I suspect that a high percentage of people reading this article are already familiar with the basics of Robotics Process Automation (RPA), and the significant cost savings and efficiencies that RPA can bring to your organization by automating high volume, transactional processes in multiple functions including Finance, HR and IT.
Now that it’s clear that you need to start evaluating RPA and how to implement it in your organization, I’m sure there’re many open questions about how to get started. The purpose of this article is to briefly point out five key lessons learned on how to jump start a Robotics Journey, based on our experience as both an advisor and a managed services operator of RPA:
1. Don’t drink the vendor “Kool-Aid”
As Gartner cited in a recent RPA study, “The expectations of robotic process automation (RPA) are as significant as the confusion about the technical capabilities of the RPA tools themselves.”
Many RPA software vendors will try to convince you that almost anything can be automated and tend to oversimplify the actual deployment process. While the power of their tools can’t be denied, programming a dysfunctional process wastes time and effort, and is less stable upon deployment. In our experience, processes will often require some degree of standardization or redesign during the automation journey.
Plus, RPA vendors often talk about processes that require dozens of robots and hundreds of workers. While these processes and operations clearly exist (e.g. Financial Services), and the benefits can be significant, they are not the “norm” for most businesses. Most companies we have spoken with are looking to leverage RPA for back office processes that often utilize dozens of employees, not hundreds. In these scenarios, the investment in RPA may not yield the ROI that the vendors are touting, and a more practical implementation approach is required.
Deep business process expertise and knowledge of your back office environment is equally as important as selecting the right RPA tool. Process expertise and knowledge of your back office do not come from the RPA software provider. And their business case methodology needs to be adapted to a much smaller footprint for most businesses.
2. Partner with an RPA expert
This second lesson learned goes hand in hand with the first. Many organizations try to implement robotics by themselves, with no internal or external RPA expertise. Companies often do not realize this can cause their RPA initiatives to go off track, take longer and cost more money.
We’ve seen how some companies have chosen the wrong RPA tool because they didn’t get the right advice. They just selected a solution based on price or market presence, and then realized it had many limitations, was not scalable, or simply did not deliver the expected (and needed) ROI.
Another common mistake is for companies to task one of its employees to lead the RPA initiative, but the person is so embedded in the day-to-day operation, and the way processes currently operate, that they lack the necessary objectivity, and fresh eyes to identify how activities can be changed and adapted to RPA.
Most RPA advisors or managed services providers can quickly assess your organization, identify the key automation opportunities and provide a realistic implementation timeline based on having delivered these initiatives multiple times. This initial assessment will provide you with a good estimate of the savings and efficiency opportunity before you decide to embark on this journey.
3. Understand your deployment model options
RPA can be deployed in a model where it is managed internally or through an outsourced Managed Service model. An organization will need to determine which RPA deployment model fits its “DNA.” Many midsize firms do not internally possess the process excellence, technical expertise, and change management skill set to manage the deployment internally successfully.
If built internally, the firm will need to document processes, train the robot (through development and configuration) to perform the process, and build an ongoing support function to monitor the robots and continually reconfigure the robot as systems and process evolve. Their IT departments may be too overloaded managing their existing systems and other priorities and do not have time or resources needed to support the RPA software and ongoing environment adequately. It is often less costly for these firms to turn to an Outsourced BPO Provider to build these capabilities as part of their scope of services.
4. Embrace your workforce
It’s not a secret that the impact of RPA on your workforce is huge (according to ISG Insights the rate of RPA/AI adoption is set to double by 2019). But this doesn’t mean your employees should feel disengaged with the initiative.
Whether they want it or not, automation is going to come sooner or later, and the sooner they get involved with it, the bigger competitive advantage they will have if they want to make a career within the back office and process optimization. If not, they better look at shifting their career path.
RPA requires a new set of skills and capabilities that will need to be learned and performed by someone, ideally by those “operators” currently executing the tasks manually. In the end, the tasks to be automated are those that most employees would gladly relinquish. Educating employees on how RPA will allow them to focus their time on higher value-added activities will help get them on board. It is not uncommon for your highly engaged best performers to embrace the change and jump at the opportunity to perform higher value work, while less engaged bottom performers resist change and look for an exit.
5. Start small
It is important to realize that RPA should be viewed as an integral component of your back office operation going forward, and not as a “project.” The key to success is to start small, prioritize initiatives and build momentum towards full deployment over time. An initial “Fit Analysis” can quickly identify & prioritize processes that deliver the most benefit with the least amount of complexity.
A typical best practice is to perform an initial Proof of Concept by automating a small number or processes with limited investment. If successful, the Proof of Concept confirms the value of Automation while also delivering savings to fund additional deployment. Additionally, success will build organizational and executive buy in. Any major change initiative needs quick wins to build and sustain the momentum needed to push through an organization’s inherent discomfort with change. It also creates an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned and adjust the implementation strategy based on the initial experience.
After a successful pilot, you are now ready for a broader deployment across the organization. This phase of the RPA journey involves an iterative process of business analysis, BOT development, and configuration, training, and testing. Incorporating the lessons learned from the pilot. During this time you should also be building a support structure for ongoing operations and management. The BOTS are now part of your ongoing operation and like other aspects of your business require continuous monitoring, support, and tweaking. The benefits of RPA can be significant for an organization, but like anything else, it requires commitment, investment, and planning.
Our experience has shown that the mistakes that companies make in implementing RPA are from under-estimating the effort and knowledge needed to implement it. Having realistic expectations, and good guidance and support, coupled with a well-thought out implementation strategy and a rigorous deployment methodology, will help to ensure RPA success.
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