delay. The RPA
software can now handle the return, which includes a series of repetitive
steps: sending a message confirming receipt of the return, updating the
inventory system, making the payment adjustment to the customer, ensuring
that the internal billing system is updated, and so on.”12

Data Manipulation and Management

Analyst Ashley Hudson asserts that “One of the most powerful
capabilities of RPA is its ability to organize and harness large
compilations of unstructured data. Data manipulation can be arduous and
monotonous for some of your employees. (Know anyone who’s immediately
turned off by the mere mention of spreadsheets?) The perfect thing about
RPA is that it has no emotions or interests, and therefore won’t
distinguish between data manipulation and the latest sporting results.
Everybody wins! 

“In the digital era, the CIO must analyze how to best extract knowledge
from the data that companies constantly collect. Consider RPA to analyze
which of your products are purchased most often at particular times of the
year, and you are onto a winning formula. Using big data analytics through
proper RPA installations can pinpoint actionable tasks for improvement and
optimization, exposing deficiencies and hidden patterns.”13

Internal Audit

Leading accounting and consulting firm PwC recommends RPA for internal
audit. “[Some] of the tasks that RPA could automate include:

  • “Identifying open items, sending emails to responsible parties,
    conducting follow-up when due dates are not met, and documenting
    remediation status.
  • “Tracking progress against the annual audit plan or tracking and
    monitoring key risk indicators (KRIs).
  • “Automating reporting and dashboarding activities, including
    populating audit committee and management report templates or internal
    audit’s balanced scorecard.
  • “Evaluating data quality in any system, such as in master data files,
    checking for completeness of fields, duplicates, and validation.”14

Since auditing is closely aligned with compliance measurement, RPA can
help demonstrate adherence to critical laws and regulations, like the EU’s
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer
Privacy Act (CCPA).

Human Resources (Hiring and Onboarding)

As analyst Caleb Twito reports, “the process of hiring and onboarding
[involves] numerous repetitive and rules-based tasks” for which RPA can
assist, such as sourcing candidates, screening resumes, and processing

Pandemic Testing

Analyst Kyle L. Wiggers reveals that “Early in the pandemic, RPA
companies like Automation Anywhere worked with health care centers to
implement bots and automate laborious processes.” For example:

  • “Olive, a Columbus-based health care automation startup, used a
    combination of computer vision and RPA to support COVID-19 testing
    operations by simplifying manual data entry.
  • “UiPath partnered with a Dublin-based hospital to process COVID-19
    testing kits, enabling the hospital’s on-site lab to receive results in
    minutes and saving the nursing department three hours per day, on

Desktop Automation

is making RPA more accessible with its
Power Automate


offering, which enables users to automate repetitive desktop
processes. You can:

  • Quickly organize your documents using dedicated files and folders
  • Accurately extract data from websites and store them in excel files
    using Web and Excel automation.
  • Apply desktop automation capabilities to put your work on autopilot.17

Attractively, Power Automate for desktops is available to Windows 11
users at no additional cost.

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RPA Market

According to ResearchAndMarkets, the global robotic process automation
market will reach $25.66 billion by 2027, expanding at a remarkable
compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.6 percent over the forecast

Governmental Oversight

Technological success invites public sector scrutiny. In particular,
expect lawmakers and regulators to examine the impact of RPA on employment
and wages. “RPA will be on the global stage,” said Guy Kirkwood, who is
the Chief Evangelist at UiPath. “Extra-governmental organizations, like
the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, will discuss RPA in the
context of jobs, wages and global economics.”19

Intelligent Process Automation

As enterprise officials enjoy the benefits of RPA, their attention will
turn, almost inevitably, to the potential for intelligent process
automation (IPA). As illustrated in Figure 2, IPA is, itself, a process,
starting with initial automation efforts and culminating in actual
artificial intelligence (AI).

