Is RPA to Blame for the PPP Loan Application System Error?

Recently, the Small Business Administration (SBA) portal set to submit PPP loan applications crashed minutes after launching. Was Robotic Process Automation really to blame for this system error?

RPA and the PPP Loan Error

Ultimatly, no one really knows if the recent PPP loan crash occurred strictly because of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software. Some speculate that too many applications were in use at one time which resulted in the system crash. Nevertheless, the Small Business Administration (SBA) stated that they will no longer integrate RPA software with existing applications to avoid this issue ever happening again.

However, it’s common for web applications to overload and crash when demand on the system is too strenuous. For example, crashes occurred within several bank portals after stimulus checks were deposited from the IRS. During this time period, millions of Americans were checking balances online at the same time, bogging down the bank’s systems. Therefore, these errors had nothing to do with RPAs involvement in actually processing these checks. Nevertheless, the PPP loan system error has raised several questions regarding RPAs usage and considerations, which we’ll help answer here:

RPA and the PPP loan crash
RPA and the PPP loan crash
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Question 1. Can RPA Automations Break Other Applications?

In general, an RPA program executes tasks considerably faster than a human and has less errors. Therefore, automations can easily overload other applications that are not ready for it. When applications are exposed to the internet they can easily go out of control with millions of users or robots suddenly accessing them.

Whats the Solution?

Simply put, there needs to be a strategic approach to any RPA implementation, even if the implementation serves a temporary purpose. In order to ensure an RPA implementation doesn’t break or hinder existing applications, here are some general steps:

  • Survey the process ahead of time: This is where a business process analysis can come into play, and nurture the understanding of how RPA can complement business process management. In cases of high-volume processes, preliminary load testing is also important.

  • Create a governance board: Create a governance board (even a temporary one) with RPA “champions”, and pair them with your IT team. These champions ideally need to consist of those pulling the trigger on the implementation.

  • Focus on scalability: Put simply, the robotic workforce must correlate with the task at hand. Meaning in this loan processing instance, the quantity and functionality of the digital bots at work should have been scaled significantly.

  • Ensure the right software is selected:  A robust RPA architecture must address tools and processes for handling various types of automation needs. It must also be understood that there is no “one size fits all” tool for your desired RPA functions. Each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Question 2. For transaction purposes, how can you best prepare your software?

Accounting and finance processes are one of the most sought after candidates for an automation implementation. Especially in terms of check processing (or in this case, loan processing), RPA can alleviate the manual strain encompassed in these repetitive tasks.

However, RPA can’t simply be intertwined with a faulty, or unprepared system. Existing applications must be prepared to onboard digital bots taking over certain processes, which in the case of the PPP loan failure, may have not been done properly.

Whats the Solution?

When implementing any automation software, the transaction volume should be considered and forecasted. Stress and load testing should be performed ahead of time to avoid application crashes, which is true for both RPA and non RPA-based transactions. Though the SBA has “banned” the use of RPA in future transnational processes, there’s been no conclusion if the PPP loan system crashed solely because of banks using RPA to submit applications.

Explore how RPA can transform accounting and finance processes >

Question 3. Should You Implement a Flow Controller? 

The first approach when designing an RPA solution is to make it as fast as possible. However, in scenarios like this one, faster is not always better. When pairing RPA among other applications in processes (without a “check and balances” system in place), platforms are susceptible to crash, run slowly, or disrupt the internal process of other applications. Without a trigger-based system in place, workflows are liable to run erratically.

What’s the Solution?

There are several ways to implement flow controllers into automations, which should be considered for applications prone to crashes. Also, RPA applications wait for the portal to be available to start their execution, and have several validations in every step to ensure correct results. This doesn’t mean it will not break the application, but it won’t try to continue processing until the application is back. You should consider the transaction volume if this is an application you don’t want to break or slow down, like your ERP system for example.

The PPP Loan System Error Verdict

Regarding RPA and the PPP loans error specifically, various stipulations could have caused the root issue. Further, because of the integration with other applications present in this particular process (along with speed differences), it’s safe to say this may have caused the system failure. Lack of load testing and workflow balancing/controlling likely also resulted in the system failure, encompassing an overall unprepared effort.

With RPA and Hyperautomation becoming more common, there are multiple considerations to consider when undergoing an implementation, such as – how will these automations impact the performance of existing applications? While this is not a “new” problem, it has arose more commonly in the automation era. However, like any new emerging technology, balances can be put into place to ensure processes are kept in check and operating efficiently.

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