Modern businesses, including maritime businesses, are increasingly integrating process automation into their operations. As digital transformation permeates our lives, organisations adopt computer-based tools to streamline their workflows. In just one year from 2019 to 2020, Deloitte found the percentage of organisations using automation technologies increased from 58% to 73%.
Some of the most widely adopted automation technologies include robotic process automation (RPA), business process automation (BPA), and digital process automation (DPA). Each has unique features, strengths, and weaknesses, so organisations can choose the best solution for their specific needs and goals. Whether it’s improving efficiency, reducing costs, or enhancing the overall quality of service, process automation is a critical component of modern business operations. This article will focus on RPA.
What is robotic process automation (RPA)?
In RPA, software bots automate repetitive tasks. These bots mimic the way humans interact with software, carrying out actions such as typing, copying and clicking to carry out data entry and calculation tasks, making them ideal for rule-based processes. With today’s low-code/no-code platforms, users can create bots with minimal IT support, lowering the barriers to RPA implementation and enabling even small organisations to harness RPA’s potential.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of RPA in maritime?
As with all new technologies, the advantages of reduced operational costs, and improved accuracy and efficiency must be weighed against the disadvantages of upfront investment, maintenance, increased operational complexity, and human resistance.
The key advantage of RPA over other types of process automation is its comparative simplicity. In 2016, Wartslia automated and deployed their first RPA production process in less than two weeks. According to Nishant Redekar, Process Automation Leader, it was running live in production after week three. However, this simplicity is also a key drawback.
The “Rule of Five” is key to building effective RPA applications: the bots tend to break when they make more than five decisions, manipulate more than five apps, or make more than 500 clicks. Despite this, RPA bots work continuously and tirelessly, providing business benefits such as increased accuracy, efficiency and compliance, reduced costs, and decreased errors leading to enhanced customer satisfaction and improved safety.
However, users must realise that while RPA is a powerful tool, it cannot make informed decisions or independently automate complex multi-step processes. To maximise its benefits, RPA must be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Because of this, RPA is only a small step in the overall automation journey, not the driving force behind an organisation’s digital transformation.
Bruno Deszczynski, chief technology officer at Marcura explained, “Shipping is a global business, but the thing about robotic process automation right now, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t yet have the capabilities to replace the knowledge workers like charterers or operators have. What that means is that you can only apply RPA to fairly limited parts of the process.” For these reasons, a more holistic approach encompassing AI and ML is essential to achieve full automation and digital transformation.
How can the maritime industry use RPA?
Although it is the simplest form of process automation, maritime organisations already use RPA to automate simple processes in shipping and logistics. A few areas where RPA is making a significant impact include:
- Shipment scheduling and tracking: automating the communication and coordination between shippers, carriers, ports and terminals.
- Invoice and order processing and payments: automating the invoicing and payment processes between shippers and carriers reduces paper documents and human verification.
- Procurement and inventory processes: requesting quotes, placing orders, monitoring stock levels and updating records, and forecasting of inventory needs and costs.
Today’s maritime industry relies on repetitive manual processes which haven’t changed significantly from the days of sail. RPA is one tool that can help the maritime industry automate many repetitive, rules-based tasks, offering increased accuracy, efficiency, compliance, cost reduction, customer satisfaction, and safety.
RPA is a simple, accessible, and affordable solution that can help companies respond to changing demands and conditions. For the workers in the industry, RPA can simplify their tasks, empower their decision-making, and improve their well-being. RPA is a simple solution for maritime operations that can help them thrive in the digital age.