RPA ultimately empowers your workforce to deliver more engaging (and profitable) work. Implement it smartly, and RPA may be the single most important investment you make this year… or this decade.

Brave New World of RPA

David Palmieri and Don Mathis | RapidRPA

 

Robotic Process Automation, or “RPA”, is a rapidly emerging automation discipline that is taking the business process world by storm. RPA software robots enable substantial efficiency and cost savings while simultaneously improving organizational effectiveness. This allows human workers to better focus on more high-value projects, activities and customer engagement.

According to a report from Everest Group / NASSCOM, the benefits of RPA can be substantial and include: cost reduction to the tune of 35-65%; substantially improved service delivery in both quality and speed; a better ability to manage governance, security, and business continuity; and speedy deployment (generally 2 to 12 months) and time-to-value (12 to 24 months).

The opportunity is enormous. The global robotic automation market will reach $4.98 billion by 2020, and is forecast to grow at 60.5% CAGR through 2020, according to Transparency Market Research. Even more mind-boggling, an analysis by McKinsey & Company puts the opportunity for the automation of knowledge work at $5-7 trillion.

There are many vendors offering different RPA approaches and solutions. Despite recent dramatic advancements in cognitive computing, the industry is still in a relatively early stage of development. Most vendors focus on tactical solutions based generally on rules-based software algorithms versus more sophisticated cognitive computing approaches such as deep machine learning. But, that will soon change. As it does, both the range of processes that can be automated as well as the sophistication of those automations will dramatically increase.

 

“I don’t know what the hell this ‘RPA’ is …. but I want some of it.”

With apologies to WWII US Navy Admiral Ernest J. King for the paraphrase, the quote above increasingly reflects how C-suite executives are viewing RPA and its benefits. As well they should; the competitive advantages rapidly accruing to those firms making an investment in smart automation put their non-automated competitors at a substantial disadvantage.

But as true as this is, the demand for RPA shouldn’t drive a company towards ad-hoc implementations. Too many RPA advocates suggest that it negates the need for good process hygiene, or that it can be implemented without careful consideration of the big picture. Indeed, some RPA evangelists preach that a key value of RPA is that a company can move away almost entirely from process improvement – just turn it over to the robot and quit worrying about it. This is a mistake.

It may be true that even a one-off RPA implementation can add value in a way that would be impossible, for example, in the case of a major systems implementation. But that can be deceiving. In fact, our research and experience demonstrates that a series of one-off RPA implementations runs a high risk of cascading process inefficiencies and increasing operational chaos.

In other words, while RPA will yield substantial benefits, getting it right is critical. And like any good project, planning makes all the difference in the outcome. Here are three key elements you should adopt to ensure a successful RPA implementation:

  1. Adopt a Holistic Approach. To fully capitalize on the opportunities afforded by RPA, focus on transforming business operations and outcomes across the enterprise – not in one off, single or limited use-case implementations. RPA is a great tool, but it is a tool – not a panacea delivered from heaven to fix your most intractable cost center and/or operational challenges.
    In other words, be strategic, not tactical. Examine a whole-of-company approach for implementing RPA as part of a broader end-to-end solution for process automation and improving business process management. Plan for striking a flexible balance – subject to change as the technology advances – between what can be improved with RPA and what shouldn’t be. Usually, processes where repetitive tasks can be automated are the best candidates for early adoption, yielding savings in time and cost. Mission critical supporting tasks, e.g. compliance, are also excellent candidates. On the other hand, recognize where RPA shouldn’t be implemented too, e.g., human-intensive and/or judgment-heavy processes, and core business processes.

  2. Integrate Lean Six Sigma into your RPA implementation. “What!?” we hear you ask, “Lean Six Sigma?!? I thought I didn’t need those over-priced black belts anymore if I just automate all those processes!” RPA absolutely improves upon the classic performance improvement techniques enshrined in Lean Six Sigma. But contrary to what some believe, it doesn’t replace them. In fact, Lean Six Sigma is an enormously helpful discipline for maximizing the success of your RPA implementation.
    As suggested above, automating a badly organized process may appear to yield improvements in the short run. Over time though and with additional automations, the risk of cascading process break-down and failure increases dramatically. Worse, automated processes are far harder to fix than human-managed routines. Lean Six Sigma provides the best approach to mitigating this risk.
    To be clear, we’re not talking here about extensive, months-long Lean Six Sigma projects that never end and produce reams of documentation no one reads. Rather, a quick strike approach is called for to ensure that the processes you automate are reasonably optimized before you power up the robot for the first time. Done properly, a Lean Six Sigma quick strike as a preliminary step in an RPA implementation will do the following:

1) Identify and improve existing processes.

2) Provide a solid blueprint and foundation for automation.

3) Mitigate risk and improve operational efficiency while ensuring successful user adoption.

  1. Don’t forget your Change Management. RPA is clearly a technology effort and an incredibly efficient alternative to big-ticket, invasive IT automation efforts. But at its core – and as counter-intuitively as it may sound – introducing advanced automation technologies in an enterprise is fundamentally a human-based endeavor. It cannot be done well without managing the cultural component of the dramatic changes it introduces. In this regard, change management is crucial and necessary across the enterprise, including everything from helping your company and its leadership think strategically about technology adoption, to maximizing the opportunity for front-line workers and managers to see RPA as a way to enable higher-value activities and not as an existential threat to their livelihoods.   

 

Robotic Process Automation: It’s a Brave New World

With real world business applications ranging from the classic back-office (human resources, finance and accounting, customer care and service centers) to the front-office, RPA provides an enormous opportunity to yield greater efficiency and effectiveness for an enterprise. Moreover, RPA enables the preservation of jobs that might otherwise have gone off-shore, and in the current political environment in America, this may not be a trivial value.

With this promise of the benefits of RPA, we’d summarize our recommendations for its successful implementation at your company as follows:

  • Embrace it! RPA should be a critical part of your enterprise planning, and if you don’t embrace it, you put yourself at a genuine disadvantage to your competitors who adopt it. Make an organizational investment in RPA, and absolutely monitor progress at the highest level of your enterprise.

  • Eliminate the risk of RPA chaos by adopting a strategic, end-to-end mindset. Leverage Lean Six Sigma to improve the processes you choose to automate and prevent cascading process failure. Also, incorporate change management for user success and to help embrace a cultural bias towards increasingly sophisticated technology.

  • Start with your back office operations and plan for RPA – including increasingly cognitive / artificial intelligence-driven RPA – in middle- and front-office.

RPA ultimately empowers your workforce to deliver more engaging (and profitable) work. Implement it smartly, and RPA may be the single most important investment you make this year… or this decade.

 

About David Palmieri
David Palmieri – co-founder of RapidRPA with 25 years of experience in RPA, operations reengineering, technology commercialization, and corporate development.

About Don Mathis
Don Mathis -- a lead investor, advisor and director of RapidRPA with 24 years of experience in technology, management consulting and performance improvement.

 

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