Chapter 1: The Automation Journey and Identifying Suitable Business Processes
UiPath, the leading vendor in RPA, provides a state-of-the-art (SOTA) platform for process automation. The UiPath automation platform includes more than 20 different products addressing different automation requirements. Compared to other RPA tools, the SOTA capabilities that UiPath offers are one reason the company has become the market leader. In addition, UiPath offers a high-stakes certification program and a learning platform to help users harness the technology's power.
The UiPath Certified Professional program offers two certification exams that include an Advanced-level certification and an Associate-level certification. The Associate certification is suitable for junior RPA developers, solution architects, business analysts (BAs), and any business user who wants to pursue their career in RPA. The Advanced certification assesses a deeper level of RPA expertise and is designed for advanced developers. This book primarily focuses on providing a guide for the UiPath Associate certification by offering information on all required aspects of the exam.
In this chapter, we will explore the importance of digital transformation and which factors drive it. The chapter also illustrates some RPA use cases in business, followed by the essential steps needed to identify a suitable automation process. Knowing and understanding this information is essential before starting the RPA journey. The topics addressed in this chapter will give you an idea about the current state of process automation in the world, why it is important, and the critical resources involved.
In this chapter, we will cover the following topics:
- Understanding why automation is driving the digital transformation
- Implementing RPA in business
- What can RPA automate?
- Identifying processes for RPA
- Understanding the stages of an RPA journey
- Knowing the RPA resources and responsibilities in an RPA project
Understanding why automation is driving digital transformation
The way people work has changed over many years. People used to do a lot of complex activities manually before the era of computers; however, with the introduction of computers, people slowly moved into a digital way of working. Today, every employee in this world interacts with some software applications to get their daily work done. All these actions still have us (that is, humans) as the central point of contact. Therefore, although we developed many software applications to take care of our day-to-day activities, we were still busy doing the same mundane and repetitive actions. Over time, work started piling up again and people got into a standard set of repetitive tasks to work like robots every day.
What is the solution to get out of these repetitive actions? RPA is the answer.
RPA is a technology that has evolved over many years. During the initial stages, there were automation workflows that were specific and dependent on an application, such as macros in Microsoft Excel. These automation scripts worked only within the application's scope and automated some time-consuming manual activities. This technology slowly evolved, and next, we were able to use tools that replicate actual user activity, which increased the capabilities of automation and increased the efficiency of the tasks performed. The software industry is a fast-growing industry, and you will come across many new technologies every day. The evolution of the latest technologies—such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Microsoft, Google, and other cognitive services—helped to widen robots' capabilities. Today, RPA combines multiple technologies such as workflow automation, ML, AI, intelligent character recognition (ICR), and so on.
RPA is a technology that automates tasks previously performed by humans in a digital interface. This software uses a computer robot to run applications the same way a person would do by interacting with the software user interface (UI). In addition to mimicking human interaction, RPA includes capabilities to consume background services such as application programming interfaces (APIs), databases, and many more to efficiently and accurately perform actions. RPA aims to replace repetitive tasks performed by humans with a digital workforce, to focus on more value-added activities in an organization. The software robot acts as your virtual assistant that will simply use your existing applications with no change in its existing infrastructure to perform its actions, documenting every step consistently for reporting and maintenance purposes. Such robots are capable of interacting with any software application, mimicking human actions.
Further, robots can work 24/7 without any errors and with minimal or no human intervention. RPA primarily targets highly manual, repetitive, rule-based processes with low exception rates and standard electronic readable input. These robots are considered virtual workforces where the business and the information technology (IT) teams manage their operations.
Not only is RPA a type of automation today, but it is also one of the most popular technologies available in the industry. RPA gained popularity because of its unique capabilities that made it the technology driving digital transformation. Some of those unique features of RPA are described in more detail here:
- RPA is a non-invasive technology: Using RPA in your organization does not require any significant changes in the existing IT infrastructure or deep integrations with existing software applications. RPA is a technology capable of providing a reliable, fast, and cost-effective solution for automating processes.
- RPA is easy to scale: RPA implementations are usually not limited to a specific process. Further, automated business processes are also subject to change over time. Organizations that implement RPA usually look for ways to quickly scale up and scale down, depending on their future requirements. Hence, RPA solutions are built in a way where they can be easily scaled without much hassle.
- RPA is future-proof: The automation solutions built today use the technology that is available today. However, these robots are easily extensible to use the technology that would be available tomorrow.
