Robotic process automation (RPA) is considered as a disruptor in operations by several large- and mid-sized organizations. Organizations are looking for their resources to focus on value-added activities. Hence the focus is on process streamlining, RPA implementation on manual/repetitive activities, and cost reduction.
Robotic process automation is not about replacing a human workforce with a digital workforce. Instead, it provides a very strong tool for the human workforce to use it at any time of the day and meet business objectives in a better way. However, this replacement cannot be completed unless accepted and supported by all stakeholders in the workforce. In most organizations, robotic process automation is considered as a tactical tool handling transactional activity and as a replacement when the human workforce is not available during non-business hours. Even most of the RPA bots are implemented in silos and do not get the right level of sponsorship. This silo approach does not provide the intended benefit of an RPA-enabled digital workforce.
Several analysis have shown that RPA without a well-thought out approach can lead to costly mistakes. If RPA implementation projects are not managed properly, they will either fail to produce desired results, or cost much more than planned. Below are the success factors which are key to achieve business benefits out of robotic automation implementation.
RPA automation is historically seen as a tactical and quick win tool to achieve business benefits. In most cases, RPA is sponsored by individual IT/business units in isolation. In some other cases, RPA is implemented by the client’s IT team only to look at RPA as a mere cost reduction lever. Their resources are engaged in other business support activities as well and do not achieve the complete cost reduction benefit.
This approach has its own limitation when an organization wants to scale RPA to achieve bigger business goals. IT investment needs to be driven by business goals. Robotic automation as a transformation lever must be adopted by the C-suite. RPA opportunities need to align with business strategy to adopt it at an enterprise level.
Common to any transition, change management holds the key for RPA. RPA is considered as a replacement of human workforce by digital ones. Hence, business/support teams perceive that their job is at stake which makes them disinterested in RPA implementation. Instead, they should consider it as an additional tool in hand to help them execute their jobs.
Senior executives need to drive the change implications for people, process, technology, and structure for any organization leading in RPA automation. They need to establish a global RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) to drive change transition along with senior executives.
RPA programs need to be managed at an enterprise level. A common mistake is to consider RPA as another piece of software and limited governance provided by IT. The scaling of RPA is seen as just spreading software across processes. Instead, a full-blown program with governance practices and a sound operating model needs to be applied for successful implementation.
Key stakeholders from client-business (sponsors and champions), client-IT, system integrators, and, if required, an RPA tool vendor need to be made part of this governance. The governing team will define business goals such as productivity, accuracy improvement, and 24-hour RPA bot availability and help define RPA business cases.
Major risk contributors in RPA projects are underlying applications whose change is followed by identifying the right process, governance structure, and resourcing. The risk of applications change can be mitigated by the following:
- Having all development/test/production instances of underlying applications
- Communicate any change in applications in advance so that the RPA team can conduct impact analysis
- Follow the same approach when upgrading to new versions
- For implementation, there must be separate levels defined within governance such as weekly implementation governance, fortnightly program governance, and monthly steering committee governance, among others. This will ensure that the implementation is heading in the right direction and risk, if any, is recognized and mitigated early on.
- Resourcing is one of the key challenges as talent pool is growing slower than demand. To mitigate it, service providers need to identify the right resources with technical skills within the organization and create an in-house talent pool across platforms through trainings, POCs, and shadow projects.
Identify Right Processes to Automate
Not all processes are right for RPA. It provides best ROI when processes are manual, data-heavy, and rule-based with structured data and limited exceptions. Wrong process selection erodes away the benefits of RPA. Hence, prior to RPA execution, process maturity and RPA readiness assessment (due diligence and process discovery) are necessary. HCL’s 3-level BPM approach and Rapid Assessment Framework help in understanding process maturity and RPA readiness respectively. It must be ensured that ROI from RPA is set before assessment.
The assessment creates a list of RPA potential process candidates. It will help in identifying the second-tier of process candidates where minor process re-engineering will be required prior to RPA implementation. This helps organization to reduce exceptions and ensures greater efficiency and a higher ROI.
For large RPA engagements, it is advisable to first implement RPA for easy/simple processes. Client-specific experience and knowledge acquired from simple process automation can be leveraged during automation of complex processes.
Measuring Cost Benefit
Getting the right measurement is a key to drive business benefit. In RPA, cost-benefit analysis needs to be based on total cost, expected benefits, and strategic returns from technical options made possible by RPA. Total cost must investigate human/organizational cost, risk and compliance cost, and training and bot maintenance cost for its lifetime. Typically understated real cost leads to significant increase in cost considered in the business case.
Limitation in RPA assessment has been in establishing benefits. Other than productivity benefit, organizations need to consider benefits out of resource recruitment, improved customer satisfaction, and lower risk and compliance costs as well.
As RPA matures, it will continue to take hold of automation practice in the organizations. RPA will move to the next stage of cognitive RPA and organizations will find methods to get better precision and efficiency in implementation, and hence, greater benefits. RPA enables organizations to automate routine, repetitive tasks, and therefore free up talent to add value by taking on more qualitative and strategic level initiatives.
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