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Paul Dale 31st Jan 2019

A robot employee

Imagine having an employee that never needed to eat, drink, sleep or even take breaks, an employee that is happy to do the most mundane and repetitive tasks and do them well, finally an employee that doesn’t want or need a salary!

With Robotic Process Automation (RPA) you can have this mythical employee although don’t expect them to be quite as good as a human, let me explain…Software robots are fantastic at doing repetitive tasks that don’t change and don’t require any conscious decision but they tend to fall over if there is a step that requires the robot to think for itself. This isn’t to say that robots are incapable of making these decisions (quite the opposite), but cognitive bots are a bit beyond the scope of this blog post, besides would you want a robot to make the decision to sign off on a £30,000 purchase order?

So, what are software robots good at? Let’s look at a very common use case, employees taking data from a spreadsheet and entering it in to an ERP system such as SAP. Let’s look at the basic steps an employee would take:

  1. On some sort of schedule (daily, weekly, monthly etc) one or more people find and open either a single spreadsheet or multiple spreadsheets.
  2. Log on to the ERP system, in this example SAP and navigate to the appropriate page.
  3. Based on a set of rules (probably something the person has learnt by heart) they copy data line by line, cell by cell in to the correct places on the SAP form and submit.
  4. Repeat this for as many items as there are in the spreadsheet.

This is a very common simple repetitive task that requires no skill but a lot of time, time which the person could put too much better use. There is no reason why a robot couldn’t be created to do these steps, lets go over the same steps but from a robot stand point:

  1. Robot opens the spreadsheet in the pre-determined location.
  2. Robot opens the SAP website, securely logs in and navigates to the correct form.
  3. The robot is built with the same set of rules the human knows, copying data to the sap form.
  4. The robot continues to run until all the data is submitted or until some other stop trigger happens.

The same result is achieved however it will be done quicker and without using up the time of a human, leaving that person to work on other things. Think of other tasks like this that could be automated, one robot worker can work the whole 24 hours in a day. Let’s say the above example task takes 15 minutes for the robot to complete, we can build and schedule more tasks until the robot is ‘working’ well over a standard 7.5 hour work day. Depending on the number of tasks that can be automated you could have more than one robot running tasks throughout the day.

This blog post gives a very simple example of where RPA can be put to good use. Many are put-off or daunted by the idea of introducing RPA and the hype around emerging technologies but robots don’t need to be a scary or complicated concept. Start small, prove their worth and scale from there.

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