- Customer expectations: Every day, the demand for services increases. However, to meet the increasing demand, organizations have to spend a lot on costly resources. Using RPA helps organizations reduce the cost they pay on new resources as RPA brings with it a virtual workforce's power to meet the growing demand quickly. Apart from that, the utilization of a virtual workforce increases the efficiency and the reliability of the process, as robots can deliver a high accuracy rate.
- Compliance and regulations: Every organization has to adhere to government rules and regulations. Meeting compliance and regulations requires a lot of manual effort as there any many tasks to be done. However, using a virtual workforce helps comply with rules and regulations as robots generate execution logs for compliance reporting.
Digital transformation is an essential topic today because RPA is changing the way we work in our personal lives and at work. These virtual workforces can quickly meet customer expectations, compliance, and regulatory requirements with future-proof technology. It is essential to know that robots' capabilities have expanded over time, enabling them to mimic almost all the actions performed on a digital platform. Such robots today are being used in multiple industries at a large scale.
Implementing RPA in business
RPA in business enables the creation of partnerships between robots and human workers, allowing humans to focus on what they can do best. Once RPA is implemented in an organization, the first question that surfaces is this: What will robots do and what will human workers do when their tasks are automated? Robots are best at handling tedious, repetitive, and high-volume tasks that are automated with a high efficiency and accuracy level. While robots take care of manual tasks, human workers can stop worrying about painful mundane activities and can instead focus on face-to-face discussions with people to develop strategic solutions to manage the business. In addition, human workers can focus on upskilling themselves to better fit management-level opportunities within the organization.
Someone may ask whether the introduction of RPA will cause them to lose their job. RPA is not a replacement for human workers. RPA only handles repetitive and mundane activities that people used to do before. As a result, the introduction of RPA eliminates some of the tasks that people did before, allowing people to have more free time to focus on strategic activities rather than repetitive operations. Although robots have AI to take care of specific actions, when it comes to strategic decisions, robots cannot replace the experience and complex reasoning abilities people have accumulated over many years.
Today, organizations in different industries have already implemented RPA to automate their processes. The following screenshot illustrates some of the functions already automated in other sectors:
The preceding list illustrates some of the most popular use cases for automation. Some of these processes are explained in detail next.
Payroll is a typical process in any organization. Payroll refers to actions taken to keep track of employees' attendance and salary (or incentive payments), done every month. Payroll calculations are quite time-consuming as payroll is calculated based on different factors—for example, to derive the total monthly salary, the respective person should figure out the number of hours/days worked, number of paydays, taxes, bonuses, allowances, and more. Performing this check for each employee is complicated and highly manual.
Further, there are sometimes scenarios where employees do not correctly update their attendance. In such cases, the human resources (HR) representative has to contact them personally, either via email or a phone call, and request they update their attendance before performing this operation. RPA can automatically access HR applications or even manually maintained timesheets to capture the required information and complete payroll calculations. The process could also be further automated by automating actual bank transfers to transfer money to employee salary accounts.
Client information management
One of the main objectives of a company is to maintain a good client relationship. Maintaining a good relationship requires every record related to clients to be accessible in a central system, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) application. However, large-scale companies are spread across different geographies; hence, this makes it challenging to maintain a proper CRM system, and it requires a lot of data entry and frequent updates. Maintaining and updating such information in CRM applications is now performed by introducing RPA. Robots connected to various data sources capture the required information and easily update the CRM without any human intervention.
Almost all organizations have to deal with documents, one of the most common types being invoices. Organizations receive invoices in different ways, such as soft copies or hard copies. Further, some of these invoices are handwritten, and some are computer-generated to add to the complexity. Data-entry operators have to extract the critical information from these invoices and update downstream applications to maintain financial records on time. Usually, organizations receive many invoices per day that require on-time data entry, verification from management, and system updates, all of which take many human hours. Introducing RPA to such processes provides many benefits in terms of data accuracy, efficiency, and reliability. Robots have the intelligence to extract the required critical information from invoices, perform verification based on a predefined set of rules, and update downstream applications with minimal human involvement.
Financial statement reconciliation
Financial statement reconciliation covers a significant portion of a finance team's operations, including matching orders, payments, losses, margins, and so on with internal accounts and financial statements that it receives at the end of the month. This is a very time-consuming task that involves many finance employees, as the accounts they work with go through a considerable number of transactions every day. To make sure financial statements are ready by the end of the month, the finance team works hard every day, completing and matching the financial statements of prior days to reduce the workload at the end of the month. Introducing RPA into such processes has shown a significant improvement. Robots can perform the same operation much faster and accurately for all reconciliations that the finance team manages.
