An RPA Road Test: Internal auditors at a freight transportation company take robotic process automation for a test drive.

Author:Wright, Rick
Position:ROBOTICS - Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) has received a lot of attention lately for its ability to streamline processes and increase efficiency. Simply stated, RPA is the automation via virtual robots (bots) of computer-based tasks traditionally performed by people. RPA bots consist of software programs that mimic repetitive actions exactly the way a person would perform them. In the business world, RPA has gained momentum as a tool for automating standard repetitive tasks that require little human judgment or thought. The technology frees up meaningful time for humans to perform work that is, well, more human-tasks that require more analytical or intellectual brain power.

Rudimentary RPA has been around for decades. Spreadsheet macros, for example, have long enabled users to record keystrokes and automate basic tasks with the click of a mouse. Today, RPA bot development is much more sophisticated. Bots are unbound from a single system or database and can manipulate unstructured data-such as by "scraping" it from a screen shot based on a keyword, phrase, or screen location.

The technology's powerful capabilities have enabled multiple uses of RPA, from automating account reconciliations to performing audit tasks. With these capabilities in mind, the internal audit function at YRC Worldwide (YRCW), a trucking company specializing in freight transportation and logistics services for North American shippers, undertook a pilot program to implement RPA technology. The effort was a success, paving the way for a formal implementation plan and future RPA rollout.


With a staff of 17, YRCW's internal audit function is organized into two distinct groups--one specializing in regulatory compliance and risk-based, back-office assurance and consulting engagements; the other focused on compliance and operational reviews related to YRCW's network of more than 300 freight terminals. Internal audit's RPA pilot focused on this latter area.

YRCW management has consistently made one request of the internal audit team: Provide more audit coverage with the same amount of staff.

In keeping with this challenge, audit leadership strives to innovate and has embarked on a strategic mission to create the "terminal audit of the future." Terminal audits consist of transactional and observational testing to provide regulatory and operational compliance assurance, using standard audit programs to provide a consistent measuring stick for evaluating freight terminal performance.

The YRCW audit function has a multiyear track record of year-over-year audit coverage increases. With each successive year, however, these increases become more difficult to sustain. The goal of the audit-of-the-future strategy is to not only increase audit coverage, bur also to enhance internal audit's value proposition by adding to its repertoire of services. Audit leadership saw RPA's potential in this regard as a critical piece of internal audit's strategy. Automating portions of the standard terminal audit program could free up valuable staff resources, allowing more focus on other value-added services.


In preparation for the audit of the future initiative and its RPA component, YRCW internal audit leadership assessed several factors. First, leadership examined staff...

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