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Robotic process automation software is increasingly being adopted by organizations to improve processes and make operations more efficient.
In manufacturing, the use cases for RPA range from reducing errors in payroll processes to eliminating unneeded processes before undergoing a major ERP system upgrade.
In this Q&A, Shibaji Das, global director of finance and accounting and supply chain management for UiPath, discusses the role of RPA in manufacturing ERP systems and how it can help improve efficiency in organizations.
UiPath, based in New York, got its start in 2005 as DeskOver, which made automation scripts. In 2012, the company relaunched as UiPath and shifted its focus to RPA. UiPath markets applications that enable organizations to examine processes and create bots, or software robots that automate repetitive, rules-based manufacturing and business processes. RPA bots are usually infused with AI or machine learning so that they can take on more complex tasks and learn as they encounter more processes.
What is RPA and how does it relate to ERP systems?
Shibaji Das: When you're designing a city, you put down the freeways. Implementing RPA is a little like putting down those freeways with major traffic flowing through, with RPA as the last mile automation. Let's say you're operating on an ERP, but when you extract information from the ERP, you still do it manually to export to Excel or via email. A platform like [UiPath] forms a glue between ERP systems and automates repetitive rules-based stuff. On top of that, we have AI, which gives brains to the robot and helps it understand documents, processes and process-mining elements.
Why is RPA important for the manufacturing industry?
Das: When you look at the manufacturing industry, the challenges are always the cost pressure of having lower margins or the resources to get innovation funds to focus on the next-generation of products. Core manufacturing is already largely automated with physical robots; for example, the automotive industry where robots are on the assembly lines. The question is how can RPA enable the supporting functions of manufacturing to work more efficiently? For example, how can RPA enable upstream processes like demand planning, sourcing and procurement? Then for downstream processes when the product is ready, how do you look at the distribution channel, warehouse management and the logistics? Those are the two big areas where RPA plus AI play an important role.
What are some steps companies need to take when implementing RPA for manufacturing?
Das: Initially, there will be a process mining element or process understanding element, because you don't want to automate bad processes. That's why having a thought process around making the processes efficient first is critical for any bigger digital transformation. Once that happens, and you have more efficient processes running, which will integrate with multiple ERP systems or other legacy systems, you could go to task automation.
What are some of the ways that implementing RPA will affect jobs in manufacturing? Will it lead to job losses if more processes are automated?
Das: Will there be a change in jobs as we know them? Yes, but at the same time, there's a very positive element that will create a net positive impact from a jobs perspective, experience perspective, cost, and the overall quality of life perspective. For example, the moment computers came in, someone's job was to push hundreds of piles of paper, but now, because of computing, they don't have to do that. Does that mean there was a negative effect? Probably not, in the long run. So, it's important to understand that RPA -- and RPA that's done in collaboration with AI -- will have a positive impact on the job market in the next five to 10 years.
Can RPA help improve operations by eliminating mistakes that are common in manual processes?
Das: Robots do not make mistakes unless you code it wrong at the beginning, and that's why governance is so important. Robots are trained to do certain things and will do them correctly every time -- 100%, 24/7 -- without needing coffee breaks.
What are some of the biggest benefits of RPA in manufacturing?
Das: From an ROI perspective, one benefit of RPA is the cost element because it increases productivity. Second is revenue; for example, at UiPath, we are using our own robots to manage our cash application process, which has impacted revenue collection [positively]. Third is around speed, because what an individual can do, a robot can do much faster. However, this depends on the system, as a robot will only operate as fast as the mother system of the ERP system works -- with accuracy, of course. Last, but not least, the most important part is experience. RPA plus AI will enhance the experience of your employees, of your customers and vendors. This is because the way you do business becomes easier, more user-friendly and much more nimble as you get rid of the most common frustrations that keep coming up, like a vendor not getting paid.
What's the future of RPA and AI in organizations?
Das: The vision of Daniel Dines [UiPath's co-founder and CEO] is to have one robot for every individual. It's similar to every individual having access to Excel or Word. We know the benefits of the usage of Excel or Word, but RPA access is still a little technical and there's a bit of coding involved. But UiPath is focused on making this as code free as possible. If you can draw a flowchart and define a process clearly through click level, our process mining tool can observe it and create an automation for you without any code. For example, I have four credit cards, and every month, I review it and click the statement for whatever the amount is and pay it. I have a bot now that goes in at the 15th of the month and logs into the accounts and clicks through the process. This is just a simple example of how practical RPA could become.