Call center automation
Call centers perform a significant role in providing better and faster customer support to their valuable customers. Once a call center agent receives a customer call, they must perform initial checks to validate and recognize the customer before providing a service. Let's take the call center of a bank as an example. In that case, a customer may reach out for queries such as requesting account information, complaints about credit/debit card faults, enabling and disabling services, or something else. The call center agent must access multiple systems, retrieve the required information to perform initial validation, and provide the customer with an essential service. Performing the aforementioned actions takes time, and it takes attention away from the discussion the agent is having with the customer. The introduction of RPA to such processes allows a robot to understand the conversation between the two parties. Based on the understanding, the robot performs the required data retrieval from the systems. The robot finally shows the information onscreen automatically, allowing the agent to focus on the conversation to provide a better service.
Though banks and financial institutes use many software applications to perform their activities, some processes such as loan processing activities still require a lot of manual processing. Further, some financial organizations still use paper-based loan application forms. Once the customer fills out an application form and submits an application with any other required documents, the bank representative verifies the submitted data. The data verification usually includes validating the customer's personal information, cross-checking for other facilities obtained from other banks, repayment capabilities, and so on. Such checks are done by connecting to multiple external applications, which usually takes a long time. After the background checks, approval is carried out by the manager of the bank, based on specific criteria. The introduction of RPA for loan processing has brought a lot of benefits as most of these functions—such as reading the application form, performing background checks, calculating the grantable loan amount, and so on—are easily automated.
As well as the processes mentioned, there are many more exciting processes out in the world that robots take care of, allowing them to focus on more value-added activities.
RPA in businesses allows employees to focus on more strategic initiatives while robots take care of transactional activities. This section of the chapter covered some of the commonly automated processes across multiple organizations around the world. Most business processes that require automation are complex and require many steps to be carried out. It is essential to understand all the activities that an RPA robot can perform to meet such complex business requirements. The simple actions performed by RPA robots sometimes require a combination of multiple technologies.
What can RPA automate?
- Automated reading, sending emails and attachments
- Logging in to web and enterprise applications
- Moving files and folders
- Copying and pasting data
- Filling out forms in web/desktop applications
- Reading and writing data into databases
- Reporting across multiple systems
- Scraping data from the web
- Internet of Things (IoT) data collection and analysis
- Performing simple-to-complex calculations
- Extracting data from scanned and computer-generated documents that are structured or semi-structured
- Collecting social media statistics and performing different analytics on them
- Automated customer service
- Standard letter writing
Given the technological advancements and the expansion of RPA robots' capabilities, robots could perform many more functionalities other than those seen in the preceding list. Today, new technological improvements have taken RPA to another level, known as hyperautomation. The concept of hyperautomation covers many more functions such as AI skills, ML, long-running workflows, process mining, native integrations, and advanced analytics.
The use of RPA with AI capabilities such as natural language processing (NLP), ICR, optical character recognition (OCR), and AI computer vision enables robots to perform more advanced and complex tasks. The use of AI also allows robots to learn by themselves through ML. The ability to train robots over time helps improve their accuracy and reliability. Further, with the concept of long-running workflows, robots can work on more diverse business scenarios, with humans interacting with the robots at specific decision points seamlessly without worrying about what is happening before and after the decision point.
We, as humans, interact with software applications by simple mouse or keyboard actions. However, we perform these steps in different environments such as our desktop or laptop computers and remote or virtual machines (VMs). Today's technology has allowed RPA robots to mimic the same actions with higher precision, irrespective of the environment in which they are working. All activities performed by robots require monitoring to ensure the best utilization of the digital workforce. Also, monitoring allows administrators to track and monitor execution times and failures and track the idle times of robots. Today's data analytics power provides precise tracking and analysis of such data to calculate the return on investment (ROI), utilization, robot idle times, and so on. Hyperautomation is a concept that not only covers the development and monitoring of robots but also enables organizations to precisely monitor and analyze the business process itself. Business process mining is a concept that hyperautomation offers to explore the process and identify the nature of the process, exceptions, different methods of performing the procedure, steps carried out, bottlenecks, and automation possibilities.
RPA today is not just one technology—it is a combination of multiple technologies such as AI, ML, NLP, ICR, and much more. The combination allows RPA robots to perform various simple-to-complex activities without human intervention. RPA has to be applied wisely to business processes, and there are many factors to consider to identify a business process for automation.
