“The Master created humans first as the lowest type, most easily formed. Gradually, he replaced them by robots, the next higher step, and finally, he created me, to take the place of the last humans.”
― Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
While we haven’t yet developed the world envisaged by Asimov in the film I, Robot, there can be no doubt that automation is playing an increasing role in our lives, especially when it comes to business in this age of digital transformation.
And, although any notions of robots superseding man remain firmly in the realms of science fiction, they, or at least automated systems, can fulfil many roles more efficiently than you or I.
To understand the increasing part robots and robotic automation play, consider the following statistics:
- In 2020, 31% of businesses had fully automated at least one function within their organisation (this figure was 29% in 2018).
- Also in 2020, 66% of businesses were piloting some sort of automated solution in their business processes (this was 57% in 2018).
While these figures may not seem like dramatic increases at first glance, they represent the steady rise of robotic process automation (RPA) within many areas of business operations. The use of RPA generally tends to focus on more mundane or repetitive tasks, thus allowing you to direct human resources to more involved and complicated work.
But what exactly is RPA, and how can robotic process automation software benefit your company? If you want to implement it, what factors should you consider when making a choice? Can you use automation anywhere?
Our list will guide you in this. These are products we believe in, and we believe in them for good reason: because these are the tools that are best at what they do.
What is RPA?
Robotic process automation tools are technological tools that can automate some or all of your business processes. They can use business logic and inputs from your staff and frequently feature AI (artificial intelligence), natural language processing, and machine learning. The use of the latter two factors is designed to improve the efficiency of RPA systems.
RPAs can be cloud-based or on-premises, depending on your needs and what the provider offers.
They can be configured and used for a variety of functions, from basic to extremely complex. A good example of a simple RPA would be setting this up to send a generic reply to emails received, acknowledging receipt and advising that someone will reply soon. You see this level of RPA in automated social media replies.
An example of a more complex RPA would be one found in ERP (enterprise resource planning). The whole idea of ERP is to streamline your business, centralise data, and improve workflows. Adding RPA to such a system makes streamlining even more efficient by taking over repetitive tasks such as data entry, monitoring, report generation, and so on.
Learn more from this Robotic Process Automation Explainer and this RPA Video.
What Are the Business Benefits of RPA?
With any new system, tool, or process, the first and natural question an astute businessperson will ask is “what benefits will this bring to my organisation?” (The second, of course, is “what will it cost me?”)
Knowing what benefits this new workforce technology offers is the first step in being able to make an informed decision.
1. It Increases Efficiency
RPA tools work 24/7/365. They never take holidays (or ask for a wage increase!), never get sick, and never slack off. Compared to humans carrying out the task, your RPA can do the same volume of work in less time or more work in the same timeframe. Depending on the task, an automated process could be equivalent to between two and five full-time workers.
2. It Improves Productivity
Most RPA focuses on specific tasks. In some cases, it works alone, and in others, it assists a human worker. Either way, tasks are carried out better and quicker, which means more of this task – as well as others – can be completed in a given period. So, processes run solely by RPA are more productive, and workers aided by RPA are more productive as well.
3. It Increases Security
Security at every level will be one of your main priorities. As RPA bots tend to focus on single tasks, there’s no risk of data or information leaking from one area to another. And, where sensitive data is being handled, RPA can offer enhanced security measures that quickly identify and neutralise risk.
4. It Enhances Accuracy
How many times have you heard the phrase “human error”? Although RPA may offer a solution to most human errors, it does need a degree of testing and training to optimise the processes it’s overseeing. But, once you have your RPA optimised, you won’t see the same sort or volume of errors as you did from human workers.
5. It Improves Your Analytics
Analytics are also of crucial importance, and implementing RPA systems offers information on executing various tasks. By seeing an assessment of things like cycle times or patterns in work volumes, you can identify areas where improvements can be made, both at the micro and macro levels.
6. It Enhances Scalability
The potential – or lack of potential – for scalability is a challenge you may face. Luckily, RPA offers the chance to be flexible in terms of scaling up the number of tasks being undertaken to reach a particular objective.
As your RPA can more easily adjust to changes in time and task requirements than human employees, this can help even small businesses to meet fluctuations in demand.
7. It Delivers Better Customer Service
RPA can make a real difference to how good your customer service is. That goes beyond the simple use of chatbots or automated responses. By assigning mundane tasks to your RPA, you free up human agents to focus on dealing with more complex customer queries. More detailed analytics from your RPA can help identify areas for improvement too.
Core Factors of an Effective RPA Tool
While you may have some special requirements for your RPA, there are also some common factors that virtually every business will look for when choosing an RPA. These include:
As with any new or ongoing process, you want to have an accurate idea of how it’s performing. Having a good analytical suite should be a core factor for RPA. This enables you to track tasks and operations that are automated and identify teething problems (if any). It also offers insights so you can tweak the process and streamline future cycles.
