RPA(Robotic Process Automation) is a software tool which can easily automate data transaction from one application to another as if it were operated by human via user interface. By translating actions across multiple applications such as a particular information system, Microsoft Office, browsers, etc. into a collection of operational conditions on PC, what we call a "scenario", it is possible to execute it automatically on PC.With RPA, you can automate a series of business processes that were previously performed by human.Here, we will introduce the background of RPA's attention and what it can do.

Business processes that the capability of RPA can be fully exploited.
RPA gracefully automates a series of business processes previously performed by humans primarily in the following business processes.

01 Business processes that can be executed by rules
  • Check,matching, processing
  • Discrimination of character strings, figures and colors on the screen
  • Data linkage between in-house system and business application
  • Error handling or automatic response by linking with conditional branch
02 Business process with repetitive tasks
  • Setting and execution of schedule-based tasks
  • Activation and termination of applications
03 Business process completed only with PC-based tasks
  • PC operations using keyboard and mouse
  • Data acquisition, output, organization, and analysis
  • Data entry into a system
  • Transferring data across different applications

Automating a series of procedures by RPA (Robotic Process Automation)

Background of RPA's attention and changes in working environment
Around the 1990s, large-scale system investment such as introducing ERP began in Japan and business processes mainly in financial, accounting and personnel fields have been made more efficient than before in order to increase productivity associated with business processes. However, business processes which were not easy to be automated because of cost or security restrictions have not been systematized. Therefore, most of those business processes have still been handled by humans, using Excel, Access and so on. For example, in order to develop a report required for managerial accounting, a considerable amount of time and effort are still spent in the series of manual works as shown below.

Current situation
Form output using Excel
Data processing using Access
Data processing using Excel
Report format adjusting
I can't handle other jobs. Overtime hours increase.
I can concentrate on my job.

Benefits of introducing RPA.
There are four main benefits that enterprise users can obtain by introducing RPA.

Increased productivity
As RPA can be operated 24/7 the speed of handling business process will be dramatically improved. By substituting RPA for workers in performing office works that were previously only performed by humans, it becomes possible to devote their time to other works. By utilizing such time, it is possible to create new business by exploiting humans' creativeness and communication capability, both of which cannot be replaced with RPA, and to improve productivity accordingly.
Cost reduction
Personnel expenses are said to occupy a large portion of expenses required for corporate management. By substituting RPA for multiple workers in carrying out simple works that were performed by such workers, the personnel expenses can be reduced by reducing man-hours and overtime pays accumulated on a daily basis.
Resolving shortage of human resources
In Japan, a declining birthrate with aging population is ongoing, and there is a trend of downward of the working population.
RPA plays a role as a new workforce as it has no limitation with its working time and is able to continue working without rest.
By automating routine tasks that do not require humans to work, it becomes possible to more precisely examine the business processes that should be performed by humans and to perform such business processes identified efficiently.
Risk management
Humans can make mistakes in any simple tasks.
On the other hand, RPA will help prevent human error because it will repeat operations exactly once the procedure is decided.
n addition, it is possible to reduce the possibility of suspension of business in advance by preventing the leakage of confidential information and personal information caused by human errors.
It also solves the problem that employees with higher responsibility are bound to simple works dealing with certain confidential information.
Increased productivity
Cost reduction
Resolving shortage of human resources
Risk management
Improving ES(employee satisfaction)

How does RPA work?

RPA is a software tool that combines "UI (User Interface) recognition" and "Workflow" to enable following three operations:

  • Recognizing the operation target (information system or application)
  • Performing basic operations (copy and paste, click or key press)
  • Executing branch processing in flowcharts

Recognizing the operation target (information system or application)

  • 01
    Syntax analysis
    Recognizing that the target to be operated must be corresponding to this part by considering the image structure characteristic to HTML.
  • 02
    Image recognition
    Specifying an image and making it recognized by its design, color, and layout. In the image recognition, it is possible to adjust the criterion for determining whether or not analyzed images are considered to be identical.
  • 03
    Coordinate recognition
    From the specified position (e.g., the top left of the screen or the position where the specified image is located), making RPA recognize how many points apart from such a position should be recognized in the coordinates (in the vertical and horizontal directions, respectively).

The way to recognize targets to be operated, such as information systems and applications, by RPA

Difference between conventional system and RPA in terms of inter-system cooperation
The difference between RPA and conventional system in terms of inter-system cooperation is that RPA realizes automation of operations thanks to various functions including UI (user interface) etc. while conventional system does not.
Before RPA became available, system update such as API integration or DB linkage was required for inter-system cooperation.
Whereas, RPA can more easily achieve the same effect as system cooperation through the UI (User Interface).
However, it should be noted that RPA can neither retain nor share data as systems do.

Conventional system and RPA in terms of inter-system cooperation

Difference between RPA and Excel Macro / VBA

RPA also looks similar to Excel's macro / VBA automation, but differs significantly in terms of the following abilities:

  • Enabling process across multiple applications/li>
  • Managing "scenarios" which are executed systematically
  • Developing "scenarios" without programming

Macro / VBA requires code description using a programming language (VBA). On the other hand, RPA can create scenarios using a GUI (Graphical User Interface), so it is intuitive and easy for beginners to use, requiring no special knowledge. Actually, scenarios can be easily created by dragging and dropping actions from a list of actions (e.g., "Repeat" or "Paste") prepared in advance in the tool (called "library or node") to put them into a flowchart.

Scenario flowcharts as a result of dragging and dropping operations to be executed.

What RPA can and cannot do
As introduced in "How does RPA works?", RPA is a tool that "substitutes for operations that people are doing on PC".
RPA cannot do things that, due to limitation of operations or authority, humans can neither do, nor systemize for processing.

What RPA can do

  • PC operation such as keyboard and mouse
  • Discrimination of character strings, figures and colors on a screen
  • Application startup and termination
  • Data collection, organization and analysis
  • Schedule setting and execution
  • Data transfer and receive across applications
  • Data linkage between in-house system and business applications
  • Error handling and automatic response by linking with conditional branch setting and AI function

What RPA cannot do

  • Changing a way of data storage and interfaces inside a system
  • Screen transition, information browsing and updating beyond the range of authority of ID being used
  • Accessing areas or interlinking with systems, that are blocked by the network
  • Obtaining information that is not displayed or searched in UI
    (E.g., Obtaining contract information customer by customer from the DB where the customer numbers are not unique and are managed only by individual contract numbers, etc.)
  • Retention, sharing and management of data
  • Controlling of access rights for systems, OSs, folders, etc.
  • Processing with complicated conditional branching
  • Work that causes many types of errors
  • Processes with variations in repeat cycles
  • Work that requires human judgment while in processing