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What is Robotic Process Automation and how do I implement it?

Karim van den Wijngaard
minutes reading time
August 24, 2020

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. Quite a mouthful, which is why the abbreviation is mainly used in normal language. With a simple translation into Dutch we quickly come to the understanding that it stands for process automation by means of robots. It is easy to make the analogy with physical robotics. However, the difference lies in the fact that the execution is done by software. In a virtual environment, a robot can imitate the actions that an employee performs manually with internal business applications. Think of the processing of orders, or the onboarding of colleagues and customers, where the repetitive and (usually) non-complex nature is the common denominator. The power of RPA lies in automating these processes, which frees up time for employees to engage in more creative and decision-sensitive tasks.

Normally, such automation of processes would mean a switch to other systems. However, in the case of RPA, the approach is to develop application-independently. This means that you are not dependent on the application landscape that is already present within organization. By developing in this way, it is possible to achieve impactful results within a few weeks. However, this speed also contributes to the argument of sceptics to see the technology as 'duct tape' for obsolete software. In some cases, this is how it can be perceived, which is why it is essential to look at the context in a critical and analytical way. The balance must be made between the intended result and reality.

Why is RPA on the rise now?

Despite the fact that the origin of the 'digital robot' lies in the 1990s, we are currently seeing a spike in popularity. This prominence seems to be due in part to the introduction of commercially applicable Artifical Intelligence (AI). Big terms like Hyperautomation and Intelligent Automation are introduced, envisioning a future where a large part of repetitive actions can be taken over by technology. These developments are in line with the maturity of the software itself, which all contribute to a favorable predicted future for the technology. The reasons for using these applications lie mainly in:


Achieving results within a short period of time


Adaptability through low code design


By maturity software higher quality of results


Flexible licensing and rapid development ensures scalable technology

Focus on the customer

Process automation driven by business needs ensures short alignment with customer requirements

How does implementation work?

The robot is developed using 'low code' environments. This means that with little programming experience and a healthy dose of business understanding, a process can quickly be automated. Similar platforms are beginning to take shape for designing web apps (OutSystems) or developing ERP systems (Mendix).  

Source: UiPath (2020)

Before the start of the development process, the business processes are carefully mapped out. By talking to employees, applying Process Mining and tuning in with Subject Matter Experts (SME's) a clear picture can be formed of the current situation. From this beforehand, we look forward and estimate which steps can be automated, where in case of mutual approval the development of the robot can start.

By working in small teams in an agile way, it is possible to deliver a working product every iteration (sprint). In addition, different teams can work side by side to tackle different processes in parallel. By being critical towards the experience of the end user on the one hand, and making the quantitative savings transparent on the other hand, it is possible to build on the implementation and make it more robust and appropriate. Development is a continuous process.

What does that mean for my organization?

For the introduction of such software, it is important to take into account different axes within the company:

Human (People)

Ultimately, an innovation will also have to have support on the shop floor. In doing so, it is essential to consider the end user and to involve him or her closely and include him or her in the implementation of RPA. The implementation must deliver value for the employee, allowing him or her to rely on the technology, or in some cases to learn to work with it. By offering ownership and responsibility to internal people, opportunities are created to create ambassadors within organizations that build knowledge and inspire close people for applications.

Operational (Process)

Is there a real need for automation? Are the savings significant enough to realise a Return on Investment? The RPA implementation stands or falls with an accurate process analysis which must be tuned to the experience and reality of the business context. In addition, it is important to have a clear picture of the possible opportunities for automation. It is important to invest in the detailing of this notation to provide clarity in the deployment of technology.

Technical (Technology)

In conclusion, the application landscape may be critically examined. Returning to the 'duct tape' example in the second paragraph, there must be sufficient motivation to introduce an innovation in existing application landscapes. It is important to study the technical infrastructure objectively and transcendively and to make a choice based on robustness and future resilience. It is interesting to have this mapped out by an external party in order to get an independent perspective on the current situation.

Karim van den Wijngaard
Digital Consultant
RPA is not only about building robots but also as an impetus to standardize and optimize processes, making his work much more varied and social than he expected!

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