You want to be able to create bots if needed, and you want to be able to do it easily and without spending hours figuring out how or referring to lengthy manuals. Ideally, your RPA process should have a task editor that allows easy creation and editing of bots without any problems.
If you have widespread automation within your organisation, you’ll likely have a large number of people with access to RPA processes. You thus want strong and secure user management capability that oversees permissions and access. This might include encryption of the data and information accessed by bots to avoid tampering, for example.
You want security protocols that record the tasks carried out and the actions of any users interacting with the RPA too. This will not only ensure good internal security but help with data compliance for things such as PCI DSS and HIPAA.
Having multiple hosting and deployment options is a crucial factor for many. Cloud-based products are ideal for both scalability and flexibility, but some businesses may also want to deploy across terminal services and virtual machines. So, you want the ability to install on desktops and deploy on servers, especially for repetitive tasks.
As RPA will likely incorporate some form of machine learning, there’s a high chance of processes run by it changing over time. Having source control means your developers or IT team can examine these changes to see what the differences are and if they’re positive.
Also, having a high level of source control can be invaluable when it comes to bots. It allows for scheduling tasks, recording and analysing bot activities (and related users), and the overall administration of those tasks and activities.
It can provide you with wide-ranging management of everything to do with the RPA environment too.
6. Debugging Options
One of the great attractions of RPA is that it can adjust dynamically. Some RPA tools may stop running to make changes before restarting the process, but others can continue running while you interact and tweak variables to see how this affects outcomes. This means developers can work in real-time without having to halt processes.
7. Exception Handling
How your RPA handles exceptions can be crucial to your overall processes. Ideally, it should be handling them according to rules you or the developer have initiated. So, for example, if a bot reports an exception, the server should take action such as reassigning another bot and removing the first from the process. If issues continue, it should raise an alert.
As with any tech tool, having good – if not seamless – integration capabilities can be essential. If you have other apps, such as Excel, that you use as part of your business processes, you want them to integrate with a new RPA to allow for a more streamlined process and better evaluation.
Good artificial intelligence means good actionable intelligence. Machine learning capabilities ensure your RPA can not only gain knowledge but apply it as new or improved skills. Your AI should be improving any assigned process over time, as well as the performance of any bots involved in tasks. Analytics can help track and report on progress over different cycles.
Four Deciding Factors When Choosing an RPA Tool
So, you know there are real benefits to be gained from implementing RPA in your business, but what factors should you consider before deciding to buy a tool or system?
1. Are You Ready?
For an RPA platform to be effective, your organisation needs to be ready to implement it. You mustn’t think of RPA as a tool but as a strategy to achieve certain outcomes. Be sure to ask pertinent questions. This may mean sitting and brainstorming topics like “what is hyperautomation” and then deciding whether or not it will fit into your business.
Before committing, develop a plan that addresses your needs and covers implementation. Run through the following questions:
- Is there an existing framework/structure to support RPA implementation?
- Are you ready to implement strategic changes across your enterprise? If not, what do you have to do to be ready?
- What technology or platforms will you need to invest in to enable deployment?
- Do the functionalities meet your needs?
- Will you go it alone or partner with RPA software providers to guarantee successful implementation?
- What RPAs fit with your strategic plans and aims?
- Is ease of use important?
2. The Process
The tool needs to fit the process. You want an RPA that improves your process rather than highlighting its inefficiencies. That means that before choosing and implementing it, you must examine your process in detail. That includes other parts of the process where RPA will not be used as there is cause and effect at every stage.
This audit of your process can improve efficiency even before the RPA is added. It will also let you see exactly how this will function and how it will affect other stages.
What design factors do you need in robotic process automation? While we recognise that an automation tool can be used in most – if not all – currently manual processes, that doesn’t mean we should choose to fully automate any chosen process.
Your needs should be dictating the design of your RPA. In particular, look at the following factors:
- How stable is the process and could it affect other stages?
- Does it offer back-end/back-office solutions?
- What size and scale will the RPA deliver?
- What are the potential issues or failure points?
- How long will it take to automate your chosen processes?
- What are the opportunities to merge RPA?
- How difficult will it be to cease any processes if necessary?
4. Management Readiness
Implementing RPA isn’t just about organisational readiness. There has to be a degree of management readiness too to ensure cross-organisational success.
Think of your RPA as being a rock dropped in a pond. Its ripples will affect many areas, from data to policies. Management has to anticipate the impact of RPA and plan to accommodate this.
The 29 Best RPA Tools to Optimise Your Business
There are multiple RPA tools available on the market. The ones we’ve chosen to list are the ones we believe do the best job. It’s down to you to decide whether or not they’re the right fit for your company.
