Easy start in IT: what is RPA and how to master the technology from scratch

November 26, 2018 Careers Blog

By Iurii Shubin, GIS Department Project Leader at Intetics

 
Hi there! For nine years I have been working as a PM at Intetics. During my first eight years, I was involved into a project related to geoinformation (GIS) services. We were to create GIS coverage for a major customer.

Several years ago it became necessary to increase process efficiency and the Head of the Department brought an article on a so-called robot revolution. The author of the articles explained what professions would extinct and why. And he also skated over the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. It made me really interested in the subject and I started exploring this topic. I really wanted to break out of the comfort bubble. Moreover, AI and ML are extensively used in GIS-services.

Actually, automation can be used not only in GIS but in procurement or in the finance industry. My introduction to this brand new technology started with attempting to apply RPA to the company’s current front office tasks and internal back office processes.

It was a lengthy process of practicing on the simplest routine tasks. For example, jointly with the Recruitment Team we were working on creation of a bot to extract CVs with a specific technology stack from the database, to adjust them in accordance with the company’s template and send to a headhunter a ready CV.

Our experimental bots were appreciated within the company and indeed significantly cut manual operations. Thus, we turned into an official RPA Team. At the beginning, we worked in a team of two. In a year, five more colleagues (including members of the GIS project) joined our Team. At present, we are working on several client projects and our team is growing. The technology is quite new, few people know about it; thus we have to carry on some promotional activity.

 

What is RPA?

 
Robotic process automation is an application of technology aimed at automating business processes. By developing algorithms on a special platform, a developer gives clear instructions to the robot configuring it to perform required tasks. And if the machine learning functionality is added these instructions may become vaguer and the robot gets more freedom of operation.

Automation may include data processing, interaction between different digital systems, etc.

Our interns practiced to write robots for a web-site offering a selection of musical events. Previously, it was done by people who googled events from all over the world, then translated their description and posted on the site. Now the robot with integrated AI searches for the events and translates the description to the language of the website. And the staff don’t need to spend millions of working hours on googling and translating everything manually.

Another fabulous example of the bot application was elaborated by one of the largest automobile companies. After purchasing car, the bot will contact the customer in any convenient way (SMS, messenger, email), will enlist its services, and also provide any assistance in real-time mode. For example, you do not know why the light is on the dashboard. The bot will help you figure it out; will give advice when it is time to change oil or to refuel. It can also make an appointment for the  service station.

Some people think that RPA, AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) are synonyms. But this is not true. In RPA a robot cannot skew the algorithm and precisely follows the instructions. This is the essence of the RPA. While AI and ML teach the machine to take decision autonomously, deviating from instructions.

However, the RPA technology may embrace elements of AI and ML. These are the ‘hottest’ technologies of the modern IT world.
 

Why is this technology trendy?

 
It all sounds very impressive, but it is necessary to explain why the world’s largest companies are extensively Implementing RPA to their business processes.

RPA leaves no space for an error. As it uses predefined rules, it cannot deviate from them while a person can overlook a tiny detail that will affect the whole process.

RPA helps to cut down the company’s expenses. Once invested into the development of a high-quality robot, the company will not need to pay it salary, benefits, medical insurance and etc.

Moreover, if compared to the development of a special software, RPA ensures sprint implementation and, correspondingly, fast return on investment while it does not involve business process re-engineering and re-configuration of IT systems.

RPA belongs to low-code development approach. Low-code presupposes usage of ready-made modules to create certain solutions. Low-code allows to design and develop software fast and with minimal hand-coding.

This approach brings to the industry new talented professionals who are still lacking coding experience and offers creative challenges to highly qualified professionals. It means that any person with basic programming skills (or even without them) can master RPA and avoid joining the pool of unemployed junior testers and business analysts.
 

How to become an RPA Developer from scratch

 
First of all, an RPA Developer should possess algorithmic/process way of thinking. However, there is a set of skills that are required if you decide to try your hand at RPA:

  • Basic knowledge of Microsoft Technology (VB .NET, Windows, SQL Server, Web Services, MS Office);
  • Basic understanding of rules and principles of code analysis, design, development, injection and support (video lessons would suffice).

Students of engineering and technical faculties and graduates of IT-courses possess this knowledge by default while others may need some training.

Those who would like to explore machine learning and artificial intelligence and learn advanced RPA need knowledge of RPA platforms and tools: Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism, Softomotive, Kryon Leo, WorkFusion, etc. And, certainly, they will need coding skills (Java, Python, .NET, C#). Initially, coding skills are not needed. Though, if you want to learn more of RPA, at least one programming language would be required to extend the existing RPA functionality when it becomes insufficient.

Novices are recommended to undertake the UiPath Academy course. The Automation Academy от WorkFusion is another useful resource where I would advise to take the course Automation Essentials that elucidates business aspects of automation and has a glossary.

We also opened a free RPA training course for juniors.

This is the list of books to get insights of the technology:

And in the end I would like to share a useful Habr article.

This should be enough to start.
 

RPA prospects

 
Though RPA market is still small, it is steadily growing. By 2020, the expenses for RPA will reach USD 1 billion (according to the estimates of Gartner, world’s leading information technology research and advisory company). By this time, 40% of big companies will use RPA tools. Add to this information the demand for artificial intelligence and machine learning and you will get the idea of the growth prospects.

There are not so many Middle or Senior RPA developers  – so even talented newcomers are in high demand.