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Why RPA is "stupid" - but its use in SAP is still smart

At least 85 percent of all large companies will be using robotic process automation (RPA) by the end of 2022, according to estimates by IT analysts at Gartner. Although RPA primarily has nothing to do with process optimization, the use of software robots in SAP solutions still makes sense.
Simon Kaul, AFI
June 4, 2020
This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

RPA software robots (bots) mimic human behavior and automatically process repetitive tasks that are true time-eaters in daily work.

This is because information is often distributed across several systems and accessed and merged by the user via different applications.

Here, RPA acts as an interface and can relieve users of a great deal of tedious work. The prerequisite for the simple use of RPA is that the data is structured and runs through a rule-based process.

Above all, the use of RPA saves a lot of time, as SAP has also found on the basis of customer surveys: Employees gain between 15 and 30 percent more time for their core tasks.

This is also confirmed by a 2018 study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of RPA provider UiPath: Here, as many as two-thirds of respondents stated that their previous work had been restructured by RPA, creating more room for strategic work.

57 percent of the decision-makers surveyed also confirmed that the technology reduced manual errors. In addition, 86 percent noted greater efficiency among employees.

The range of applications for RPA is as diverse as structured processes are. RPA takes over the manual effort within unchanged, predictable business processes. Users in SAP in particular often have a high level of effort with recurring manual activities and search for information from different applications in order to then merge them back into SAP.

Therefore, it is obvious to use RPA technology for processes around SAP. For example, it is possible for a software robot to determine tax codes during invoice processing: If no indicator could be determined in the SAP system, then the bot takes over this task via predefined logics, determines the tax code, sets it in the system and attempts to post the invoice.

If the process does not work, the bot sets a visible hint for manual checking by an employee. Or quite simply, but very efficiently: A software robot transfers information from an Excel document to an SAP purchase order without errors and several times a day. It's simple, minimizes typing errors, and relieves a lot of manual workload.

Although RPA technology can streamline processes and reduce errors, it does not improve business processes or IT systems. Comparable to medical diagnoses, RPA treats the symptoms, but not the cause of a grievance.

The aim of software robots is therefore to automate processes without changing existing systems. In classical process optimization, the focus is on the fundamental optimization and modification of the process flow.

Therefore, before using RPA, a process analysis and a clean process documentation are crucial, which also includes the people and software systems used.

The use of RPA opens up many more doors as well as opportunities to automate processes, and the technology can be excellently extended with artificial intelligence. It's a very exciting environment: we've been involved in research here ourselves for quite some time.

At the moment, for example, we are using RPA on a large scale at one of our major pharmaceutical customers, and we get goose bumps ourselves when we experience the effects in practice: And it proves that RPA is more than just hype.

Simon Kaul, AFI

Simon Kaul is project manager for customer products at AFI Solutions.

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Work on SAP Basis is crucial for successful S/4 conversion. This gives the so-called Competence Center strategic importance among SAP's existing customers. Regardless of the operating model of an S/4 Hana, topics such as automation, monitoring, security, application lifecycle management, and data management are the basis for the operative S/4 operation. For the second time already, E3 Magazine is hosting a summit in Salzburg for the SAP community to get comprehensive information on all aspects of S/4 Hana groundwork. With an exhibition, expert presentations, and plenty to talk about, we again expect numerous existing customers, partners, and experts in Salzburg. E3 Magazine invites you to Salzburg for learning and exchange of ideas on June 5 and 6, 2024.


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The organizer is the E3 magazine of the publishing house AG. The presentations will be accompanied by an exhibition of selected SAP partners. The ticket price includes the attendance of all lectures of the Steampunk and BTP Summit 2024, the visit of the exhibition area, the participation in the evening event as well as the catering during the official program. The lecture program and the list of exhibitors and sponsors (SAP partners) will be published on this website in due time.