Robotics Process Automation – What’s in it for you?
Robots! Automation! Scary words that only a decade ago conjured up images of car manufacturing assembly lines, job losses and robots taking over the world. It’s a different story in 2020. As the majority of our world becomes digitised, and interactions both as a provider and as a customer become internet based, (hurried along by issues such as Covid-19) we expect more.
Every business has one thing in common, our customers expect more and we as consumers can relate to this. We need to be able to self-service, have instant access to services 24×7 and we need the best possible experience always.
The term Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could not be named better. A robot takes any process that normally takes a great deal of time and resource and turns this into something that can be repeated automatically. We used to think of robots as the things of science fiction movies or toys. Or maybe more recently as the machines that we have seen move so swiftly and elegantly to build products in a factory. But not anymore. Through the power of the microchip and coding we can now replace labour intensive processes of any type with computer power in the cloud!
We should unpack this just to be clear. At a very basic level with RPA, businesses can automate mundane rules-based business processes, enabling business users to devote more time to serving customers or other higher-value work. Or, in other words, allow computing power (robots) to do those repetitive tasks that humans normally spend masses of time completing, and thus allow those same humans to do work that a customer would really value and notice. The best part is that the technology is now so advanced that it doesn’t matter if it is a simple or complex task you want to automate.
Where is it used?
A good example of RPA would be for an area such as incoming Customer E-mail Query Processing. If you are an organisation that needs to answer those thousands of emails that get bombarded at inboxes for responses, it’s possible to have RPA look after them for you. The most common issues or emails can be segregated into groups, and responses to them can be given by the RPA solution whereas the critical ones which are not sorted into a group can be handled by the respective personnel.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT TO ME?
So why Robotic Process Automation and where do I start?
It’s safe to say, this is no longer bleeding edge technology. It already exists in our day to day life just like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – we just don’t know it!
The market has changed significantly over the last 18 months, with only 5 main players being able to deliver credible platforms.
It doesn’t stop there. Investors are clearly seeing this market in a boom with Automation Anywhere completing its second round of funding in 18 months, now securing $840m and valuing them at $6.8b. This has was followed by Ui-Path heading for an IPO.
This is not a market that shows any sign of slowing down and will be worth an estimated $6.1b by 2026 according to latest research.
“Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. … Technology is an enabler” – Sundar Pichai, Google – interview with New York Times
Here’s the thing. Technology exists to fix the challenges we face, it is an enabler for all.
We can all agree that we live in the most exciting period of evolution of mankind where technology can send rockets to Mars, enable cars to drive without a driver and allow us to talk face to face from different sides of the planet from a mobile device. So, what makes the difference between a piece of technology out of the box and a real service provided to a user or customer by a robot. It’s defining the desired outcomes to build a Strategy before you start talking to a software provider that will ensure the success of the technology. Or in other words, carrying out upfront work to plan for success as opposed to plugging in a new technology and hoping for the best.
Examples of processes that can be automated are as follows
Performing Financial Close & Reporting: The tedious process of posting data from various sources to sub-ledgers of a company to create and deliver financial filings can be easily handled through RPA.
Paper based form handling. From simple to complex. Job applications, subscription renewals, insurance renewals. In short any manual task that can be digitised
Helpdesk queries. Simple helpdesk queries such as password recovery can be automated simply and now securely
Maintaining customer data: In an enterprise, many customers may get connected to the business on a daily basis. Now, every company needs to maintain the data of each and every customer. If a person does it, then it may take longer than a robot. But, if a robot does this task, then data can be periodically validated and updated.
In all of these cases we must dig deeper and look at the outcomes that we are looking to achieve and not just moving a process from one method of dealing to another i.e. manual to robot. Outcomes such as providing a 24/7 service, automating low-value renewals and providing both an organisation and customer with better data to make decisions are the key factor. And ensuring we define the outcome at the outset is a key factor in RPA’s success.
WHERE TO GET STARTED
Any change within any organisation should start with one thing – Strategy. A strategy is fundamental in taking an organisation’s vision for doing something different and building out a plan of how you will get to the end result.
How do we interpret what a strategy is? Irrespective of technology or its application a Strategy defines our direction of travel towards a goal. Whilst these goals probably will change due to exterior forces our strategy should remain consistent. So, in respect of RPA and by way of an example, if we decide our Strategy was to become more customer centric then why would we ask our staff to complete tasks that add no value to the customer experience?
Before you begin building out your strategy, it’s important to start with some initial work first to support your internal buy in. The areas you need to consider in your initial research are;
It is important to Educate ourselves in the art of the possible with RPA. At a basic level we understand a robot will automate a process that can be labour intensive and burn hours of resource time. But what does that actually mean? The simplest way of understanding capability is to look where others have successfully used bots and have measured its success (we’ll come back to measuring success shortly) Resources online from key players in the industry are abundant;
- Automation Anywhere
- Edge Verge
- Blue Prism
- UI Path
- Microsoft Cognitive
Remember at this point you are just looking for what is out there from desktop research, don’t get seduced by technology and its specific functionality – that can come later when you are clear on what you need it to do.
