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Time and money are the most valuable commodities any thriving business has. So it's no surprise that any tools or techniques that can lead to gains in these areas garner a lot of interest. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one such example.
RPA has surged in popularity in recent years, and with good reason. RPA bots can mimic most human-computer interactions and carry out error-free tasks at high volume and speed. Humans excel at plenty of things, but parsing through vast amounts of data to draw insights and conducting error-free repetitive tasks at breakneck speed aren't some of them. A whopping 53% of enterprises have embarked on their RPA journey, and experts predict that RPA will achieve near-universal adoption in the coming years.
With this in mind, let's look at the top five use cases for RPA in 2023.
RPA For Purchase Orders
For most organizations, the Procure-to-Pay cycle is manually intensive and encompasses many different teams and siloed systems. And this confusing and labor-intensive process is a prime candidate for software automation. Without software automation, procurement teams have to manually create purchase orders, leading to delays and increasing the scope of errors. But with RPA, we can automate the entire procurement process. Let's look closely at RPA in purchase orders (PO).
Once a purchase order is raised, the RPA software automatically follows the designated workflow. It assesses the request, seeks relevant approvals, processes it, and submits a purchase order. Because RPA works by accessing information from your existing IT systems, there are multiple ways RPA software can integrate with your applications and work together to handle critical areas of the PO process. For example, some RPA tools can match vendor invoices to the related purchase order, checking that each quantity, item, and amount on the invoice match the purchase order.
RPA offers some compelling benefits in purchase ordering and procurement more widely. Namely, improved data quality, process transparency, and standardization boosted cost savings and increased speed and productivity.
RPA For Invoicing
Invoice automation allows companies to save time, money, and resources. Of course, invoicing is a critical aspect of any business - without invoices, you don't get paid and eventually cease to function. And yet, invoicing is one of the most time-consuming processes companies undertake. For example, according to research by The Aberdeen Group, it can take between 4 and 16 days for a business to process an invoice.
Handling invoices manually is a chore for several reasons. For example, invoices might have different formats depending on where they come from, be written in other languages, and the specific content in the invoice might differ between companies. In addition, scanned invoices often vary in quality, and errors are rife when manually copying data from invoices into IT systems. RPA helps address these issues and more.
Automation software can monitor for new invoices (typically PDFs or image files) within specific directories and flag them as invoices to move to the next stage: data extraction. The RPA then extracts the relevant data, for example, account name, bank account, order details, and price. It can also cross-check invoices against purchase orders, check for duplicate records, and log the relevant information in the company's database for record-keeping.
Then there's RPA for invoice generation. Here, the automation software gets all relevant customer invoice data from a Google Sheet or other repository and creates a new invoice that can be automatically emailed to the customer.
RPA For Inventory Management
Managing inventory is challenging because it requires gathering and handling data from multiple sources, not just from internal systems but also from suppliers and business partners. With RPA, businesses can optimize costs and working time within the inventory process to meet their goals.
The use cases of RPA in inventory management are varied. For example, we can use software automation to track and deal with deadstock, eliminate or reduce the risk of stockouts, reduce lead times, increase visibility in the supply chain, and deal with stock discrepancies.
On a more granular level, RPA can handle specific but critical elements of the inventory management process. For example, this Bot for inventory receiving retrieves the packing slip data from its source and inputs all relevant information into the Accounting or ERP system so the items can move through the verification process. And the specific use cases don't end here. Once verifying the inventory received, RPA can do three-way matching, ensuring that the purchase order, inventory receipt, and invoice align. Software automation tools can also generate various reports in multiple formats.
Everything Accounts Payable
The accounts payable team, responsible for handing vendor invoices, bills, records, and short-term debts, typically has a mountain of work on their plate. So many elements of this process are time-consuming, repetitive, and extremely sensitive to errors. And when mistakes occur, the business is met with costly delays that disrupt the company's day-to-day functioning.
RPA ensures that error rates remain extremely low or essentially non-existent. This means that cash can be more accurately processed in a fraction of the time it would take a human operator.
The possibilities for RPA in this area are numerous. For example, you can deploy bots to send a list of vendor invoices for approval and permit it to pay the invoice if approved. Similarly, AP discount bots can automatically apply a credit to a vendor bill if the bill has been delivered within the discount period. Then there's document storage, another essential but time-intensive aspect of the accounts process. Here, RPA bots can retrieve the vendor invoice and upload it to a designated storage folder.
Regarding managing customers, RPA helps alleviate administrative workloads and back office tasks. For example, software automation can speed up customer service by collecting information and documents for different systems and putting them in one central location. Moreover, RPA can handle service requests, update customer records, reduce the overall error rates, and ultimately deliver enhanced customer experiences. And customer experience is vital in a world where a whopping 58% of Americans say they will switch companies after a poor customer service experience.
On the administrative customer management side, RPA eases workloads by handling customer intake and setup, automatically assigning and granting access to all the teams, groups, applications, and processes associated with the new client.
At Thoughtful, we dive into the mechanics of automating your process and analyze the human/healthcare workflow through the lens of automation — uncovering ways to re-engineer the process and reduce wasted human effort. A process evaluation is the quickest way to discover and recover lost time and money.
Where Is RPA Heading in the Coming Years?
Much of the discussion around robotic process automation centers around its role in automating jobs or replacing human labor. This can certainly be true. For example, a Deloitte piece on robotic process automation cites the example of a large consumer and commercial bank that redesigned its claims process with RPA. The bank deployed 85 software robots to handle 1.5 million requests per year, the capacity equivalent to approximately 230 full-time workers.
However, it's also true that the primary goal of RPA isn't to replace workers but to make their jobs easier and free up their time for more tasks that require higher-order thinking. When employees spend less time on tedious, repetitive tasks, they have more time for complex and innovative projects that propel the business to new heights. With this in mind, we can expect companies to use RPA more broadly across the industry; deploying it anywhere can boost efficiencies and save time.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning advancements are also driving more sophisticated examples of RPA across industries and expanding its use cases. Today, organizations generate more data than ever, and data is the lifeblood of AI and ML systems, so we expect to see even more activity in these areas.
RPA remains a dominant force in digital transformation initiatives, which will continue over the coming years. As it stands today, RPA and its widespread use cases, particularly in procurement and accounting, offer attractive benefits and ROI across industries.