What is robotic process automation?

What is it? – RPA Explained

Process automation using robotics or artificial intelligence provides an opportunity to automate rules-based processes that are still done by humans.  Although small in scale, perhaps involving a small team of people, the volume of processes that fall into this category is substantial (see below: Forrester, The long tail of change).

The term ‘robotic process automation’ (RPA) is used to refer to this fast-emerging category of business process software that can be rapidly customized to run existing enterprise, web, desktop and mainframe applications in the same way teams of people do. Today, increasing numbers of organizations are implementing robotic process automation for many rules-based, highly repetitive back-office activities.

At Virtual Operations we call it simply process automation because although much of the work is currently robotic in nature the change will evolve to include artificial intelligence and expert systems.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of process automation often include 50% to 70% labor cost-reductions, near-zero error rates, improved audit and compliance analytics and greatly reduced process cycle times. Staff are released from the mundane to do more rewarding work.

Gaining advantage from this kind of process automation is all about a disciplined assessment of what is viable and finding quick ways of replicating success.

Virtual Operations can help organizations enhance their deployments of process automation by saving them time, simplifying implementations, increasing success rates and developing internal expertise.

Where Robotic Process Automation has the most impact is in back-office centers running high volume, repetitive, rules–based work.

For end-user companies, highly automate-able processes are typically found in back-office tasks administered by Finance, Accounting, Customer Service and HR and in specific areas such as call centers, electronic mail room, order processing, etc.  If these functions have already been outsourced, Robotic Process Automation may offer a way to retake control of these tasks and lower costs at the same time.

VIDEO: A classic video on the history of automation and the emergence of robotic process automation. One of our favourites.

VIDEO: Referred to as ‘Bots in this video by CGP Grey, Robotic Process Automation is very clearly defined as a significant factor to impact nearly every industry and type of position.


  1. A little context to quash the doom-mongers: Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data.
  2. The “Long Tail of Change” Challenges IT Professsionals – Forrester


In a 2011, study Forrester conducted interviews with more than a dozen large companies representing various industries, including healthcare, financial services, banking, telecommunications, and utilities.

Their research found the following:

  • Opportunities for business process automation are often missed.
  • Most large firms use thousands of spreadsheets and Access databases to track and coordinate work.
  • With appropriate technology, the IT organizations can facilitate business self-service.

Forrester concluded that “Given the shortage of IT resources and ever more strict budgets, there are lots of improvement possibilities that just don’t make the cut. What’s left represents the “long tail” of requirements — things that the business folks want done but never quite happen. Each one of those situations represents an opportunity for process automation…”

The processes in the tail are “fraught with potential problems — hand-offs between roles allow work to slip through the cracks; only one user at a time can access the data; file duplication often leads to significant rework; backup and data security are poor while auditability is non-existent.” Forrester