Automation, RPA, AI …: all hot topics nowadays. But companies often have a lot of questions surrounding automation. What is it? Isn’t it expensive? How can I be sure that it will help my company? And if I invest in automation, how do I pick the right partner?

Our colleague and RPA expert Wim will gladly answer all these questions for you!

What is automation?

Wim: “In automation, a system executes certain tasks that otherwise would have to be done manually by a person. These are typically boring, repetitive tasks which are also error-prone.”

“A subcategory of automation that’s very hot right now, is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)”, Wim tells us. “By implementing RPA, you teach your software to execute the task in the same exact way a human would do it. RPA bots can mimic just about every human user action. They can log into applications, move files and folders, copy and paste data, fill out forms … The only distinction between the RPA bots and humans, is that bots can execute the process much faster and error-free. And a bot will never complain that its tasks are boring… ;-)”

What are the best business processes to automate?

Wim explains: “Predictability is critical. A process that’s creative or open to interpretation, and in which a person still has to make certain decisions, is difficult to automate. AI (artificial intelligence) can fix this problem in the long run, but we’re not there yet.”

“Furthermore, RPA works best with repetitive processes. Do you have a business process in which it’s a person’s job to fill out numbers in Excel just to add them and move them to another sheet? Bingo, that’s something you can automate! Make that colleague’s day, invest in RPA software and give them the chance to drop that tedious task.”

“Manually filling out numbers in a sheet is also very much prone to errors. It only takes 1 wrong number to render your entire sheet useless. This problem is fixed by RPA: bots never make mistakes, no matter how long you make them work.” 

Wim continues: “This doesn’t mean that other processes can’t be automated. But when starting with automation, you should first consider the so-called low-hanging fruit: the processes that are easiest to automate and will render the highest ROI.”

A man with glasses, smiling, looking away from the camera.

Is investing in automation useful for every company?

“Yes”, Wim answers enthusiastically. “Every company can benefit from the automation of certain tasks, and every company can implement RPA. There’s this big misconception that automation should be expensive, but this isn’t necessarily true. You can invest as much or as little as you want. RPA also offers starter packages.”

“If you want to calculate the entire cost of your investment, you should keep in mind the following price tag”, says Wim.

  • The costs of the software
  • The license costs
  • The hours that you put into it
  • The maintenance costs

The costs of the software.

“There’s a lot of software packages out there to help you implement RPA, and you will have to figure out which one works best for you”, Wim tells us. “Some examples are: Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UiPath. Make sure you do your research, so you know exactly what the advantages and disadvantages of each package are.”

The license costs.

Wim: “You’ll typically also have to pay for a license on the software that you buy. These costs are entirely dependent on the type license that you buy. There are many vendors on the market, and they all use a different strategy.”

Sometimes, the license costs will be calculated based on the number of hours that you use the software and the number of bots that you activate simultaneously”, Wim continues. “If you only make 1 automation and never use it afterwards, your license will be free. But some vendors base their costs on the number of bots you use, not the amount of hours you use them. So if you use multiple bots you will pay more than when you just use 1.”

The hours that you put into it.

“Another factor that you should take into consideration, are the hours of work you will put into your automation. This depends on the person doing the work and the maintenance.”

“Thanks to the many different software programs on the market, everyone can automate processes”, says Wim. “The only thing you need is an analytic mind and a healthy ambition to learn. You definitely don’t have to be a trained IT expert to become savvy in automation. You do need a good partner, though. One that teaches you how to use and maintain your software”

“Most companies figure that they only need time to install the software and create the automation processes, but this is a dangerous mistake to make. The software also needs to be maintained. It’s like a bike: if you never grease the chain after you’ve learned to ride it, it will start to slow you down after a while. So make sure you appoint someone to maintain your software.”

The maintenance costs.

“This is a hidden cost”, Wim explains. “If you alter a process after automating it, the automation will also have to be adapted. You should always try to automate a process that’s stable from the beginning!”

What will this investment get me?

Wim: “After investing in automation, you will have to free up fewer human hours for certain tasks. This is advantageous on its own.”

“A bot can work all through the day and even through the night. Bots don’t need breaks or vacations, and they won’t complain about having to do boring tasks. What’s more, your personnel will be happier, seeing as they don’t have to do any repetitive tasks anymore. And one last advantage: your RPA bot will never forget to clean up the office kitchen after using it… ;-)” 

2 men working on a laptop.

How can your department benefit from automation?

Wim: “RPA is gaining more and more popularity in finance departments. This isn’t surprising, because there’s many repetitive and predictable tasks to be found in finance, which are also error-prone (you obviously don’t want to type any extra zeroes anywhere...)”

“What’s more, finance processes are abstract and easily predictable. It’s right or wrong, black or white but never gray.”

“By investing in RPA, you could for example automate your timesheets. A bot will fill out the sheets and migrate the info from one program to another. Your team will get more freedom to execute other tasks or work on their development.”

“RPA can also optimize your sales department”, Wim continues. “The sales teams in your company often have to register their opportunities in more than 1 system. So it’s basically a copy-paste, which is prone to errors. Thanks to automation, all errors will be eliminated, and your sales team will have more time to find and bring in opportunities!”

Our conclusion: automation can help any department within your company, as long as you’re dealing with processes that are repetitive, predictable and error-prone!

So, you’ve decided to invest in automation? Great! But… How should you start? Fear not, we will help you out in 7 easy steps. Download our tips.