Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is slowly but surely becoming a dominant technology many businesses worldwide use. More and more companies are choosing RPA to save time and money and utilize human capital better while ensuring accuracy and compliance. But what does RPA actually mean and how does it make things easier?

Let’s use finance as an example, whether we’re talking about a financial institution or the accounting and payroll department of a Fortune 500 company, there is a wealth of information that needs to be collected, tracked, codified, and then something needs to be done with it. Whether it’s accounts payable, receivable, credit checks, compliance, or reconciliations, accuracy is paramount, and to date, its the job of an employee who’s been routinely taking numbers from one place and putting them somewhere else, and interpreting it.

Automated tools help to make this process more efficient. RPA is used to create an application to define the workflow of any task that is routine, repetitive, rule-based, and logical. Anything that humans can do, a bot can do much faster and with no mistakes. The ‘bots’ are a form of intelligent automated software that make decisions and perform assigned tasks based on information or inputs gathered from the other systems a company utilizes. Once programmed and trained, they can operate by following a set of rules and can also give information, instructions, answer questions, and of course, perform specific tasks.

Pick Your Bot

In RPA processes, there are two types of bots: attended and unattended.

1) Attended Bots

Attended bots typically work alongside humans to deliver specific parts of the process when it can’t be automated from end to end. They can be thought of as a human ‘virtual assistant,’ and exist to boost productivity with front-office tasks via attended automation. In a simple process, a team member prompts or triggers a bot to respond, and it automatically begins to assist while the employee interacts with it as it helps. These attended bots can run on workstations, private servers, or in the cloud, and are useful in reducing average call handle time, enhancing customer experience, and increasing compliance.

There are three types of attended bots: Task Bots, Meta Bots, and IQ Bots. The kind of bot that will work best for you and your business depends on what you need assistance with: structured or semi-structured data.

Structured data:

Includes data sources with clearly defined fields such as:

  • Databases
  • Spreadsheets

If you need help with tasks involving structured data, task bots and meta bots will best assist you.

Task Bots:

Task bots consist of a collection of actions that have been programmed into them. They replicate rule-based tasks and process structured data. Best used for repetitive tasks that may be time-consuming or tedious for humans, the Task bots, can execute with extreme accuracy and speed. These are the starting points for all RPA tools. As the most basic of attended bots, they are required before you can launch a more complex type of bot. Task Bots are often seen in HR administration, procure-to-pay, and quote-to-cash, just to name a few.

Meta Bots:

Meta bots are designed to be a reusable blueprint for an application and can quickly adapt to changes. They can perform visual captures that are used for front-end automation. They are best used for complex and scalable processes and in places of scripting. They can act as a script or a map for inputted data and are usually paired with Task bots. While the Task bots take care of the automatic, rule-based tasks on the front end, the Meta Bots can scale and process the data even more efficiently when paired together. Meta bots are often used in enterprise-wide automation because minimal maintenance is needed.

Semi-structured data:

Includes any documents where the location of a field or line items may vary like:

  • Mortgage applications
  • Invoices
  • Contracts

If you need assistance with more semi-structured data, then IQ bots will better assist you.

IQ Bots:

IQ bots are highly advanced (even at the most basic level) cognitive or intelligent automation bots. They can learn on their own, in real-time, extract languages from the given data, and perform the tasks according to their newly acquired knowledge. Using a combination of computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing, the IQ bot processes and manages fuzzy rules, and can handle semi-structured and unstructured data with its cognitive intelligence capabilities. Developers can add additional cognitive abilities to extract information from semi-structured or even completely unstructured data.

IQ bots require more human interaction than the other bots because they have to be programmed, set up, and shown exactly how to behave (especially at first). These bots will process the information presented to them and ask for feedback. It will automatically adjust itself based on the answers you provide and keep trying until you say it is correct. The IQ bots will store and learn from this information and keep trying until it reaches 100% STP. STP (or Straight Through Processing) is where there is no visibility to human eyes of the steps/action taken by an automated process. This makes the IQ bot perfect for processing semi-structured data. When the format is generally the same across documents, the IQ bot can quickly pick up on the repetition and recognize when a field is different.

2) Unattended Bots

An Unattended bot is one that can complete tasks without human involvement. This is the aim of many business processes, to rely on end-to-end automation, where a bot can execute an entire process independently. These bots are often prompted by a specific preset schedule, or logic in the process flow, such as an email. Then, they follow a rules-based process to completion. Both attended and unattended bots are able (and usually do) to work together within a greater RPA solution. An example of unattended bots at work may be when there is a batch of new client information, received in a spreadsheet, that needs to be entered into multiple applications. An unattended bot would automatically take care of this data. Unattended bots are able to work around the clock, so they are ideal for industries that also operate 24/7, such as hospitality, healthcare, or telecommunications, among other applications. This automation means that the bot has no need for human assistance or participation on the particular tasks the bot is sequenced to perform. Simply put, they are set up to run entirely independently by using the rules they have been taught.

Like attended bots, unattended bots can run on workstations or private servers or in the cloud. The most popular use of unattended RPA bots is in the back office, where a tremendous amount of data is collected, sorted and analyzed. Unlike attended bots typically used for short-term efficiency, unattended bots can be used for more long-term automation strategies to better assist your workforce, colleagues and your business. The outcome being that a business can reduce its operating costs, increase its productivity, re-allocate its employees’ skill sets away from repetitive tasks, improve its compliance, and eliminate errors.

Automation is the way to go

While not mutually exclusive, attended and unattended bots play vital roles in the role of RPA regarding the development of many businesses. Attended bots can help humans execute tasks much faster and optimize their time. Unattended bots independently perform tasks and can work in the background of other applications, awaiting their cue to assist. The combination of the two makes for an incredibly holistic solution. They allow companies to utilize the labor of their employees better, make tasks more straightforward and less time-consuming, while also gaining better accuracy.

Despite their differences, using both attended and unattended bots promotes productivity, scalability, efficiency, accuracy and eventually delivers an even better experience or product for clients or customers. With their ease of deployment, streamlined workflows, and operational efficiencies, these RPA bots help pave the way towards competitive success for your business.

RPA Training

At K2 University, we’ve partnered with industry leaders Automation Anywhere to offer RPA Training for Finance Professionals. Our Mastering Bots course offers best practices, certificate guidance, web data management, and chatbot development – find out more.

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