Kofax offers Kapow, robotic process automation (RPA) software used to acquire information from a range of sources without human intervention and without having to write code. These sources include websites, applications, unstructured documents, data stores and desktop spreadsheets. RPA software does repetitive, low-value work that otherwise may be performed by person. It saves time in these tasks, completing them sooner and freeing skilled individuals to concentrate on work that utilizes their skills to the fullest. One of the earliest uses of software robots was “Web crawling,” which automated rapid collection of data posted on websites, for example, prices and locations. This was the Kofax Kapow’s original purpose, but its scope has expanded. When used to gather information from multiple applications, the software precludes the need for setting up and maintaining a separate data store. This saves time and money while ensuring that the information has come from the authoritative source and that there is no latency in the data. Rather than taking the time to write a program with broad applicability, a robot can be quickly configured to perform a specific task in a way that mimics how an individual does the job.
Kofax recently released Kapow 10, which expands its ability to extract information from and work with a wider assortment of applications, including those written in Windows and Java as well as ERP systems from Oracle and SAP. Kapow 10 works with mainframe applications directly through native mainframe terminal connectivity or through already existing terminal emulator integrations. The company also has improved the product’s queuing to make its robotic process automation more scalable across multiple websites, portals, servers and remote and virtualized desktop computers.
RPA is a relatively new term for software and systems that exist today and are growing in importance. RPA uses programming or analytical algorithms to automatically decide on the most appropriate action in an automated workflow, without human intervention. It represents an important step beyond simple process automation in that it uses software to execute routine but more complex workflows that require judgment.
Automating process execution using programmed workflows became a common feature of business software such as ERP systems in the 1990s. The first generation of workflow enabled companies to accelerate the completion of business processes and ensure that handoffs between individuals or departments were done quickly and accurately. Robotic process automation takes this up a notch in sophistication. It works across one or multiple systems and extends to automating matters of simple judgment.
Robotic process automation often works across multiple applications rather than just one, eliminating the need for an individual to open some other software to, for example, pull information about a transaction to confirm that a shipping invoice matches that order or to extract customer information from one mainframe legacy system to automatically enter a form used to enter information in another mainframe system.
RPA also extends automated workflow into areas that require some judgment. Rather than making an individual check off a step in a routine approval, a robotic system applies an algorithm that decides the next step. For instance, it can test to see if two items have the same value – in which case the step is approved. If they don’t, it determines whether the difference exceeds a percentage or an absolute value and is therefore material. If it isn’t material, the step is approved and completed. The process may end there, or an instruction may be communicated to some other system. Only if it is material does the system generate an alert requiring review by an individual. In other words, the system, not an individual, does what people spend an awful lot of their time doing every day: making simple judgments that most of the time could be done by a machine.
Financial services, including commercial and retail banking as well as insurance, is an increasingly important vertical for Kofax Kapow. One reason is that many banks and insurance companies have multiple legacy systems used in their back, middle and front offices. For example, several countries have know your customer (KYC) rules to prevent financial services companies from being used for money laundering or other criminal activities. KYC requires collection and analysis of basic identity information to confirm its validity, name matching against lists of individuals that are considered to be “politically exposed persons” (a kleptocrat, say) or have characteristics that pose a significant risk of the account being used in conjunction with financing terrorism, tax evasion or identify theft. A KYC data collection process that once might have taken hours and be subject to errors and omissions can be done thoroughly in minutes or less.
Robotic process automation has a range of potential uses in other departments of a corporation or a government entity. For instance, in a call center, a system like Kofax Kapow can gather and display customer information from multiple legacy applications to provide answers to questions, fill in parts of a form to streamline an order process or fill out a trouble ticket to address an issue. In inventory management, companies that have multiple inventory systems can use RPA to identify where an item is available. In finance departments, robots can speed up the financial close by automating and streamlining the process of gathering information from financial and nonfinancial systems. Our Office of Finance benchmark research research correlates the degree to which companies use automation in their close with how soon they are able to complete the process. Those that employ a substantial amount of automation said far more often that they finish within six business days (71%) than those that only use some automation (43%) and those that employ little or none (23%).
I recommend that business executives, especially those in customer-facing roles, logistics and shipping, inventory planning or finance become familiar with RPA because it can be used to “outsource” tedious repetitive work to relatively easily configured software. The same applies to business analysts and those in IT management. The business case for investing in RPA can be compelling. Those who see the need for RPA should assess Kofax Kapow to see if it meets their requirements.
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