Robotic process automation (RPA) is transforming capabilities across industries and within organisations of all sizes. One area where RPA is making significant impacts is within ERP systems. RPA in ERP is the key to unlocking the full power and potential of modern ERP systems, as well as automating those legacy systems businesses rely on for critical aspects of the work.
In this post, we’ll discuss the urgent need for RPA in ERP systems for every organisation and show you how RPA can empower your business, from supply chain industry concerns like inventory management and order procurement to accounts payable, customer service, and everything else your ERP touches.
We won’t go into too much depth about RPA itself here. If you could use a quick refresher, consider our ultimate RPA guide before proceeding here. Or if you’re already across how RPA can help you get the most out of your ERP investment, check out our automation 101 guide to getting started.
Robotic process automation exists in all sorts of software and data contexts. In all of them, RPA follows defined rules to complete tasks in a way that mimics human behaviour. Where a human user could click, copy, type, or duplicate data or files, a software robot can usually be trained to do the same.
RPA in ERP is simply the application of this technology in one of two ways: either within the architecture of an ERP itself, or as a software script that interacts with the ERP suite.
In other words, some modern ERP solutions are building RPA and other similar technologies, including AI-powered business process automation, into their products. And other providers are building external solutions that use the power of RPA to interact with an organisation’s ERP suite.
Either way, the goals and outcomes are the same: generally, RPA is used to automate routine or repetitive tasks so that humans no longer have to do them manually.
Many reasons: humans get tired. They make mistakes. They forget. And sometimes they simply have too much to do and can’t seem to get around to processing that batch of forms or copying over that collection of customer records.
In contrast, an RPA script:
• Cannot get tired or fatigued
• Does not make “human” mistakes (such as transposing two digits or dropping a letter)
• Does not forget steps
• Does not have other jobs to do
• Isn’t limited by the speed of thought
So, for repetitive tasks that follow predictable sets of rules, these software robots are in fact better at the task than human workers. They can operate at a scale and speed human agents can’t fathom — and they never go on vacation.
This isn’t to say that RPA is some kind of utopia where businesses will never encounter challenges. We’ll get to the challenges later. But they are transformative where they work well, including within ERP systems.
They also serve a unique role with newer cloud ERP systems. Bridging the gap between legacy applications and modern cloud-based ERPs is an ongoing challenge. Ideally an organisation will bring all functions into a cloud-ready future, but sometimes this either is not possible or is not practical for the time being. RPA bots are an excellent solution for pulling data from those legacy systems and placing it into the cloud ERP.
ERP systems by definition pull together disparate functions. They must integrate with many other systems and software, including legacy applications. With this in mind, let’s examine several benefits of using RPA in ERP systems.
First, by “outsourcing” to robots various tasks that humans would otherwise do, organisations use RPA to reduce the amount of manual work required for their staff. Because RPA excels at the kind of monotonous, laborious work that humans tend to dislike (and do poorly at, especially when fatigued), most teams and team members look forward to a future state without those tasks. At an organisational level, you’ll also increase availability for high-value, human-oriented tasks.
RPA scripts aren’t particularly intelligent: they don’t handle nuance or ambiguity well. But they are incredibly efficient and stunningly accurate, so long as the parameters make sense. Humans are human, and they regularly make errors, especially in uninteresting tasks like data transcription or copying numbers from place to place. Robots don’t make those errors, increasing your overall accuracy.
As mentioned before, RPA tools can be a perfect solution for bridging the gap between legacy systems and a cloud ERP. For organisations that have made the move to cloud ERP and struggle with gaps requiring manual work, RPA is the answer. For organisations considering the switch but unsure about how to handle this gap, RPA can be the answer that pushes decision-makers in a future-oriented direction.
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RPA is transforming the way organisations use and interact with their ERP systems. Here are three of the ways this is taking place.
Throughout nearly every component of an ERP system you’ll find the capability to generate reports. ERP systems can generally create simple reports automatically already — this is one of the many ERP automation examples that don’t rely on RPA.
Even still, poll the average manager around ANZ, and you’ll find a not-insignificant amount of time still devoted to report preparation and generation.
RPA tools can further automate report generation, creating more complex reports with less manual intervention.
Because ERP systems span departments and functions, integrate with other tools, and assimilate data from a variety of sources, they’re bound to have conflicts. These could range from merely annoying (duplicate customer records) to things that are really quite serious (disagreeing bank statements).
Organisations can use RPA to reconcile records automatically or to verify matching records and flag discrepancies. A more advanced tool (or a human) will likely need to interact with those discrepancies, but RPA discovers them effortlessly, avoiding countless hours of manual checks.
Throughout the supply chain there are dozens upon dozens of manual processes ripe for automation. We’ll cover some specific supply chain RPA use cases later, but in terms of transformation, RPA is shortening supply chain steps, improving customer satisfaction, and solving demand planning — among many other benefits.
Looking for even more on the benefits of RPA in ERP? Check out our Robotics Process Automation Blueprint today.
RPA implementation is not itself automatic nor pain-free. Be aware of challenges such as these.
While an individual RPA bot can scale an individual task exponentially compared to a human performer, RPA as a discipline can be difficult to scale. Setting up one bot is extremely simple. Setting up a thousand, many of which interact with each other, is another matter. Keeping up with those thousand bots when various systems and integrated tools make changes can become overwhelming.
If your business processes seem to be constantly changing, RPA bots can create obstacles to that change. They do not adapt in the ways that humans do. Rather, they must be reconfigured or retrained to adapt to that new process. At scale, this can become challenging to execute and maintain.
RPA is not generally a threat to jobs, but some workers may interpret it as such. On the other side of the spectrum, stakeholders may not understand the power of RPA or may be concerned with the limits to the technology. These challenges can be overcome by careful, consistent communication, but they are among the most common challenges in gaining buy-in for RPA.
Many of these challenges can be overcome by adopting RPA-as-a-Service, where you have on demand access to capability and capacity to ensure you get the most out of your RPA investments.
Below are several real-world ERP automation examples that rely on RPA in whole or in part to enhance ERP systems— including some supply chain RPA use cases.
Many industries — especially those with complex sales processes — still rely on manual or even paper-based processes for elements of order processing. RPA can clean up these elements, pulling data directly into a database, working with customer data in the CRM, and more.
Many functions within an ERP can generate emails automatically, but RPA in ERP systems can extend this ability to far mor complex scenarios. Any number of triggers from various functions can result in an automatic email, greatly reducing the manual load on personnel.
Vendor selection includes many repeatable, low-complexity tasks that can be automated using RPA. Generating an RFQ, verifying credentials or certifications, and processing regulatory and other paperwork can all be automated in whole or in part.
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All of this leads to the most important question: Is RPA right for your organisation?
All organisations that embrace digital transformation will embrace RPA as a part of that transformation. It is rarely the only tool in the toolbox, but it is a crucial one for improving speed, accuracy, and customer relationships all while reducing bottlenecks resource constraints.
Reach out today to learn how Canon Business Services can guide you to the right RPA solution for your business.