Frequently Asked Questions

Process automation - simply explained

Repeated, lengthy processes are time and cost-intensive. They tie up the resources of well-trained and well-paid professionals. Such manually implemented processes slow down organizations. Therefore, organizations should automate their processes. Because external pressure is increasing: more competition and the rapid pace of innovation, a worsening shortage of skilled workers, growing customer expectations, increasing compliance requirements, and crises like Covid-19. When companies automate processes, their processes become more stable and more resistant to external influences.

When organizations automate their processes, this offers very high potential:

  • While the degree of automation in industrial production has risen by as much as 75 percent since 1980, the degree of automation in the office has increased by only three (!) percent in the same period of time. (Source: research by the Dutch Vrje University).
  • The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 30% of all office activities can be automated.

Organizations can automate processes using modern technology such as robotic process automation (RPA). When companies automate processes, they speed up and improve processes – in the high double-digit percentage range.

The orange and yellow robot arms are a common sight in modern industrial production. However, our lives are becoming increasingly digital. And this also marks the beginning of a new era of automation: digital process automation using software robots.

Software robots are computer programs that automate rule-based, recurring processes by executing them around the clock. They mimic the interaction of humans with computers. The software bots thus take over routine tasks such as searching for information in files and documents and comparing data in different documents and systems. They work via the graphical user interface of the programs – that is,the screen.

The generic term for the technology behind the software robots is called software robotics.

What are the benefits of automating processes? With robot-controlled process automation (robotic process automation, RPA), organizations can accelerate and improve their digital processes and make them more stable. This is because software robots work around the clock, without downtime or errors, even in monotonous activities. In addition, everything that software bots do – also called RPA bots in this case – is transparent and traceable. This traceability also improves compliance, that is, the ability to manage and prove compliance with internal and external regulations.

The global consulting firm Deloitte describes the added value of robotic process automation as follows: “The benefits of RPA adoption are significant.

In the Global RPA Survey from 2018, Deloitte quantifies the benefits very specifically:

  • 59% less costs
  • 86% higher productivity
  • 90% better quality/accuracy
  • 92% compliance improvement.

Deloitte also adds that the return on investment in robotic process automation (RPA) is achieved in less than twelve months in most cases. This huge potential made the technology the fastest growing segment in the enterprise software market in 2018 (source: Gartner, June 2019).

Compared to other technologies, process automation works exclusively via the graphical user interface (GUI), that is, via the screen. Companies can therefore automate processes without having to integrate the technology in the IT landscape at great expense. No intervention in the IT landscape is required.

Due to its relatively simple application, all types and sizes of companies in any industry and department can automate processes, and thus also drive their digital transformation forward – because there can be no automation without digitalization.

Because the software is relatively simple, employees can automate processes on their own after a brief introduction – completely independently. This quickly creates a critical mass and is a big step towards an automated organization.

According to forecasts by independent market analysts, more and more companies will automate processes. This is because software robots can be used in a wide range of applications: In addition to the IT department, which still automates processes most frequently (as of 2018/2019), their use is also increasing in business departments. In addition to Controlling and Financial Accounting, Production, Customer Service, Human Resources, and even Procurement are departments that are increasingly automating processes.

In Controlling, companies can automate numerous processes, for example in accounting, tax returns, receivables management, and financial statements.

Organizations can also automate many processes in purchasing, for example, procure-to-pay processes, contract and supplier management, and master data administration.

Automating processes in SMEs

Automating processes is particularly interesting for SMEs, as the barriers to entry for the technology are very low:

  • No complex IT implementation necessary
  • Fast implementation time of a few weeks
  • Fast return on investment (usually within a few months)
  • Manageable costs

The German government is also promoting technology related to “automating processes”. The federal government even considers it worthwhile to have its own research project so that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can also benefit from robotic process automation. After all, automating processes is an important driver for digital transformation. This is why the Federal Ministry of Economics is funding a project called “RPAsset”, which is developing an introduction strategy for process automation by 2021, including a guide for SMEs. The German process automation specialist Servicetrace is also actively involved in RPAsset.

Automating processes – a few examples

There are basically two ways to implement process automation:

  • Unattended automation: Also called “full automation”. A software robot carries out a process or a process step completely independently. There is no intermediate step or interaction with a human being.
  • Attended automation: Also called “supervised automation” (partial automation). A software bot acts together with a human, who, for example, makes a decision during the process, on the basis of which the software bot continues working.

With artificial intelligence such as machine learning, companies can increasingly automate processes in which bots learn and make their own decisions (if this is desired).

Classic business process automation (BPA) is not a new technology. With business process automation, companies concentrate on optimizing existing business processes. A process that does not work or does not run optimally is set up anew. Therefore, BPA is an approach to increasing process efficiency and value creation throughout the company.

In contrast, robotic process automation is a technology in which software robots operate existing systems by imitating the procedures of human employees. Intervention in the existing software and IT landscape, such as ERP solutions, is not necessary. However, BPA and robot-controlled process automation are not mutually exclusive – they can also be used in combination.

More and more companies want to automate their processes. Besides the hype, there was also criticism, especially at the beginning. The proponents see process automation as an important driver for digital transformation. Because for companies to automate processes, they must be digitalized.

