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Besides sounding cool, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is touted as a revolutionary way to use technology to optimize and accelerate business processes.  While RPA inspires no shortage of mystique and the potential for ROI is easy to grasp, we often encounter confusion as to what it is exactly, why organizations really need it, and what an implementation looks like.  Today I’ll give you a primer on the topic and share a little on Primacy’s own experience with RPA.  

What’s RPA?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) uses software “robots” to mimic the actions of humans in completing tedious, repetitive, and let’s be honest – often mind-numbingly boring tasks.  RPA has been around since the early 2000s and as of late is fast growing into a multi-billion dollar industry used by organizations of all shapes and sizes.  

What do Robots do well?

Robots work best when tackling the monotonous legwork we all do, perhaps too often, in getting data in and out of systems, authenticating into and navigating around those systems, merging or moving files, fighting formatting or styles, or moving cells around in spreadsheets.  With RPA we spend less time checking low-level details and more time being creative or doing high level thinking.

Robots can handle simple or complex tasks across most software platforms and engage with any application or website accessed by keyboard, mouse or API. And they do their work with a mix of speed, consistency and accuracy – benefits proven to have real positive impact on customer and employee experience.  Best of all, when applied to the right use cases, robots generate near immediate ROI!  

What don’t Robots do well?

We’re not at or even near the point where robots can truly think for themselves, or grow beyond the explicit logic we create for them.  It’s best not to give them work likely to have a high number of exceptions, or you’ll find the cost to implement the robot and keep it running will quickly negate any ROI benefit.   Automating anything that’s highly dynamic, difficult to define in a sequence of steps or subject to frequent change, is not an ideal use of RPA.  

What led Primacy to consider RPA?

We are fortunate to have a dedicated team of folks who specialize in transformational technologies.   This team is trained to learn, assess and try out new platforms to weigh their value and readiness to be relied upon in real-world settings.

RPA first surfaced in these reviews a few years back and as a technology has been steadily maturing as well as gaining adoption. At the same time, we’ve been hearing more and more from our clients that operations are slowing due to lengthening, increasingly complex business processes.  It seemed high time to put the promise of RPA to the test.  

How did Primacy get started?

The team took a deep dive into RPA and researched all the major platforms out there, including both commercial and open source options.  We chose the UiPath Platform as we liked their developer tools and were eager to incorporate some of the supporting applications, which make it easier to do tasks such as install and control robots across an entire network.

We also chose a few of our brightest technical talents and put them on a path to RPA certification.  What this required is many hours of highly structured training and a lot of hands-on exercises and tutorials.  At present our growing RPA team consists of 3 key roles: Architect, Business Process Analyst and Developer.  

What did we build first with RPA?

We set out to build our first proof of concept for Primacy’s marketing team, to assist with the placement of paid advertising across a wide array of channels, from digital to print, tv to radio, social and beyond.  Primacy’s paid-media staff spends a lot of hours every week preparing and reviewing the details of each ad to be placed, making this a prime target for automation.  Before building the robot, our business process experts led internal workshops to map out the existing marketing workflow and model the vision for a better way to do this work going forward.  

How did RPA work for Primacy?

In short: AMAZING.   In the case of the marketing team prototype, the robot took just two weeks to develop and immediately freed up 25 hours a month (that’s 300 hours a year) – sparing our team from some of the most error prone, excruciatingly tedious work imaginable.  Now these valued teammates are freed up do critical thinking, re-engage with clients and partner anew with coworkers.  The early results from our other ongoing projects are showing similar results.

This success has led to many other ideas for where to apply RPA, which we are scoping and prioritizing.   Our main consideration is the time savings provided by the robot, as compared to the level of effort required for development.  Improvement to the quality of work and overall error reduction are also considerations, as are the impact to employee morale and customer service.  

What were the lessons learned?

Despite how easy the demos make it look, you really need a good degree of technical programming and architecture expertise to be successful with RPA.  Diving into the robots to handle errors, exceptions and setup custom logging takes some serious know-how.  Each and every application a robot interacts with is likely to have its own quirks and require some special handling.  And some software, especially when considering security needs, can be particularly challenging.

Thinking more about our experience, it’s also clear that RPA can’t turn a bad process into a good process – and the best time to make improvements is before automation, as you’ll want to add more features to your robot after it’s in use versus go back and rebuild it.  At the same time, it’s not worth overthinking things if a less-than-ideal process can be automated quickly and yield immediate benefits.  

What other projects do we have in the works?

Almost every department at Primacy has come forth with intriguing suggestions for routine processes that we could automate and free up staff to do what they do best.  From these ideas we’ve selected 3 we think will have the most impact on morale and ROI.  These initiatives include automating persona reports for our analytics team, processing monthly financial statements for our finance team, and setting up highly customized log monitoring for our infrastructure team.  

What’s the future hold for RPA and Primacy?

We are so impressed with the game changing potential of RPA, we are building a dedicated RPA practice to bring the power and ROI-promise directly to our clients this fall.  We cannot wait to get started in helping our client partners reach their potential with RPA, as every day we uncover yet more exciting possibilities for how RPA can be applied for reap real-world benefits.

We're very excited about RPA and its potential for businesses—stay tuned for updates or contact us to get started on an RPA project with your company.