RPA has already touched most industries, so you’ll be able to see how the technology has worked already in your sector. However, and equally important, it is also worth looking at how the technology has helped others in different industries and markets. This education and insight gives us the power to understand just what it is we can achieve. Moreover, Education reduces fear.
Fear of the unknown and the impact of actions are commonplace when we look at change and implementation of new ideas. Common questions are likely. Such as:
“Is my job safe?”
“How quickly will I see a return on investment?”
“Will this work?”
The good news is the answers are already out there. RPA has been around longer than most of us are aware of, this means that organisations have already been on the journey and already answered these questions. And best of all, the evidence is already out there in the public domain. This means that you can very quickly research and answer these questions based on factual evidence and not the word of a vendor or partner selling concepts not reality.
Let’s call out the elephant in the room that is always going to exist with RPA. The true fear amongst any workforce are (in dramatic terms) “Robots are going to take over our jobs” The answer is simply no. When we embark on the journey of automating processes with Robots the end game should always be to allow humans to have more interaction with humans! When we focus on our customers, we want real people talking to them. So any fear can be allayed as the goal for our staff should be on reallocating them to tasks that NEED humans and that are of high value to our customers.
If you are looking at RPA purely to reduce costs then you have it wrong, all changes within an organisation should be to deliver back that experience to the end customer in the best way possible.
We now need to Identify the Processes and Technology that are candidates for automation. Opportunities for automation should come back to what will deliver the right value back to the business and the end customer. You will need to review these on a case by case basis using simple metrics such as high volume / high cost of time and resource.
Your first step in this stage is to conduct a business process discovery exercise. Afterall, how can we even consider automating processes when we don’t know how many we have and what they do. Process Discovery allows us to identify every process involved in an organisation’s operations and then, very importantly, analyse which of these processes are candidates for automation.
A word of caution though, not everything should be automated. It has to first provide tangible value but more importantly demonstrate it isn’t fundamentally broken in the first place. We don’t want to automate broken processes when actually the process needs to be fixed in the first place before automation.
And so we must prove our findings. RPA, according to Gartner, has moved through the peak of inflated expectations and has moved to the trough of disillusionment. If we acknowledge that many still remain to be convinced by RPA’s worth, it is essential we prove its value.
If we couple our assumptions from our Process Discovery and Analysis with the acceptance that RPA is yet to come through the Trough of Disillusionment, it becomes vitally important to now prove and test that the technology provides the desired outcome. Fortunately, the competitive nature of our economy works in our favour.
The proliferation of RPA providers enables us to invite potential vendors to demonstrate a proof of concept (POC). With a typical low-level commitment required a POC should demonstrate to the sceptics the art of the possible whilst giving the vendors the ability to prove they can meet the demands of an organisation.
After we have discovered the processes that are candidates for Automation, selected an appropriate vendor and proved the technology, another important element in the journey is to present back.
As mentioned previously, RPA (and new technology in general) often comes with a stigma attached. It is therefore important to win “hearts and minds” across the business at the earliest possible opportunity.
By presenting our workings, in terms of how we arrive at selecting a process, the thinking behind this and then demonstrating it in a ‘live’ environment we can start to bring people on board. A key to adoption is that those affected by the very thing we are implementing are shown very early on that it is effective, the value it brings and the positive impact it can have on them.
Implementing the technology is easy, being able to quantify your decision to do this in 12 months time is the key to success. At some point, somebody will ask a question on why it was done and the benefits it achieved for the organisation.
When you build out your strategy, be clear on your KPI’s and understand on what good looks like for you. This could be improved customer experience from emotional mapping, personnel redeployment or quicker turnaround on business activities.
This will be individual to each organisation but they must align back to the strategic objectives of the business to have the desired impact.
The End Result
By identifying our desired outcome via a clear Strategy and creating a comprehensive plan we are now able to deliver RPA as a well-balanced solution. By developing the Business Case in line with our identified solution we can achieve the desired outcome and stay focused on tangible benefits whilst ensuring budgets, resources and time are in clear sight.
Let’s consider what we have achieved from our two key perspectives. The customer sees a seamless interaction that leaves them with a positive experience. We have a clear view of the set-up and on-going costs of the technology. Our staff can move away from manual/repetitive processes and engage with customers on more pro-active tasks that add value and not doing the same thing over and over in the same way. This has a two-fold benefit of making our customer happier and, equally as important, giving staff more engagement and interest in their roles.
- Know cost
- ROI – examples
- Experience of Customer
- Recovered Time
As with all good technology e.g. personal computers, smart phones etc. RPA is no longer at the embryonic stage; RPA is here to stay. More and more organisations are turning to the technology to gain competitive advantage, lower operational costs and improve overall customer experience. Whilst we do not know the extent of the ability of the software vendors at an individual basis, we know that those organisations who now seriously look into this technology will benefit the longevity of their organisations and their ability to grow.
According to Gartner, “Hyper automation refers to an approach in which organisations rapidly identify and automate as many business processes as possible. It involves the use of a combination of technology tools, including but not limited to machine learning, packaged software and automation tools to deliver work.”
The true success of RPA in the economy is predicated by our ability to define the Strategy of what we are looking to achieve based on customer-centric outcomes. And not automating for the sake of automating.