1. Automation Anywhere
Best for: Ease of use.
As a market-leading RPA, AA is easy to use, can scale three times faster than legacy platforms, and is one-fifth of the cost. It has also been one of Gartner’s quadrant leaders the last two years in a row.
As the world’s most deployed platform (2.8 million bots in 90 countries), AA is the choice of the majority of healthcare (8/10), banking (7/10), public sector (9/10), and telecom (7/10) companies.
Best for: Developers.
Cloud-based Agenty is created by developers for developers and offers a built-in API that offers high levels of automation for repetitive tasks. Agenty is ideal for web automation, OCR, data scraping, change detection, and much more.
Best for: Delivering omnichannel customer experiences.
If you need desktop applications developed quickly and efficiently, then OutSystems may be the choice for you. It helps you drive innovation with apps that make real differences in various areas of business operation, from the customer experience to workplace innovations.
Best for: Businesses who like open-source software.
Now part of ActiveOps, OpenConnect offers several solutions that include analytics capture from employee workstations, productivity identifiers for managers, RPA enablement for processes, and secure browser-based access to PPS and info in real-time.
Best for: Information-heavy businesses who want accelerated business processes.
If your business and workflows are information-heavy, Kofax’s intelligent RPAs may be the perfect choice to digitally transform how you work.
Kofax is highly scalable and can be of particular help if your business operations involve connected systems, intelligent document processing, or process orchestration.
Best for: organisations with multiple repetitive processes.
Eggplant is another good choice for organisations with several repetitive tasks in their processes. It can help you automate all these, meaning increased productivity and fewer errors in your processes, as well as reduced administrative work for your staff.
Best for: Simplifying IT processes for larger businesses.
Used by major businesses such as IBM and FedEx, HelpSystems is a perfect RPA IT solution. Its focus is on simplifying your IT processes and automating critical workload and infrastructure systems.
HelpSystems also provides automated cybersecurity solutions to deal with even the most novel threats.
Best for: Small and medium-sized businesses.
Ideal for organisations that have frequent customer interactions, Zoho offers customisable and fully automated CRM systems that cover every aspect of your business.
It also offers a range of bundles to assist with everything from your finance platforms to HR. With AI and automation playing an increasing role in call centres, this could be a great solution for your company.
Best for: CRM solutions and platform support.
Delivering great scalability, Pega offers solutions that solve issues with systems that are too complex or fragmented. It also provides highly efficient automated processes for any or all of your customer service needs.
10. Power Automate
Best for: Creating automated workflows.
As you would expect with an RPA system from tech giants Microsoft, Power Automate allows you to create workflows that save time and boost productivity, whether applied to an individual task or a larger enterprise system. Its simplicity of use is a major benefit.
Best for: Businesses who want high levels of security.
Recognised as a leading RPA by Forrester, Kryon provides an AI-based automation solution suite that is the only solution offering analytics, process discovery, and deployment from a single platform. This means you can see improvements of up to 70% in employee efficiency and 352% in ROI.
Best for: Organisations that use a Citrix environment.
Europe’s leading RPA design and integration company, Contextor, offers a range of automation solutions. It’s ideal for users of business software who encounter repetitive tasks. It also allows and enables attended and unattended RPA processes.
Best for: Integrating between cloud and on-premises applications.
The perfect solution to enable IT transformation, HelpSystems enables you to automate workloads and infrastructure, leading to boosted productivity and added value. The automated cybersecurity solutions it offers stay up to date with even the newest threats.
Best for: Desktop automation and building software robots.
Now part of Microsoft’s Power Automate, WinAutomation provides end-to-end intelligent RPA. It is easy to use, with simple drag and drop design capabilities that offer more than 360 prebuilt actions, as well as flexible recording capabilities that allow anyone to automate.
15. EdgeVerve Systems
Best for: End-to-end automation.
With efficient use of AI, machine learning, and automation, EdgeVerve offers focused solutions that are especially valuable in financial services such as banking, insurance, and credit servicing. They aim to simplify processes at every stage, from recording to customer service.
Best for: Routine desktop tasks.
NICE is the only solution that provides both server-side and desktop automation, leaving your workforce free to focus on productivity. It automatically maps your processes and identifies the key areas where RPA can help optimise in the short and long term.
Best for: Call centre solutions.
Jacada offers optimum RPA that can reduce errors by 90% and cut agents’ onboarding process time by 75%. As the most trusted agent assistant for customer operation companies in the Fortune 500, Jacada can revolutionise contact operations.
Best for: Healthcare organisations.
AntWorks offers integrated AI solutions that lead to intelligent automation processes. Named as an industry leader for the third consecutive year by Everest Group, Antworks is based on enterprise-level AI systems and seeks to scale processes rather than tasks.