But there were a critical opinions that claimed that automating processes inhibits digitalization. And RPA in particular is only a bridging technology. This means that robotic process automation only serves to keep technically obsolete systems (legacy systems) alive. Such extensive legacy systems, which are often business-critical, often exist in corporations such as banks and insurance companies. They usually run very stable, but are technically outdated and therefore difficult to integrate with other systems. Their replacement, however, is very cost-intensive. In addition, there is a lack of specialists for the operation and maintenance of legacy systems. And this is where process automation comes into play: Software robots can operate these systems and thus keep them alive longer – at least according to the critics.

The (unsustainable) use of a technology is not the fault of the technology itself, but of the user. In addition, a survey confirms that 78 per cent of the banks that operate their legacy systems with software robots are pursuing the goal of improving the planning for their often very complex replacements.

With the combination of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, companies can automate even more extensive processes. The spectrum and the possibilities increase massively. By using machine learning or natural language processing (NLP), for example, they can also automate longer and more complex processes. NLP is the automatic recognition and processing of natural language. You can read about an example of process automation in customer service using an intelligent chat bot and RPA here.

In this respect, the topic of automating processes is only at the beginning of its development. But there are already names for it: from intelligent process automation to cognitive process automation or hyperautomation.

Applications for process automation can be found across all industries and company departments. Specific starting points are the activities where employees enter data manually, copy between systems and/or documents, check data, and consolidate and prepare data from different sources, for example,. for reports, forms or registrations, and so on.

Select and evaluate processes

The following processes are suitable for automation:

  • Transactions prone to repetition
  • Standard procedures
  • Logical decision trees (if x, then y)
  • Processes with a high susceptibility to careless errors

Initial assessment of RPA potential

  • Is data entry structured?
  • Is the volume or value of the transactions high?
  • Can the process be mapped with clear, logical rules?
  • Is the process prone to repetition?
  • Is the process prone to errors and rework?
  • Do the process/systems rarely change?

Model and document processes

The identification of suitable processes is already the first step on the way to automation. It is an advantage if processes are already documented. If not, they are modeled or documented in the next step. With the help of Servicetrace’s automation platform, XceleratorOne, companies can implement process documentation directly in BPMN, the common standard for business process management.

Design, implement, and monitor process automation

Based on this process model, users can then create an automation workflow. After testing the created processes, the users then configure the operation and can switch the automation live. During operation, the software bots are of course monitored and optimized as necessary. In this respect, this is a classic project process.

Process automation with RPA is relatively simple compared to other technologies, which promotes high acceptance among employees. With the right solution, they are empowered to automate processes independently. Once a process is automated, employee satisfaction often increases subsequently, because employees are relieved of monotonous, error-prone tasks. By the way, RPA does not necessarily mean job cuts as many fear: According to HfS Research and KPMG, only seven percent of companies that automate processes intend to cut jobs. More than 90 per cent are pursuing other goals with automation, such as increasing efficiency, productivity, and quality.

But: If many people throughout the company automate processes, this needs to be controlled. Therefore, transparency and a control option for process automation is needed at management level. This applies to individual projects as well as to all automation initiatives in the company as a whole.

Analysts such as Gartner warn: “Many organizations underestimate the complexity of process automation. This lies above all in the successful automation of processes throughout the entire company and thus achieving a high return on investment.

Important success factors for process automation are therefore:

  1. Transparency and evaluation of projects and their progress
  2. Governance of individual and all projects in the company
  3. Collaboration: successful, effective cooperation between different experts
  4. High scalability of the introduced technology for process automation

Hyperautomation:        

In the beginning, process automation often focused on relatively simple activities and processes. This corresponded more to a pure automation of tasks (task automation). However, this also meant that there were often only individual standalone projects and success was moderate. With today’s technology, companies can automate longer, more complex processes – especially when RPA is combined with other technologies. Gartner coined the term “hyperautomation” in this respect.

Enterprise process automation:

For the German software robotics company Servicetrace, the focus has long been on automating even long, complex processes. From the very beginning, Servicetrace has set its goal of developing an automation platform with which organizations can successfully manage all aspects of process automation. On the one hand, this includes the complete lifecycle of RPA, including all participants. On the other hand, the platform is designed to introduce process automation throughout the company. This also means that all projects and software bots are bundled and controlled centrally on a single platform. Servicetrace thus offers a truly comprehensive, neutral platform for process automation and has coined the term “enterprise process automation”.

Automating processes with an enterprise process automation platform – the advantages: 

  • Orchestrate all RPA initiatives company-wide
  • Also control RPA bots from other providers – all on a single platform
  • Automate complex processes
  • Dynamic scaling
  • Continuously increase the level of automation in your organization.

Intelligent process automation / cognitive process automation:

Intelligent process automation (IPA) and cognitive process automation describe the combination of robot-controlled process automation with intelligent components. This includes technologies for the intelligent vision and recognition of texts, images, and signs (optical character recognition, OCR), as well as machine learning and natural language processing, NLP.

The Capgemini Research Institute estimates that large organizations will achieve around $500 billion in cost savings from IPA in 2020.