What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

9 minute read | 21 Dec 2023

By Boomi

Time-consuming, repetitive tasks consume valuable resources and hinder productivity, no matter your industry or business. Liberating skilled workers from these mundane duties and empowering them to focus on strategic, high-value work leads to better employee satisfaction, better customer service, and, ultimately, a better bottom line. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a simple solution that helps your company do just that.

RPA automates processes via rule-based software, enhancing efficiency, reducing errors, and boosting business success. Let’s explore how RPA works and how it can modernize your operations, freeing up your workforce for more creative and critical endeavors.

What Is RPA?

RPA is a technology that uses software robots or “bots” to automate repetitive tasks in business processes. Combining APIs and user interface (UI) interactions, RPA integrates with various productivity and enterprise applications. RPA autonomously performs tasks such as data entry, data extraction, and document processing by deploying scripts that mimic human interactions with these digital systems.

RPA is typically used to streamline and optimize operational workflows and reduce the burden of manual, time-consuming tasks in various business functions. RPA brings numerous benefits for your human workers, especially in how it frees workers from rote, repetitive tasks and lets them spend more time doing value-added tasks.

How Does RPA Work?

RPA operates logically within a rules-based structure, relying on predefined instructions to perform tasks. Here is an outline of how this process works, and design one.

  • Identification of Tasks: The first step is for your organization to identify the processes within a business workflow that are repetitive and suitable for automation. These tasks should have a clear and structured sequence of steps.
  • Process Mapping: Human workers map out the process and create a step-by-step workflow with a clear start and finish point.
  • Logical Process Design: Manual process steps are broken down into a series of logic-based rules that the RPA bot can follow.
  • Development of Automation Scripts: RPA developers create automation scripts, which are sets of rules and instructions that instruct the RPA on performing each task step.
  • Data Input and Output: RPA bots often need access to data, both for input and output. Design the logical process and specify how the bot retrieves, processes, and stores this data.
  • Integration with Applications: Developers program the RPA bots to interact with various software applications and systems like a human user would.
  • Deployment: It’s important to remember that RPA can only work within the logic that you formulate, so run thorough tests and keep an eye out for potential issues. Once the automation is thoroughly tested and validated, deploy it in a production environment.
  • Monitoring and Maintenance: If any changes occur in the underlying systems or should new exceptions emerge, the logical process may need to be manually updated. Maintenance and ongoing optimization ensure that RPA remains effective.

When to Use RPA?

On the most basic level, RPA can help with all kinds of data-based repetitive tasks, such as:

  • Copying and pasting
  • Moving files
  • Filling in forms
  • Other data-driven, repetitive tasks that are rules-driven

However, there are better use cases for RPA in more complex environments. A critical feature of RPA is that it can perform tasks between two unrelated applications. This leads to new, exciting use cases in various fields.

RPA Use Cases

So, how can RPA work in your field? Here are just a few of the ways that RPA can transform processes in different industries.

  • Human Resources
    • Onboarding/offboarding employees
    • Payroll processing
    • Leave management
  • Finance
    • Invoice processing
    • Expense report automation
  • Sales
    • Lead enrichment through data services
    • Lead standardization against internal standards like NAICS codes
    • Sales order processing
  • Marketing
    • Email marketing automation
    • Lead scoring and segmentation
  • Administrative
    • File management
    • Data management tasks
  • Healthcare
    • Claims processing
    • Appointment scheduling
  • Retail
    • Warehouse order processing
    • Inventory management
  • IT
    • Password resets
    • Security monitoring and alerting IT team to potential threats

Benefits of RPA

Because the RPA software bots can work 24/7, rote tasks are accelerated, as is operational efficiency. RPA also reduces the risk of human error in repetitive tasks, improving data accuracy and compliance with regulations. This can be particularly beneficial in tasks involving data entry and validation.

By automating routine activities, RPA helps companies reduce labor costs and improve resource allocation. That enables organizations to achieve cost savings while maintaining or even increasing productivity. Additionally, human workers can offload routine tasks to RPA software, allowing them to concentrate on strategic, creative, or customer-focused tasks requiring critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This improves productivity all around.

RPA can quickly scale to accommodate fluctuating workloads. When business needs change, deploying additional robots or adjusting existing automation processes is easier than hiring and training additional human staff. RPA can ensure that routine tasks are consistently performed in accordance with regulatory requirements and company policies, reducing compliance risks.

Challenges of RPA

However, RPA has its challenges. Security concerns loom large, as RPA involves the integration of software robots with critical systems and data, necessitating robust safeguards against data breaches and unauthorized access.

Scalability is another hurdle, as companies must be prepared to expand their RPA capabilities to accommodate evolving workloads, requiring careful planning and investment. The misalignment between different departments can hinder the seamless adoption of RPA across an organization because they’re focusing on their own specific objectives.

Finally, the risk of automating the wrong processes is a concern. The failure to thoroughly analyze and select suitable processes for automation can result in inefficiencies and wasted resources, emphasizing the need for a thoughtful, well-coordinated RPA strategy.

What’s the Difference Between RPA and AI?

RPA and artificial intelligence (AI) are often confused, but they are pretty different. While RPA uses an algorithm to simply follow rule-based tasks, AI uses an algorithm to recognize and react to complex data sets.

RPA automates rote, repetitive tasks with predefined rules, lacking learning or adaptability. AI encompasses technologies for simulating human intelligence, including learning, decision-making, pattern recognition, and handling complex, unstructured data. While RPA streamlines repetitive processes, AI revolutionizes decision-making and problem-solving, marking a significant distinction in their functionalities.

Taking RPA to the Next Level

RPA alone cannot automate the integration required to consume, deliver, and exchange information. To unlock RPA’s most significant potential, integration is a necessity.

Integration empowers RPA to operate more intelligently and efficiently, offering more value. For example, integrating data analytics tools allows RPA to extract insights from processed data, enhancing strategic decision-making. The connection with APIs and IoT devices can extend RPA’s reach into diverse systems and processes, amplifying its transformative impact on businesses.

As RPA depends heavily on data, APIs, and workflow automation, as more businesses adopt RPA, the demand for bigger and better integrations to exchange data between RPA and business applications will also grow.


If you want to take RPA to the next level, you need a unified platform that seamlessly integrates your tech stack. Boomi’s unified platform helps businesses achieve higher productivity and a more efficient workflow. Boomi Integration works seamlessly with RPA to ensure data is synchronized, accurate, and updated. Boomi’s API Management makes the provision of application-level API keys to track business value easy. These and other critical aspects of the Boomi platform mean that you can effortlessly unlock the full potential of RPA.

Read our tech brief to find out more about how you can Achieve Holistic Process Automation with Boomi and RPA.