Best for: Businesses with remote or hybrid workforces.
A perfect solution if you have a remote workforce, Citrix streamlines cloud-based solutions and apps in a person-centric way, making any transition smoother. It brings all your apps and data into one unified workspace to provide an optimised and personalised experience.
20. Blue Prism
Best for: Automating back-office processes.
Blue Prism offers solutions that unite your human and digital workforces. It can help with compliance, provide high-level security, and deliver higher operational speed and agility to deal with the ever-changing demands of the market.
Best for: Streamlining production processes.
NTT’s WinActor is ideal for repetitive tasks within a variety of industry types, including retail, financial, and logistic services. It records the procedures of any operational process and can then replicate that process as required.
Best for: Windows-based automation and integration.
VisualCron is an RPA solution for Windows that allows task scheduling, integration, and automation. It also helps with combining foreground and background automation for tasks where simple repetition may not always achieve the desired outcome.
Best for: Scalability and support.
The fastest-growing RPA software platform on the market, G1Ant offers solutions for both SMEs and large-scale enterprises. They offer to implement any solutions themselves or to work in partnership with your team so your business can work and grow faster.
Best for: Customer engagement and digital processes.
Ideal for optimising customer engagement, Pegasystems offers a real-time decision-making engine, AI-driven automation tools that simplify tasks and processes, and intelligent automation that streamlines processes and boosts efficiency and productivity.
25. Samsung SDS
Best for: Simplicity and design processes.
Brity RPA from Samsung simplifies the process of implementing business process automation. The bots you create can easily deal with repetitive tasks, freeing up your human staff to focus on more demanding areas of your business.
These intelligent bots can integrate with your chosen visual, analytical, and conversational AI technologies.
Best for: Delivering business-critical IT services.
Servicetrace provides intelligent software robotics that can enhance your business processes in many areas. You can automate processes from end to end and scale them to cover the entire organisation. It can also automate the monitoring of app performance and software testing.
Best for: Automating systems applications and products.
SAP is a vendor that offers a wide range of intelligent RPA solutions, including conversational AI systems, intelligent business process management software, and RPA for your business technology platforms. It can boost efficiency in most areas, from accounting (as a Quickbooks alternative) to customer service.
Best for: managing your entire workflow from a single platform.
WorkFusion will save you 50% on costs and 50% on time through intelligent and efficient RPA implementation. It offers a variety of automated solutions, including adverse media monitoring, identity verification, and payment screening alerts.
Best for: Compliance and productivity improvements.
The UiPath platform offers a comprehensive solution that gives you a complete understanding of your processes. It provides task automation and deep process mining that leads to greater analytical insights. It also automates troublesome repetitive tasks and provides an automation hub to gather employee ideas.
How Industries Are Benefiting From RPA Tools in 2021
We mentioned some of the benefits of implementing RPA tools earlier, but what other benefits is RPA bringing to businesses in 2021?
1. Better Business Results
RPA lets your employees focus more on other areas of the business, which improves your overall business metrics. It also means your top and/or bottom line could see significant improvements.
2. Reduced Wage Costs
While you may not like to consider redundancies, the fact is that many processes can be automated. This could lead to you having a percentage of your workforce who cannot transfer to other positions. The cost savings in this area may be significant.
3. Reduction in Risks
Implementing new systems (or upgrading them) used to be a costly exercise. With RPA, the risk of running over budget is reduced as RPA is a less invasive and lower-risk type of system. It also tends not to impact other areas of your business during implementation.
3. Faster Service
Prior to RPA, there were many processes that could be time-consuming, especially when you think of processes related to financial services. Using RPA to automate these can make them much faster.
4. Human Resources
By removing mundane and repetitive tasks from your human staff, you can help to increase their satisfaction as employees. If your employees are happier, you will likely see your churn rates decrease over time. Automation can also help with recruitment.
5. Human Error & Compliance
If RPA is dealing with large amounts of data within your organisation, the likelihood of human error or fraud is dramatically reduced. RPA can also help with ensuring compliance with any legal or regulatory requirements.
There’s no doubt that RPA/robotic intelligent process automation software is here to stay. Software robots are now used in almost every industry, and with low code (or even no-code) and open-source platforms with simple-to-use interfaces, you don’t need to be an IT expert to design bots that create the ideal work fusion experience.
RPA may be especially useful to smaller businesses operating with limited budgets and workforces. These can face greater demands than their larger and more established counterparts, from knowing how to schedule efficiently to providing good customer service with only a small number of staff.
Certainly, RPA bots are revolutionising how we build our business processes. They can enhance the functionality of any system while boosting productivity and efficiency. And, with pricing to suit everyone from small businesses to large enterprises, not implementing RPA could soon mean you are left behind.
Originally published Mar 19, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023