As the Age of Automation revolutionizes business process management, digital transformation experts are heralding Robotics Process Automation (RPA) as a must-evaluate technology – enabling companies to cut costs by an average of 40 percent, streamline operations, and enhance quality of work without changing existing systems.
It’s easy to understand the hype. RPA automates monotonous, rules-based tasks through a virtual workforce of “bots” – speeding performance and freeing human talent to refocus their time and energy on serving customers and other high-value work. Since machines are more accurate than humans, RPA slashes operational risk as well by drastically reducing errors common in human-performed activities.
It’s also relatively easy to deploy: since RPA essentially interacts with various enterprise applications in the same way humans do, it doesn’t require expensive and time-consuming enterprise application integration efforts.
Expectations for RPA spending among businesses has increased by nearly 60 percent between 2017 and 2018 – and there’s no sign of it slowing down. In fact, Gartner dubbed RPA the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, with revenue expected to top $1 billion by the end of this year.
By 2022, Gartner also predicts that RPA adoption will spread to 85 percent of large and very-large enterprises. Within six years, researchers at Hadoop estimate that companies will reap savings of between $5 trillion and $7 trillion from RPA, with tasks performed equaling the output of 140 million FTEs (Full Time Employees).
In fact, many businesses that adopt RPA are already generating such impressive returns that 70 percent recover their investment within the first year.
But as with any emerging technology, there have also been some growing pains. Deloitte reported that 63 percent of 400 global organizations surveyed in 2017 failed to meet delivery deadlines for RPA projects, causing ROI to suffer. EY estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of RPA projects ultimately don’t succeed.
Where are so many companies going wrong with their RPA implementations? Let’s take a look at eight challenges companies need to address to fully deliver on the promise of RPA.
- Start with the right opportunities. Pilot projects should showcase RPA benefits in a small, controlled way. But too often, enthusiasm about the technology causes decision-makers to choose a relatively large and complex process that’s unsuited to a proof-of-concept. A better strategy is to initially target tasks with low criticality but high user frustration. Starting with a win makes it much more likely that people will support future projects. Tackling complex or critical processes is easier once companies are RPA mature, and even then success is best achieved by automating the highest value or simplest parts first and increasing the percentage of automation over time.
- Have realistic expectations. Unlike machine learning and artificial intelligence, which can also automate workloads, RPA is governed by set business logic and structured inputs. It’s most effective for automating high-volume, repetitive, back office tasks that robots can perform faster, more accurately, and for longer than any human worker. Some of the most successful deployments include extracting and entering data; processing and updating forms; merging, consolidating, and archiving; downloading, updating, and uploading files; and conducting periodic analysis.
Now read this carefully: RPA automates specific tasks, which is night-and-day different from redesigning and automating end-to-end business processes. Used appropriately, RPA is a useful component of a strategic digital transformation. But problems with RPA implementations often arise when business leaders mistake tasks for processes, underestimate the complexity of the processes they want to automate, or try to automate too much. Initially, it helps to think of RPA as the ultimate assistant, carrying out the basic work in a process so people have time for the rest of the high-value tasks.
- Don’t put an RPA band-aid on a broken process. RPA can’t help businesses whose underlying processes aren’t optimized. In other words, your RPA deployment will simply make poor processes more efficient, leading to short-term tactical gains at best. Enterprises that examine the effectiveness of the processes in question before they implement RPA have a far greater chance of achieving sustainable, long-lasting improvements.
- Avoid siloed implementations. The most successful RPA implementations are business-led initiatives that establish a strong partnership with IT at the beginning stages. IT should play a consistent role in delivering infrastructure and software support, as well as governing and managing change in automated processes. It’s also important to establish upfront how technical issues will be handled once bots are deployed to achieve timely resolution.
When a business unit attempts to implement RPA without involving IT, chances are high that it will run afoul of IT architecture, infrastructure, and security. Even worse, if IT isn’t aware that that the unit is using RPA for a process, then the application and its stored information is most likely not covered under any corporate disaster recovery plan.
- Create an RPA Center of Excellence. Neglecting to consider who will run the virtual workforce is a common RPA mistake. Business units wouldn’t put IT in charge of managing their human workforce, and they shouldn’t assume these already-stretched departments will oversee their virtual one, either.
Paramount to successful RPA implementations is establishing or outsourcing a business-led RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) that’s tasked with making efficiency programs a success. Its responsibilities should include developing business cases, calculating potential cost optimizations and ROI, and measuring progress through a defined set of performance metrics. It should essentially create RPA-as-a-Service, operating the robots and offering business process support, software technical support, and infrastructure support for all automation activities.
- Make employee buy-in a priority. At the end of the day, RPA implementations are change management transformations, and overcoming employee resistance is critical to success. Reassure your staff that RPA’s role is to complement human work: automating tasks, not jobs. Educate them about benefits to them and their work – eliminating the most mundane aspects of their jobs and enhancing their value by liberating them to perform more interesting, critical activities that involve uniquely human skills such as critical thinking and creative problem-solving. An engaged workforce is most likely to embrace RPA – despite any disruptions or new responsibilities it creates – and offer thoughtful feedback.
- Never “set it and forget it.” Many companies assume that once bots are set up, they will operate autonomously. But the reality is that bots require constant management and maintenance. Software security patches need to be updated, processes can change, data formats can evolve, and new passwords can prevent bots from logging into an application. Strong governance from a dedicated RPA champion is critical to RPA success – managing the new environment so it can easily respond to changing business requirements. A proper monitoring and alert system can also watch for hiccups impacting performance and quickly identify hidden chokepoints where RPA solutions can bog down.
- Get expert guidance. With half of RPA implementations destined for failure, getting RPA right the first time is key to ensuring that your project delivers cost savings instead of an expensive hit to your bottom line. But most organizations lack the time or expertise needed to deliver on an RPA business case or turn initial efforts into larger-scale programs that provide promised returns.
Qualified RPA experts from Auxis for example, can support your organization's RPA journey, from determining the correct ratio of humans vs. bots to training employees how to manage the software once it goes live. Together, you can create a roadmap that enables you to achieve the full value of RPA as you introduce and scale the technology, learning to navigate areas that have been challenging for others and creating realistic expectations for expected returns. Hiring the right RPA partner ensures solutions that are properly integrated into existing networks, faster ROI, and a significantly smoother transition.
When executed well, RPA can be a valuable asset in a company’s digital transformation, improving the cost, efficiency, and quality of many back office processes and shifting human workers to higher-value tasks. Following these nine steps can help companies ready to begin the RPA journey avoid the pitfalls that can threaten success.
At Auxis, we support organizations through the entire journey, starting as your RPA implementation consultant, all the way to managing and operating RPA for you under our Business Process Outsourcing model.