While the cost and efficiency benefits of robotics process automation (RPA) are now well known, the process of getting started with the technology is still relatively unclear.
On the journey to automating high-volume, transactional processes in multiple functions across your organization, there are some key lessons to take heed of as your company makes the transition.
Don’t Drink the Vendor “Kool-Aid”
It’s unfortunate, but many RPA software vendors will try to convince you that almost anything can be automated, and tend to oversimplify the actual deployment process.
While the power of these tools can’t be denied, programming a dysfunctional process wastes time and effort, and is less stable upon deployment. In our experience, processes will often require a certain level of standardization or redesign during the automation journey.
Plus, RPA vendors often talk about processes that require dozens of robots and hundreds of workers. While these processes and operations clearly exist – particularly in financial services – and the benefits can be significant, they are not the norm for most businesses, which want to leverage RPA for back office processes that often utilize dozens of employees, not hundreds.
In these scenarios, the investment in RPA may not yield the ROI that the vendors are touting, and a more practical implementation approach is required.
Deep business process expertise and knowledge of your back office environment is equally as important as selecting the right RPA tool, and doesn’t generally come from the RPA software provider. Their business case methodology usually needs to be adapted to a much smaller footprint for most clients.
Partner with an RPA expert
Organizations will often try to implement robotics by themselves, with no internal or external RPA expertise. This can cause their RPA initiatives to go off track, take longer, and cost more money.
Without the right advice, it’s common for companies to select a solution based on price or market presence, and then realize it has many limitations, it’s not scalable, or simply doesn’t deliver the expected (and needed) ROI.
Another common mistake is for companies to task one of their employees to lead the RPA initiative, but the person is so embedded in the day-to-day operations and the way processes currently operate that they lack the necessary objectivity – it takes fresh eyes to identify how activities can be changed and adapted to RPA.
Most RPA advisers or managed services providers can quickly assess your organization, identify the key automation opportunities, and provide a realistic implementation timeline based on having delivered these initiatives multiple times. This initial assessment will provide you with a good estimate of the savings and efficiency opportunity before you make the decision to embark on this journey.
Understand your deployment model options
RPA can be deployed and managed internally, or through an outsourced managed service model. An organization will need to determine which RPA deployment model fits its DNA. For example, many medium-sized firms do not possess the process excellence, technical expertise, and change management skillset to successfully manage the deployment internally.
If built internally, the firm will need to document processes, train the robot (through development and configuration) to perform the process, and build an ongoing support function to monitor the robot and continually reconfigure it as systems and process evolve.
IT departments may be too overloaded with managing their existing systems to find time or resources to adequately support the RPA software and ongoing environment. It is often less costly for these firms to turn to an external BPO Provider to build these capabilities as part of their scope of services.
Embrace your workforce
According to ISG Insights, the rate of RPA/AI adoption is set to double by 2019, creating significant impacts on the global workforce. Even so, this doesn’t mean your employees should feel disengaged with the initiative.
RPA requires a new set of skills and capabilities that must be learned and performed by someone. That someone would ideally be from your existing workforce that is currently executing the tasks manually. In the end, the tasks to be automated are those that most employees would gladly relinquish. Educating employees on how RPA will allow them to focus their time on higher value-added activities will help get them on board.
Whether they want it or not, automation is going to come sooner or later, so the sooner they get involved with it, the larger their competitive advantage on the back office and process optimization career path. Your highly engaged best performers are likely to embrace the change and jump at the opportunity to perform higher value work, while the less engaged bottom performers will resist change and look for an exit.
It is important to realize that RPA should be viewed as an integral component of your back office operation going forward, and not simply as a “project”. The key to success is to start small, prioritize initiatives, and build momentum towards full deployment over time. An initial “Fit Analysis” can quickly identify and prioritize processes that deliver the most benefit with the least amount of complexity.
A typical best practice is to perform an initial proof of concept by automating a small number or processes with limited investment. If successful, the proof of concept confirms the value of automation while also delivering savings to fund additional deployment. Additionally, success will build organizational and executive buy in – any major change initiative needs quick wins to build and sustain the momentum needed to push through an organization’s inherit discomfort with change. It also creates an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned and adjust the implementation strategy based on the initial experience.
After a successful pilot, you’ll be ready for a broader deployment across the organization. This phase of the RPA journey involves an iterative process of business analysis, bot development and configuration, training, and testing, while incorporating the lessons learned from the pilot.
During this time you should also be building a support structure for ongoing operations and management. The bots are now part of your ongoing operation and like other aspects of your business require continuous monitoring, support, and tweaking. The benefits of RPA can be significant for an organization, but like anything else, it requires commitment, investment and planning.
Our experience has shown that the mistakes that companies make in implementing RPA is from under-estimating the effort and knowledge needed to implement it. Having realistic expectations and good guidance and support, coupled with a well-thought out implementation strategy and a rigorous deployment methodology, will help to ensure RPA success.