The global COVID-19 pandemic is pushing enterprise organizations to innovate like never before. Even business leaders who have been slow to adopt automation technologies are pressuring their IT departments to leverage them as agile solutions for business continuity and revenue enablement. But too many enterprises struggle to accelerate successful RPA implementations, finding themselves stuck in the pre-automation phase or with only a few automations that deliver minimal value. Others have achieved some success but need the bandwidth to move faster.
Forrester Research predicts automation like RPA will be key to surviving the “new normal” emerging after COVID-19 - reducing dependencies on manual processes and individuals, and providing more timely access to actionable data and insights.
Even as economic uncertainties force most CFOs to implement cost containment initiatives, only 16% said they plan to cut investments in digital transformation, according to PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey. Instead, nearly half said they plan to accelerate automation efforts as they prepare for a post-pandemic world.
But with RPA project failure rates at 30 to 50%, how can organizations ensure RPA implementation steps that deliver on the technology’s promise?
At Auxis, we believe establishing three critical pillars will accelerate successful RPA implementations:
1. Set realistic expectations
Misunderstanding the capabilities of RPA destines a project for failure. Make no mistake, RPA is a transformational and disruptive technology. It typically reduces the cost of existing manual operations by 40%, enables 41% productivity gains, and allows 70% of companies to recover their investment in less than a year. And it does that without requiring organizations to assume the headache of changing existing systems.
But while its results are impressive, RPA is not meant to deliver 100% automation. If that expectation isn’t managed upfront, business leaders may abandon the journey because they incorrectly assume that failing to achieve pie-in-the-sky results indicates their processes are “too complex” for automation.
Here’s the reality: RPA automates a clearly defined process, but many organizations don’t realize how many process exceptions exist in their day-to-day operations. Since robots are trained to specific user interfaces, they can’t adapt when something unexpected inevitably occurs, such as an external application that’s updated or replaced, a new pop-up, or an invoice that includes items not in the system.
Having a strong business process design team that can anticipate and prepare for process exceptions is critical to RPA success. While it’s impossible to forecast every new pitfall that may arise, RPA teams with extensive experience building bots and that know how to ask the right questions during the design phase will ensure robots achieve the desired productivity and efficiency.
2. Build trust in the RPA technology
For a successful RPA implementation, human operational workers must believe the digital workforce can do its job properly. Employee resistance to changing “the way things have always been done” is a significant source of RPA project failures. Gartner reports that 46% of CIOs rank culture change as the biggest barrier to successful digital transformation projects.
Too often, employees instantly revert to performing an automated process manually if a problem occurs. Instead, they should be conditioned to consider what changed before, during, or after the process to trigger an error.
Organizations can count on robots to accurately execute tasks the same way every time. Issues occur when they’re asked to perform a task that’s outside their programming parameters.
3. Maximize RPA’s value
Senior stakeholders agree to embark on RPA implementations because of the value they can offer: increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving customer service or the customer experience, enhancing service-level performance, and enabling automated controls in a process without changing the underlying system. Partnering with an RPA implementer with a proven track record for success is key to realizing the expected value that maintains C-suite support.
Lulled by the seeming simplicity of RPA, some businesses attempt to keep their RPA journey in-house. But since RPA is a newer technology, this typically forces organizations to either recruit experienced staff in a tough IT labor market or train existing employees before implementation can begin.
Unfortunately, workers without deep RPA experience are likely to underestimate the complexities of implementations, as well as the efficiency of the organization’s business processes. Too many enterprises suffer implementation and budget overruns that eat into their ROI because the project timeline stretched longer than expected. Poor RPA design that fails to account for and correct inefficient business processes also impacts value capture, causing efficiency and productivity gains to evaporate.
Such challenges make it difficult for organizations to achieve value from automation by scaling beyond the initial use case. Most respondents to the 2020 SSON State of the Global Shared Services Industry Report utilize 10 or less bots in their automation. Nearly half - 46% - have only managed to automate 10 or fewer processes.
The source of these statistics makes them particularly concerning, as the shared services industry boasts more advanced automation skills than the average enterprise. Deloitte reports that while 53% of enterprises have started an RPA journey, only 3% have achieved any form of scale.
RPA implementations are not as simple as they often appear. Issues can spiral under inexperienced teams, causing senior stakeholders to lose faith in the technology. Projects also stall when companies struggle to identify processes that could benefit from automation beyond the initial Proof of Concept (POC).
But with the new urgency to maximize resilience in the post-coronavirus economy, let’s examine how organizations can ensure those three important pillars are firmly in place, accelerating their journey toward a productive digital workforce.
1. Envision the role RPA will play in your organization. Failing to align your executive team behind a clear vision of how automation will improve business processes can stall or outright stop an RPA journey.
2. Utilize an opportunity management process. Many organizations lack a well-defined system for evaluating, selecting, and prioritizing different automation opportunities. Putting opportunity management processes in place identifies RPA candidates that will deliver the greatest value to your organization.
3. Define an RPA governance framework and operating model. Robots aren’t a build-it-and-forget-it investment; they must evolve to adapt to changes in your business. For successful RPA implementations, companies need proactive maintenance plans that ensure bots continue to function properly, remain relevant, and provide maximum benefits to the organization.
4. React quickly to minimize operational downtime. Many bots are programmed to extract data from external sources outside your organization’s control. And unfortunately, in those scenarios it’s impossible to avoid sudden changes bots aren’t programmed to handle, such as the launch of a new website. Having a skilled support team that can quickly identify the issue and update the bot’s programming is essential to ensuring minimal downtime for your operation.
5. Strike the right balance between talent acquisition and cost management. The newness of RPA technology combined with the ongoing labor shortage in IT creates a double-whammy for organizations considering in-house teams, driving salaries sky-high. An outsourcing partner with an established RPA Center of Excellence removes the risk of finding and maintaining scarce and costly talent from your business. Choosing a partner with a transparent risk-sharing model - instead of a time and materials structure - also protects a company’s ROI by keeping costs under control.
6. Consider a hybrid approach. Implementing RPA in an organization requires a new set of skills to effectively design, monitor, and optimize usage of the bots. But many businesses struggle to justify the commitment and expense of staffing an entire in-house team. A hybrid model that establishes a partnership between some in-house resources and a reputable RPA provider enables companies to effectively scale.
Pandemic lockdowns left many organizations scrambling to find the quickest and easiest way to ensure business continuity by automating office work. Already the fastest-growing segment in the enterprise software market, RPA makes businesses more competitive and resilient by automating routine tasks without investing in a big software project or worrying about legacy systems.
But many organizations don’t know how to implement RPA effectively. Following these simple RPA implementation steps and partnering with the right provider can help revolutionize your business with business process automation.