Robotic Process Automation: what is the situation today?

Areas of application

Impact on processes

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Interview with Francesco Zoccola
Head of DF ERP/SAP Integration Exprivia


From your observatory today, what are the major areas of application of Robotic Process Automation and how interested are Italian companies in this type of solution?


The time spent carrying out repetitive activities is incredible: manual tasks or data entry in company software systems take up a significant portion of an employee’s day. Today, organisations can use technology, particularly robotic process automation (RPA), to reduce repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on higher-value duties.

Monotonous work, on the contrary, reduces employee satisfaction, translating into lower productivity and low efficiency.
RPA minimises data entry errors, accelerates work, and cuts costs. It frees up employees from banal and repetitive duties, allowing them to express their human expertise fully. By transferring lower-value tasks to RPA bots, the company boosts efficiency enabling it to: increase productivity, automate workflows, eliminate human errors, reduce labour costs and manage compliance risk.
All this improves performance and reduces costs, contributing to a company's success.

Today, RPA is applied across many different sectors, from financial services to health care, from production to the public sector or retail sales. RPA is now widely used, partly thanks to its ease of application in any business area. Practically any repetitive, high-volume process governed by specific company rules is an excellent candidate for automation.

RPA offers value across every business sector and in every function. Every business area in an organisation can benefit from RPA. Some examples of the most common automatable business areas/processes are:

Administration, Finance and Control (order management, payment processing, reporting, billing, quote management, bank reconciliations, closures, consolidations, collections, etc.) – Information Technology (server and app monitoring, email processing and distribution, backup and recovery, etc.) – Human Resources (payroll processing, attendance management, onboarding, back office recruiting, etc.) – Operations Management (inventory management, supply and demand planning, etc.) – Customer Service (order management, customer account creation, etc.).

Accounting and finance are certainly two of the areas in which vendors actively offering RPA solutions invest most. Indeed, companies can benefit significantly from using RPA to manage tax documents and payments and connecting these aspects to the supply chain, order and inventory management, and so on.

In practice, the most successful solutions on the market are those that can automate the entire order cycle: the sales cycle, from preparing incoming orders to billing, and the purchasing cycle, or all processes and workflows regarding business purchases, from full raw material supplier management to inventory verifications, even including payments.

The areas of use can extend even further if we consider that RPA is transitioning well beyond mere activity automation to become IRPA (Intelligent RPA). Intelligent RPA strengthens existing functions using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies. These innovations allow RPA to automate work activities that are more cognitive (based on knowledge and evaluation).

While RPA is built to replicate a process, artificial intelligence can learn from what it sees and move beyond performing repetitive tasks.
Integrating RPA with the various forms of artificial intelligence then multiplies the possible fields of application of Robotic Process Automation.

By applying AI tools like machine learning models and natural language processing (NLP), intelligent RPA supports hyperautomation, or the capacity to identify, vet and automate business and IT processes rapidly. Intelligent RPA can examine and process semi-structured and unstructured data, view screens and understand discussions, conversing with users and customers.

These projects are growing, and the pandemic has, in some instances, triggered development and investment accelerations.
In 2021, the sale of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) systems was estimated to generate a global turnover of around 1.9 billion dollars and is set to increase to 13 billion dollars in 2030.

According to a Market Research Future report, the global Robotic Process Automation market will be worth 2.7 billion dollars in 2023, with a highly significant year-on-year global growth rate since 2019. This absolute value is primarily attributable to investments in North America and Europe.

Spending on solutions and services for applying Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation has also increased in Italy.
In Italy, the Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) has set the agenda for the country's productive implementation plan for Artificial Intelligence (AI) by publishing the 2022-2021 Strategic Artificial Intelligence (AI) Programme. In the Programme, it explained how much digital systems have matured in their learning and reasoning capabilities and their centrality in society and the economic activities of critical sectors.

In keeping with this, the NRRP is making more than 40 billion euros available for the country’s digitalisation. Of this, the majority is funnelled to the digital transition of the public sector and the private production system: to innovate, digitalise and ensure the security of the PA and to digitalise the production system to increase its competitiveness.

However, for several cultural reasons, the percentage of RPA or IRPA projects active in Italy is still relatively low.
Part of the obstacle lies in the work culture, which is not yet mature in digital development or automated robotics.
RPA is still viewed sceptically. There are still doubts concerning the transparency of the methods for managing automated procedures. There are also concerns about exposure when relying on automated systems at times managed by others and which are not directly controllable (current topics are certainly those of cybersecurity, the management of access credentials, qualifications and authorisations, and the management of the segregation of duties or the GDPR and data processing).

