One of the newer buzzwords in the IT world is Robotic Process Automation, or RPA for short.

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, it is an emerging form of business process automation technology based on the notion of metaphorical software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.

In short, it is a way to automate business processes based on observing how work is done and then finding a way to do it in software. So the robot is software that reproduces what the human would do using a keyboard, mouse and screen.

In the past, there were many software products that worked around the concept of screen scraping. The data that appeared on a screen was captured, usually by terminal emulator software, and was analyzed by another application. In the end some automated action could be taken based on what was on the screen.

With RPA, the screen itself can be eliminated. A robot can “see” what would have gone on the screen if there was one or can just analyze the data that would have been displayed.

In vehicle routing for the last mile of a supply chain, a route planner would have a list of work assignments that would be assigned to specific vehicles or workers. Many software applications used a drag and drop interface to perform this function. The route planner would use his or her knowledge of the geographic area to make the assignments attempting to meet the needs of the customers at the lowest transportation cost.

There are two sides of the process that can be given to a software robot:

First, the reading of the work to be done and the process of moving it to a route. Since there is always a considerable amount of thinking before assigning work, the total time to make a set of assignments could be reduced by using a robot.

Second, the route planner usually makes assignments is a less than optimal way. There are many possible low cost solutions, but the human cannot see the whole picture, especially when there are a large number of stops, some with time windows and where the assignments are made to capacity controlled vehicles. In the end, a “divide and conquer” strategy has to be used to break the large problem down into multiple small ones. The artificial intelligence in the cost minimization part of the robot produces a solution that is economical to execute, as well as doing the assignments in less time.

Is RPA important today?

A Google search today found four paid ads above the Wikipedia article. And these were followed by quite a few articles explaining how it works. There is obviously more than just a little interest in the idea today.

Can it be put to good use in finding the best set of assignments to minimize transportation costs?


Visit us at Strategic Movements and see how Strategic Movements can reduce the cost of last mile route planning and the overall transportation costs, as well.

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