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Robotic process automation technology is still new and relatively unknown. Organizations that are just beginning to explore how they can use robotic process automation might not be sure what to look for to help them find the best RPA tools for their environment.
To ensure a successful implementation, it's wise to have a clear understanding of the capabilities of these automation systems. The various products on the market might have unique features to set themselves apart or to address specific customer needs, but all RPA software should support some basic functionality.
For example, RPA systems must enable users to configure bots to capture and interpret existing applications for processing transactions, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other systems.
Therefore, the best RPA tools should be able to deploy bots into a variety of third-party applications. The technology is designed to automate many kinds of IT and business processes, so it needs to be able to work with a multitude of enterprise programs.
These include many of the back-office and front-office applications that keep the business running smoothly, such as human resources, finance and accounting, procurement, customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management.
Another standard capability is task automation for employees both with and without human intervention.
Points to consider
The best RPA tools on the market include a variety of features and capabilities, some of which are more important to organizations than others. Here are some of the key points to consider.
Platform independence. Many organizations require a high level of flexibility and versatility in their IT operations, so an RPA system that operates independently of computing platforms is vital. Platform independence allows deployment and expansion of the software to be more convenient.
As global technology consulting firm Capgemini pointed out, using platform-independent RPA allows organizations to automate a business process spanning multiple technologies, including web browsers, mobile applications and mainframe-based applications.
User friendliness. A key to success with any technology deployment, including RPA, is how easy the product is to use and manage. If the tool is overly complex and requires a high degree of skill or experience, typical business and even IT users will not take to it as well.
Some products, such as Blue Prism Robotic Process Automation, include features like a user-friendly design and easy access to capabilities -- including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, process mining and others -- or the ability to build custom automations without the need for coding or development.
Cost. When is cost not a factor in selecting a technology tool? As noted by HFS Research, a firm that specializes in providing insights on automation and other areas, RPA pricing can be quite confusing.
Among the areas decision-makers need to consider include the software pricing model (for example, by the number of bots provided, whether product licensing is a form of input-based pricing, etc.), whether the pricing model is flexible and what is included as part of the total cost of ownership.
Editor's note: Using extensive research into robotic process automation technology, TechTarget editors focused this series of articles on vendors with product offerings that cover attended, unattended or hybrid RPA. Vendors also needed to possess considerable market share. Our research included Gartner and Forrester Research.
Scalability. How scalable the RPA platform is can be a major consideration if companies are planning to expand the automation capabilities across processes, departments, platforms and applications. Many of the platforms on the market, such as UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform, are designed to be scalable. The question is, how scalable is the software -- in terms of the number of processes it supports, the variety of applications it automates, the number of users it can accommodate -- as the need for RPA grows within the organization?
Industry specificity. Companies in different sectors might have different requirements in terms of the types of processes they should automate; security, privacy, and compliance needs; platforms that require support; and types of facilities. Some vendors, such as UiPath, offer platforms and support designed for industries such as financial services, healthcare, telecommunications and retail.
Maintenance and support services. RPA is a new technology for organizations, and although these systems are designed to automate processes, that doesn't mean issues won't arise with performance, integration, security and other areas. Knowing what sort of maintenance and support services the vendor offers is vital.
According to technology research and advisory firm Information Services Group, businesses can run into a number of challenges when using RPA, including "technical ambiguity." Technical staffers may need to deal with issues including infrastructure assets protection, network and application access, and IT change management.
AI/Machine learning. RPA tools are intended to replace human workers, so a big consideration is whether these products have the intelligence to perform tasks that people typically handle.
Some products, such as Kofax RPA, have "smart" capabilities -- for instance, cognitive capture, process orchestration and advanced analytics -- to provide what they call intelligent automation.
With the latest AI and machine learning capabilities, automation tools can not only provide better performance but "learn" as they handle more tasks. Some products can integrate with AI technologies -- such as optical character recognition, chatbot and machine learning technologies -- to better automate more complex business processes.
Security. Considering that RPA systems automate processes that might involve highly sensitive data, the security features included with the software are an important factor. That's especially true for companies in heavily regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services. Possible security features include authentication, single sign-on tools -- such as those available from Softomotive ProcessRobot -- data encryption and access controls.
Key performance indicators
How can organizations measure their level of success with an RPA tool? Several key performance indicators (KPIs) serve as good metrics.
Dependability. RPA can automate processes that are in many cases critical for day-to-day business operations. The reliability and uptime rate of the automation tools is therefore vital for measuring effectiveness.
Intelligence. Companies don't just want automation, they want intelligent automation. The ability to perform basic tasks and utilize advanced learning capabilities to adapt to change is important.
Service quality. This measures how well the system executes automated tasks. Automation should result in higher-quality services because of enhanced business processes.
Speed. One of the key expected benefits of RPA automation is faster completion time for tasks, because they are being performed by bots. Companies should see notable improvements in speed when they implement RPA.
Staff morale. Another expected benefit of the technology is that it frees employees from mundane tasks so that they can take on more meaningful work. A good way to measure this is staff morale, which should improve with the addition of automation.