Fortunately, at the European level we can see a real push towards legislation more oriented towards consumer protection and the ethical aspects of these new technologies. Unfortunately, some fears are currently hard to overcome, perhaps even more so regarding costs or infrastructure.

The path ahead is still long. However, the global growth and, even if only to a minor extent, national growth of Intelligent RPA over the last three years shows an increase in awareness that hyperautomation supports company success.


How can RPA be best introduced in companies, considering its impact on processes and working methods established over the years?


As we said previously, RPA can be used to automate processes: repetitive, with broad margins of error, based on rules that have critical timing or characterised by seasonal considerations.

The adoption of RPA is accelerating worldwide due to its ease of application and the high value it brings to companies in terms of digital transformation.

The benefits of RPA solutions go beyond cost reduction. They include improved speed, productivity, flexibility and scalability, greater precision, improvement in employee morale, more time to innovate by concentrating on the customer and the acquisition of structured and detailed data.

Process automation using RPA can provide companies with various benefits in terms of cost savings, speed, error reduction, process standardisation, compliance and 24/7 service.

RPA software works in areas and operational roles that people will increasingly abandon as they are boring, repetitive, and unskilled. In general, software can play a role in processes with a high degree of standardisation.

RPA significantly impacts information and technological systems, people, and processes. While RPA bots do indeed manage certain activities, people can and should be enabled to bring added value by leveraging their professional skills. The ultimate goal of RPA is to ensure that the workforce focuses on more essential activities, which will inevitably involve a revision in processes and the assignment of duties.

RPA technology can contribute to transitioning operating and control activities which generally require expressly dedicated internal or external staff, towards a ‘digital workforce’. This has a dual benefit of enhancing human capital by assigning higher-value tasks and reducing the effort and expense associated with automated workflows.

Therefore, RPA is a formidable tool available to companies and as such must be appropriately used, a tool complementing rather than replacing the human intellect.

Therefore, it is also important to know how to communicate with staff, preparing the ground as much as possible for this transformation. Indeed, another risk of robotic process automation is thinking about imposing such a significant change from the top down without considering the habits and skills that workers have developed over the years. It may not seem as important, but creating a consensus around this type of decision is not a minor challenge.


What role does Robotic Process Automation play in your value proposition, and what do you do to allow customers to take full advantage of its benefits?


It is essential to state at the outset that academically, RPA should not just be considered an automation technology. It is a methodology that fully embraces a company process's lifecycle. This runs from discovering the use cases to which it can be applied to designing the required software and distributing it.

One unique characteristic of some RPA tools is their accessibility to non-programmers, which allows domain experts with no programming expertise to create and implement RPA workflows. Known as citizen developers, these people with no coding experience are domain experts in the automated work routine.

Although this characteristic democratises RPA, the more advanced scenarios anyway require more advanced technical capabilities and expertise. This expertise, along with broad and diverse experience, consolidated accelerators and distinctive governance capacity, contribute towards shaping the Exprivia RPA and hyperautomation value proposition.

Exprivia offers its customers technological services and solutions that make it possible to digitalise processes to make them more efficient, flexible, resilient and adaptable to their business. Exprivia customers include large and medium public and private sector companies for which digital technologies represent a strategic lever to strengthen their competitiveness.
Exprivia offers hyperautomation to its customers as a systematic approach to rapidly identify, vet and automate the highest possible number of business and IT processes. This entails the orchestrated use of multiple technologies, tools or platforms. Examples include AI, machine learning, event-driven software, robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent BPM suites, IPaaS (integration platform as a service), low-code tools and other types of decision, process and task automation tools.

Thus, the implementation of Robotic Process Automation fits within a broader value proposition focused on the culture of automation as a competitive element capable of generating process optimisation. Therefore, we do not just offer one of the many RPA solutions on the market. We can do this because we are highly familiar with the technologies and tools, cybersecurity, business sectors and processes we are automating. It is on this basis that we structure our best services.

We suggest starting from a top-down assessment of existing workflows for a precisely planned automation initiative. Intelligent RPA combined with business process intelligence tools helps to rapidly identify the business processes that would draw the greatest benefits from automation. Once the best candidate processes are identified, we are ready to analyse, design, implement and release the most effective RPA in the shortest possible time.

There are three fronts on which Exprivia is committed every day:

  • Consolidating expertise with continuous hyperautomation research and study activities;
  • Strengthening our capacity to research use cases and develop intelligent automation models;
  • Supporting customers on innovative and research topics, consolidating experimental solutions and bringing them towards full operational production.