The New Normal Skills Economy (Part 4): Robotic Process Automation
Do you have a repetitive, tedious task? There’s a robot for that!
As the world hopefully begins to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries (including print) have been greatly impacted. In this series, we will focus on the increasing pace of technology and how certain developments will help print companies overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow. Welcome to The New Normal Skills Economy.
Robotic process automation (RPA) leverages artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and “software robots” to automate tasks that are typically performed by humans. In fewer technical terms, software robots learn how to carry out tasks by observing their human counterparts. Once sufficiently trained, software robots can carry out those tasks just like an ordinary user would—opening applications; cutting, pasting, and manipulating data; filling forms; making calculations; and moving files from one directory to another—only faster and with fewer mistakes.
RPA in Action
RPA solutions are ideal for rules-based, repetitive tasks that occur frequently or in large volumes. Insurance companies can accelerate underwriting processes, while banks can onboard customers and process loans faster. HR departments everywhere can expedite employee onboarding processes and provide a simple method for making time-off requests or submitting reimbursement forms. The use cases for RPA are endless, but let’s explore here how it can enhance invoice processing tasks specifically.
When an invoice comes in, someone needs to take several actions across different business applications before the invoice can be paid. When an invoice arrives, someone needs to read that invoice, match it to a purchase order, enter pertinent invoice data (like the invoice number, company name, invoice total, or other details) into the accounting system, accept or reject the payment, process the payment (if accepted), and archive the invoice and payment information in the accounting system.
In most cases, invoices will arrive in a variety of forms. Some people will send them in paper form through the mail, while others might submit digital invoices through a web-portal or e-mail. In addition, you might have some rules in place for approving invoices--like getting a manager's approval for totals over a certain amount or from a certain vendor.
It seems simple enough for any human to handle. Data entry isn’t difficult.; scanning a few documents and reading a few e-mail attachments only takes up a small amount of your time each day. But those few minutes each day can add up to a few hours each month—time you could have spent on something much more important. And even though data entry is simple, it doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes. We’re human, after all. What if you enter “1000” for the total amount on an invoice with a total of “100”? That’s a costly error that can take up even more of your time trying to correct.
With a software robot at the controls, it can act on that invoice the moment it arrives. It can learn what to do with invoices, whether they were scanned in by their human colleagues, or to retrieve it from an e-mail attachment at a certain address. It will know about your business rules, and process invoices accordingly. The bot can “read” the invoice, match it to the associated purchase order (ensuring that totals match), and enter all the required information into the accounting system, just like a human would. The bot can decide whether the invoice should be paid, file any additional paperwork, and even issue the payment. What takes humans minutes can be done by a bot in seconds. And when the bot is on the task, there are no mistakes.
As we mentioned in the second part of The New Normal Skills Economy series, there is an enormous shortfall of qualified developers compared to the number of job listings. This can be a huge impediment for businesses that want to invest in business process automation technologies. Business process automation can require a level of expertise that may not be affordable or available to some businesses.
RPA solutions help businesses overcome development challenges related to bandwidth and availability. Unlike traditional business process automation solutions, RPA doesn’t require a team of developers to write a ton of code or figure out how to get multiple applications to talk to each other. You don’t need coding experience to create your own bots. If you want to see just how fast and easy it is for a bot to handle invoice processing:
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