Identifying processes for RPA
- Process fitness
- Automation complexity
A few factors are involved in the process of calculating the fitness of a process for automation. The following table illustrates the factors considered in identifying the fitness of a process:
A business process should meet all the factors listed in Figure 1.2 to qualify for automation. In addition to the process fitness factors, the automation complexity is also one crucial aspect of identifying a suitable automation process. The following screenshot illustrates the required characteristics to consider to determine the process automation complexity:
Deciding on the automation suitability of a process requires consideration of all the factors discussed. The process is mapped into a process assessment matrix based on the results of the factors discussed to compare and identify the best process. The following diagram illustrates a process assessment matrix that each process is mapped onto after assessment. Each process is assessed based on the complexity and benefits it generates after automation and is mapped into the matrix's respective box. The matrix shown here plays a significant role in prioritizing and categorizing the assessed processes:
Having identified which bucket the process falls into, the organization can prioritize the automation initiatives based on the previous matrix. Organizations can prioritize quick-win processes in the initial stages, as those are less complicated and provide the highest benefits within a shorter period. Low-hanging fruits are the best to start off with and demonstrate how automation improved the way people work. The processes that fall into the long-term improvements bucket are usually ignored in automation since they do not offer a significant advantage compared to the effort required. The processes that fall into the low-hanging fruits and must-do improvements categories get prioritized for RPA based on the organization's strategic plans. Additionally, the processes that fall into the must-do improvements category usually require standardization to improve the process. The improved processes are assessed again and prioritized based on the bucket they fall into after the assessment.
It is not a good practice to automate every process in the organization or the department. It is important to identify the benefits gained, efforts and resources needed, and the suitability of the process itself for automation before implementing RPA. The inability to perform process assessment and standardization where necessary may lead to more inefficiencies and high costs after applying RPA without a proper strategy. Hence, the following assessment strategy is crucial in any RPA project.
Understanding the stages of an RPA journey
Analyzing the processes and correctly categorizing them can result in obtaining quick wins in RPA projects; however, not all functions are quick wins. To achieve long-term effects from these projects, the organization must have the proper mindset, proper resources, and reasonable goals to get the best outcome. Hence, every RPA project requires the involvement of multiple essential resources during different stages of the journey.
Every RPA project needs to go through six stages during its automation journey. These stages are depicted in the following diagram:
The following sections describe each stage in more detail.
Discovery is the initial phase of any RPA project. This phase's primary goal is to spread the word about automation within the organization and find the most suitable process candidates for automation. There are two approaches to perform discovery, as follows:
- The organization already knows the process that requires automation.
- Discover all possible candidate processes for automation.
If the organization does know the process that requires automation, the scope of the discovery phase will be limited to the already identified processes. Critical resources in the RPA team, such as BAs and RPA solution architects, can sit together with the business team to understand the process in detail. The RPA experts and the business teams conduct multiple requirement-gathering sessions to capture all the information needed to understand the process. The teams' tasks include process assessment and detailed mapping of the as-is process. The BAs draw the as-is process in detail, explaining all the subprocesses involved. The process map helps to discover standardization requirements and the steps that require automation. The RPA team documents all the information and presents two standard documents, as outlined here:
- Process definition document (PDD): This contains details about the as-is process and how it is standardized and automated.
- Solution design document (SDD): This contains all the technical details of the automated solution.
However, if the organization does not have a specific process that requires automation, it requires a thorough analysis of all the available functions to identify possible candidates. In such scenarios, the RPA experts such as BAs and solution architects sit together with all the critical business people to understand the existing processes and identify suitable automation opportunities. The team follows the same steps as those explained previously to carry out the assessment. All the analyzed processes are documented and put into the assessment matrix discussed in the previous section. Once the assessment matrix is updated, the most important and the most suitable business processes are selected based on different factors such as cost, ROI, and so on. The rest of the functions are kept in the automation pipeline to keep track of the identified processes that require automation over the next couple of months. All these processes go through some level of standardization and governance procedures to improve the process before automating.
Development of the automation opportunities identified in the discovery phase takes place in the build phase. There are two different approaches to carry out the development of the automation project, as outlined here:
- Center of Excellence (CoE)-driven: The core development team consists of RPA experts such as RPA solution architects, RPA developers, and experienced BAs who carry out discovering and developing automation solutions. The RPA team works with the business users throughout the automation journey to ensure successful delivery.
- Democratized approach: With this approach, business users carry out the development by themselves. Not all business users may have technical experience, hence they are enabled to perform actions using tools that do not require specialized or programming knowledge.