Along with RPA, intermediate phases include:

  • “Autonomics,” which involves the creation of self-regulating,
    self-healing computer systems;20 and
  • “Cognitive computing,” which is the simulation of human thought in a
    computerized model.21

Figure 2. Intelligent Process Automation Spectrum

Figure 2. Intelligent Process Automation Spectrum

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Information Security

Analyst Kevin Casey predicts that RPA will be invoked to help protect
enterprise information and information infrastructure. As Prince Kohli,
CTO of Automation Anywhere, explains: “As important information flows in
and out of organizations – across disparate teams, partners, devices,
clouds, vendors, and customers – the old-school, human-only approach to
information security simply can’t scale to handle this data deluge, which
can lead to costly mistakes.

“RPA bots will help mitigate human error as they are perfectly suited to
handle data-intensive tasks efficiently and without error, saving
companies valuable time, reducing security risk, and freeing humans to
focus on higher-value, more fulfilling work. We’ll soon see more
organizations using bots as intelligent guardrails that ensure accuracy
and reduce the chance of accidental internal data leaks.”22

Conversely, RPA bots could become hacker targets, increasing the need to
implement strong bot security.23

Automate Everything

Rather than invoking RPA technology selectively and judiciously, there is
a tendency among some RPA proponents – propelled, in part, by the COVID-19
pandemic – to automate everything, often with mixed results.

As reported by analyst Tom Taulli, according to Alex Rinke, CEO of
Celonis, “The impact of COVID has driven reduced workforces to look for
any help they can get and, in the short term, the automation-fix might
feel good but the automation-tax is going to be high once those bots start
limping and eventually breaking down. This approach has proven to be
brittle and fail when the business changes, because it automates steps
regardless of the business context, process situation, management
objectives, etc. It ‘assumes’ there is always one way to execute things –
which is never the case in business.”24

Next Wave

Analyst Priya Dialani forecasts that the “next wave” of robotic process
automation will involve small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and be
empowered by increasing accessible RPA developer tools, often cloud-based.
Moreover, Dialani predicts that “A market need will emerge for …
robotics-as-a-service (RaaS). RaaS administrators will [occupy] a segment
of the market, with certain operators concentrating on explicit verticals
and others being general automation service providers.”25


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1. Engage RPA Experts

Prior to any RPA planning, enterprise officials should consult with
leading RPA providers like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath:

  • First, to evaluate the firms’ RPA platforms, and whether these
    platforms are compatible and interoperable with the enterprise’s
    information infrastructure; and
  • Second, to determine whether the firms offer any free or paid bots
    that satisfy specific enterprise automation needs.

2. Consider Cybersecurity Implications

Leading accounting and consulting firm EY reminds us that “As robotics
become mainstream, these new entrants to the IT environment represent
additional vectors for compromise. Abuse of privileged access, mismanaged
access entitlements, and disclosure of sensitive data are valid concerns.
Additionally, platform security vulnerabilities, privacy implications, and
denial of service may yield ramifications that impact the RPA integrity,
reliability, and downstream business processes.”26

3. Fix, Then Automate

Only well-running processes should be automated. If a process is flawed –
or, in some respects, suboptimal – the process should be first repaired,
and second automated.

4. Manage Human Resources

While RPA is relatively non-disruptive infrastructure-wise, it can be
extremely disruptive personnel-wise. Consequently, EY urges enterprise
officials to “determine the new role of people – [to] recognize that roles
and responsibilities will be altered as a result of RPA implementations.”27

Close coordination with Human Resources and Legal will be essential.

5. Plan for IPA

Robotic process automation is a transitional (some would say stopgap)
technology – an efficient means of enhancing enterprise processes on the
way to intelligent process automation, where self-learning software can
produce self-improving enterprise operations.

Before committing resources to any RPA initiatives, enterprise officials
should chart a start-to-finish automation course.


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About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst
and business writer with more than 40 years’ IT experience. A member of
“Who’s Who in Finance and Industry,” Mr. Barr has designed, developed, and
deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He
is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business
BY Really Trying
, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory Panel, and a
senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management Practices.
Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

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