There’s been a lot of hype about Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Headlines tell us we can transform our business process in as little as 12 weeks using RPA bots.
Benefits are touted, velocity is promised, trends of growth are noted, and new jargon was coined: “Automation arbitrage, a term Gartner uses to describe the recalibration of human labor to drive business outcomes is one of the biggest enablers in this coming decade.” – Gartner, The CIO’s Guide to RPA and Introduction to Hyperautomation.
Hype can be fun, but it doesn’t answer the very practical question, “Can RPA help transform my business?"
This article will answer it for you and help you make an informed decision about whether RPA is right for your organization.
Read on to learn the best-fit processes, work through a decision flowchart to determine whether your process is suitable for automation, and gather helpful considerations to keep in mind as you’re getting started. There are also links to demos and further resources throughout.
First, what is RPA?
Robotic process automation uses computer software (bots) to emulate a human worker interacting with digital systems. RPA bots automate repetitive tasks by interacting with software applications, just as humans do while working.
In short, companies use RPA software to perform repetitive tasks that would usually be done by workers sitting at their computers.
Bots can be programmed to work just like us − logging into and switching between applications, interpreting information, making calculations, and copying and pasting data. Bots can also process data, trigger responses, and communicate with other systems to perform tasks at a high speed without error, which enables organizations to effectively automate tasks, streamline processes, and increase productivity.
Often conflated with artificial intelligence (AI), RPA is non-intrusive and does not require system integration. It sits on top of your existing system to perform business processes, using the same interfaces that humans use. And, unlike scripts or macros, RPA will not break every time there is a minor software update.
Essentially, bots can work in two modes, attended or unattended. This provides flexibility to better meet specific business needs.
Attended bots are typically targeted toward front-office activities and are useful when the entire end-to-end process can’t be automated. These bots are programmed to work alongside humans to complete processes that can pass data between bots, applications, and human workers, or complete specific functions within a process.
Unattended RPA bots execute tasks and interact with applications independent of human involvement. Unattended bots can be triggered by events or scheduled. They will run until a condition is met.
Which business processes are the best fit for RPA?
An important thing to understand about RPA is that it doesn’t add value to every area of the enterprise. Forrester Research, Inc. counsels caution when considering this “shiny new kid on the block.” Therefore, careful consideration, selection, planning, and governance are crucial to the success of an RPA implementation.
First, consider whether your process falls within or is similar to this sample list of business functions that benefit most from RPA:
Finance and accounting − orders, claims, vendor management, accounts payable, and collections.
IT services − software deployment, server and app monitoring, routine maintenance and distribution, batch processing, password reset/unlock, backup and restoration.
HR services − data entry, payroll, time and attendance management, benefits administration, compliance, and reporting.
Supply chain − inventory management, demand and supply planning, work order management, and returns processing.
Next, ask yourself the following questions about the process you hope to automate (see the decision flowchart below for the entire process):
Is it rules-based, standardized, with clear processing instructions or templates?
Is it highly manual, repetitive, and prone to human error?
Do transactions flow at a high volume and/or frequency?
Is it well-documented, stable, and mature?
Are there standard, readable electronic input types?
The above sections represent the critical first step to determine whether automation is right for your process. Completing the exercise of the decision flowchart will make it clear whether you should pursue business transformation via process improvement initiatives, or RPA implementation.
Benefits realized from RPA
There is a reason automation is here to stay, and the sooner you implement RPA, the sooner you create a competitive edge for your business. RPA benefits include:
Reduced costs − RPA can reduce processing costs by up to 80%.
Improved economics, efficiency, and effectiveness through reduction of human error and the costs of duplicate effort, rework, and mistakes.
Transformed and streamlined organization workflows.
Increased compliance and consistency.
Positive impact on operational metrics − reduced focus on non-value-add activities provides time for important strategic tasks and customer relationships.
Improved customer service through agent access to readily available information and reduced manual efforts.
Non-intrusive, seamless integration with existing enterprise systems, resulting in reduced implementation costs.
Extremely scalable across business units and geographies; multiply bots and deploy more as you go.
Improved processes − bots constantly report on their progress, so you can strategically improve processes by using operational and business predictability.
How to ensure RPA implementation success
Clear vision, comprehensive planning, and structured governance are critical factors in the success of any RPA implementation. Proposed changes must be well-defined by leadership, shared by IT and business, and communicated with the affected employees.
Below is a list of success factors to keep in mind as your organization takes its first steps toward automation.
Plan well − a common automation pitfall is lack of governance. RPA programs need centralized control and governance, including formalized methods and standards to ensure maximum benefits.
Avoid working in silos − implementation efforts must be driven by collaboration between IT and the business and based on a clear vision from leadership.
Start managing change early − your people strategy can’t be put off until deployment. The successful realization of benefits from RPA projects requires end-to-end organizational change management (OCM) that is adaptable to the size and complexity of the RPA endeavor.
Communicate widely and frequently − throughout the implementation process, communication is key because bots will change how people do their jobs. In addition, some workers may fear job loss, so communication, transparency, and training can help them embrace this new frontier in business processes.
Manage for, or eliminate, potential surprises − don’t forget to factor in the effects of third-party partnerships and applications. These are an uncontrollable factor of your business environment, so use care when including them in your automated process.
Put process over tools − RPA is not only about rapidly developing bots. A robust governance structure, well-defined opportunity identification process, quality development, and reliable operations are more important than any particular tool.
Stay objective − avoid implementing automation solely for the wow factor” Be sure you understand what you hope to achieve through automation and that you’ve considered the long-term costs involved.
Manage expectations − bots are not the whole solution, and RPA is not a silver bullet; it should be viewed as only part of the automation strategy for the enterprise. You may need a broader strategy, such as system modernization, process transformation, and use of machine learning, to underpin a larger transformation effort. Keep in mind that RPA is not a set-and-forge” process. New bots will need consistent oversight until they are fully trained. They’ll also require ongoing management, especially when there are changes in the system or environment.
Now that you have the facts, you can decide whether RPA is right for your organization.
And if you need help, our team is experienced in leading Robotic Process Automation programs in both advisory and implementation capacities. Our solid partnerships with Microsoft and UiPath, a top RPA vendor according to the 2020 Gartner RPA Magic Quadrant, help us offer the most appropriate technologies available for your organization’s needs.
RPA services that we offer include:
Set up Center of Excellence (prioritization of applications)
Evaluate Book of Work (project work having funding associated with it)
Process mapping and analysis
Develop and upgrade bots
Create run books for bots (procedures for handling tasks, contingencies, and troubleshooting)
Perform monitoring and management (steady state)
Contact Fusion Alliance to discover if RPA is right for you.