Once development is complete, all the automation solutions will undergo rigorous testing to ensure efficiency, accuracy, reliability, and that coding meets development standards and best practices.
The automation solutions that are built are required to be deployed and updated from time to time. It is vital to keep track of each deployment and update carried out for the project for many reasons, such as the following:
- Keeping track of the changes carried out
- Comparing different versions when needed for bug fixing
- Rolling back to previous versions in an emergency
- Monitoring the usage of automation solutions created
- Accessing management of the solutions
The run stage is crucial in every automation project. Robots execute the solutions deployed in this stage. The execution and allocation of robots are configured based on organizational requirements. Depending on the organization's needs, the robots execute the processes developed in the user's machine or virtual environments without human intervention.
Every business process includes steps that require decision-making by the users who perform it. Some of these decisions are rule-based, but some require expertise and user experience (UX). In such scenarios, the robot and the user must work together to perform certain steps while the robot takes care of the most complex activities. This concept is called "human in the loop", whereby robots assign tasks for the user, and once the user completes these, the robot takes over control of the rest of the activities.
Introducing RPA makes an impact within the organization. The effect created requires measurement to understand how to scale RPA initiatives. These measures provide insights into the automation outcomes and the impact made to align the RPA strategy to achieve organizational goals.
Similar to any software development project, RPA projects also have a life cycle. Every RPA project must go through a mandatory set of steps during its life cycle to ensure efficient and worthy delivery. Each stage of the life cycle requires different resources. The following section explains the resources needed during an RPA project and the responsibilities of each resource.
Knowing the RPA resources and responsibilities in an RPA project
As we discuss the different phases of the RPA journey, we also encounter many experts in various projects. These experts perform several tasks depending on their expertise to ensure high-quality and on-time delivery of RPA projects, and we'll now look at them in more detail.
RPA solution architect
The solution architect is in charge of designing the RPA solution's architecture for the proposed business process. The solution architect works alongside the BA to capture the requirement and translate the identified business scenario into a technical solution. The solution architect transfers the technical architecture knowledge to the BA, the business users, and the RPA developers to finalize the solution before development. The solution architect also acts as the development team lead (but does not perform code development) to ensure code quality and standards. The architect is involved from the first stage of the process until the solution is accepted and deployed.
The RPA developer is responsible for developing the solution architecture provided by the solution architect. An RPA developer interacts with development tools and has an excellent knowledge of different development techniques to deliver the final output within the expected standards. The RPA developer is mostly involved in the build stage of the project life cycle, performing development, testing, and bug fixes.
The BA is primarily responsible for gathering all the required information to understand the process and map its as-is version. The BA also works hand-in-hand with the RPA solution architect to develop a to-be business process that involves process standardization and automation. The BA should also have a general idea of RPA capabilities and how they work to provide better solutions. Further, the BA is also responsible for transforming the captured requirements and the solution into a PDD to hand over to the business and development teams. The BA is mostly involved during the discovery stage of a project. However, BAs also get involved during a project's development stage from time to time to ensure the proper delivery of requirements.
The implementation manager manages the overall project and the involved teams. The implementation manager ensures the timely achievement of project milestones by managing the project overall. Usually, the implementation manager is the single point of contact for the business stakeholders.
Infrastructure is a crucial aspect of any RPA project. The infrastructure engineer/manager is responsible for robots' security and efficient execution of the processes developed by providing the required hardware and software configurations.
The roles mentioned previously are involved in the project as a part of the CoE team. More stakeholders from the business users will also join the team to ensure successful project knowledge transfer and delivery.
This chapter introduced RPA and discussed why it is the driving force of digital transformation. We further discussed the benefits RPA brings to an organization, as well as which processes are automated across different industries using RPA, and their results. Some of those processes were discussed in more detail, explaining how RPA is applied. Further, we also looked at the factors that need to be considered to identify a business process as suitable for RPA.
Additionally, we also covered how these factors contribute to comparing processes in a process assessment matrix and segments in the matrix to consider for automation. The RPA journey is common to every process that goes through automation. This chapter also addressed the critical stages of an RPA journey and who the involved vital resources are. Finally, the chapter covered each essential resource's roles and responsibilities in the CoE team.
Now that we understand what RPA is, it's the right time to introduce you to the UiPath ecosystem and the tools UiPath has to build automation solutions. Chapter 2, UiPath Ecosystem, will introduce you to the UiPath ecosystem, development tools, and setting up the development environment.