What is Robot Process Automation?
For those of you that have been hiding under a rock for quite a few years, Robotic Process Automation or RPA is a tool that can help you with automating your business processes to improve the customer experience and reduce your costs.
For a definition of RPA, I like that from (cio.com)
RPA is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a “robot,” to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. RPA scenarios range from something as simple as generating an automatic response to an email to deploying thousands of bots, each programmed to automate jobs in an ERP system.
From the same article, we also gain this insight
By 2020, automation and artificial intelligence will reduce employee requirements in business shared-service centers by 65 percent, according to Gartner, which says the RPA market will top $1 billion by 2020. By that time, 40 percent of large enterprises will have adopted an RPA software tool, up from less than 10 percent today.
We are certainly seeing this trend in our customers. Many of them are looking at or delivering RPA as part of their digital transformation toolkit. Fortunately, our customers are focussing on process improvement and process design in their value chains and then applying RPA to help with operational efficiency and cost reduction which massively helps avoid some of the challenges with implementing RPA in organizations.
We are massive fans of RPA as a tool and although there are some dissenting voices from technology snobs who would prefer API to RPA all day long, it is difficult to ignore the speed of deployment and the ROI can deliver when used appropriately. Clearly RPA can be a key tool in your business process management approach to deliver process improvement for the right processes.
Leslie Willcocks: When organizations consider proof-of-concept for RPA, they look at the business case and compare it to an IT solution. Often that’s pretty unflattering for IT. In one organization we looked at, the return on investment for RPA was about 200 percent in the first year, and they could implement it within three months. The IT solution did the same thing but with a three-year payback period, and it was going to take nine months to implement. (mckinsey.com)
RPA is not a silver bullet
RPA just like every other digital transformation tool is not a panacea. No matter how good a solution is unless you leverage it in the right way it is not going to deliver improved customer experience and cost reduction. Many a great tune can be delivered on a cheap violin with the right approach just as you can create a terrible output on a Stradivarius.
A bot is a tool in a toolkit, just like self-serve tools, work-flow tools, lean-process maps or six-sigma methodologies. Companies need to apply these tools as part of an orchestrated action, not in isolation. For example, it may be more effective to streamline or eliminate fields from an application form instead of tasking a bot with transcribing it to a system. Or it may make more sense to question why someone needs a thick financial report instead of tasking a bot to mindlessly generate one every month. Or deploying a work-flow system may simplify information flows and create more timely customer alerts resulting in a reduction in the calls a bot may have to answer further downstream. (McKinsey)
RPA requires you to understand your processes first before you can even identify opportunities for automation. Often simple tasks(at a high level) can contain real complexity. Frequently our current processes contain steps that are there for historic reasons or current delivery method constraints. Frequently there are no standard operating procedures at all or if there are they are understood only in business silos. Frequently there are steps that are only there to handle the limitations of current information systems.
You should not be automating unnecessary or wasteful steps. You need to understand and improve business processes not automate waste. You may improve your service level agreement a fraction but you have digitized waste and missed an opportunity to truly transform your customer experience and customer service.
We see several reasons why process mapping, analysis, and redesign work are essential to an effective RPA implementation. The existing business process is often overly complex, with unnecessary steps that could be eliminated before RPA is implemented. RPA involves the codification of business rules, but in many cases, business rules haven’t been examined for many years and don’t make sense in the current environment. In addition, existing business rules are sometimes described as requiring judgment, but in actuality they can be turned into more-accurate and more-consistent algorithms for better, more-consistent decision making. At a leading global logistics company, for example, the business rules in a claims process suggested that decisions on tolerances for refunds required the judgment of a manager. But when interviewed, the manager was able to clearly articulate rules of thumb he followed, which could be defined as rules for the RPA process to follow. (hbr.org)
Can RPA deliver for my company?
The answer is yes and no! RPA can definitely help you with your processes and automation of some tasks. The critical factor is to understand your processes and ensure you focus on identifying the right candidates for robotic process automation. One thing is for sure it is not going away.
The robotic process automation (RPA) market is heated — but to be sustained, RPA must offer more than plugging gaps in legacy systems. We can forecast spending on RPA solutions based on the projected reduction in cubicle jobs due to artificial intelligence (AI) and related technology. We found that the RPA market, while only $250 million in 2016, will grow to $2.9 billion in 2021. Adding AI to RPA will free it from an exclusive focus on rote tasks. AI will account for an increasing portion of the digital workforce, and in the end, RPA will be a small fraction of the overall AI “cubicle” market spend. (Forrester.com)
RPA has been very successfully utilized in financial services which is an industry with a high degree of regulatory compliance. RPA can help your business operations to improve quality and reduce operational risk by ensuring standard operating procedures are adhered to.
RPA is widely used by financial and insurance companies. Industries where routine tasks need automation. RPA can automate financial processes like comparing invoices against shipment notices, or transfering data from email to text systems, or and deploying a call center speech-to-text system as a transactional systems of record. It is for such benefits of robotics process automation that more and more companies are turning to RPA for automating their back- and middle-office processes. (Provintl.com)
One critical ingredient is your process understanding and our experience is that standard operating procedures (if they exist) are out of date and poorly documented, which leads to a low level of process knowledge and understanding within a company. This will need to be addressed to successfully implement RPA and this can feel like a burden and an unnecessary delay to implementation. Believe me, it is not. Lots of costs can be easily accrued building and fixing solutions to poorly understood processes, not to mention the fact you could easily be automating waste.
How to improve your processes for RPA (and other technologies)
At We are Lean and Agile we make improvement easy for you. We believe that process improvement is not a skill just for a small number of business analysts in transformation teams. Business process improvement should be a universal skill that is utilized by empowered operational staff to understand and improve their processes. We do that by equipping you with the best process mapping tools and the training for anyone to use them. Our model is to build sustainable improvement capability in your organization not to do it for you.
Just like with RPA we strongly advise having an organizational center of excellence for improvement that can coach and support a network of operational staff delivering continuous improvement. To improve change management and buy-in for improvement and RPA it is essential to empower the people delivering the processes to identify improvements and to implement them using the range of tools available.
The companies we have seen achieve the greatest success in deploying RPA are those who combine it with the disciplines of process redesign and continuous improvement. (hbr.org)
City of Edinburgh Council as an example, has pulled together both the Improvement and Automation centers of excellence. They did this to address the issues identified earlier in this piece and because the disciplines are so closely linked. A small improvement center of excellence has trained over 200 operational staff to analyze and improve their processes utilizing Engage Process software.
Make process improvement easier
There are many challenges with process improvement and our software helps you solve those. If you are still trying to do this by decorating walls with post its and then spending time transferring that into some mapping tool then we understand your pain. For a start, you need trained analysts because the technology does not help. Secondly, it takes a lot of time to write up data and store in multiple mediums and thirdly you end up with a picture of a process only and stakeholders do not recognize it as its different from what they created in the workshop. Add on top of that remote working and that old method really will not work.
We offer software that you can map live in the workshop saving all that write up time. Also instead of having multiple sources of data, all process data is in one place. And instead of having a picture of a process, you have a process model that will calculate the times and costs to deliver. This then means when you redesign a process you can then compare the two and see how much you will save. There are many other benefits too.
Using Engage Process software will save your analysts between 40-60% of their time not having to write up and maintain data. That time can be spent on improving more processes and delivering more improvements. I know what I would prefer!
If you are doing RPA (or any other change) you do need to understand and redesign your processes and we offer a way to do that faster, easier and better meaning you do not need to have only business analysts improving processes everyone can be delivering improvement.