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 from 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 compute 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 to groups, and responses to can be given by the RPA solution whereas the critical ones which are not ascertained 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 in 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 oppose 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 application, subscription renewals, insurance renewals. In short any manual task that can be digitised
- Helpdesk queries. Simple helpdesk quires 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 organisations 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 it’s 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 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 bulding out your strategy, it’s important to start with some initial work first to support your intenral 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 abound;
- Automation Anywhere
- Edge Verge
- Blue Prism
- UI Path
- Microsoft Cognative
Remember at this point you are just looking for what is out there from desktop research, don’t get seduced by technology and it’s specific functionality – that can come later when you are clear on what you need it to do.
RPA has already touched most industires, 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 givesgive 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 is 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 are able to 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 a 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 a 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 organisations 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. By this gesture, 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.. See below. If we acknowledge that many still remain to be convinced by RPA’s worth, it is essential we Prove it’s value.
If we couple our assumptions from our Process discovery and analysis with the acceptance that RPA is yet to come through Trough of Disillusionment, it becomes vitally important to now prove and test 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, with a typical low level of commitment and
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 if can have on them.
The End Result
By identifying our desired outcome via oura 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 ourthe 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 a 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
Building your strategy
As with all strategies, it should be accompanied by a robust business case that supports the investment and vision provding the justification to deliver. will no doubt already know a Business Case provides justification for undertaking a project, programme or portfolio. It is critical that at this point we also go back to our Strategy to ensure that any business case clearly focuses on what we started out to achieve. In respect of RPA we should ensure that this includes customer experience, process discovery (identifying which processes we have) and value mapping (focusing on how RPA adds value to ourselves and our customers)
Building your RPA strategy is easy. It requires a small amount of time invested up front, so it sets you on the right path for delivering a successful implementation.
1. Be clear on what you want to achieve with this
This type of project has to have a clear purpose, it needs to be well defined and more importantly you need to be able to link it back into an overall business strategy goal – otherwise why do it?
To do this, you need an exec sponsor to bring the business together. Once an exec sponsor has been secured, they then need to form a project team of representatives from the business.
Together, outline what can be achieved, why this is a positive thing and agree some principles the team buy into to avoid conflict subjective opinions and start the foundation of building out your strategy.
2. Customer Experience
Many organisations will be looking at these projects to see how they can save money and drive efficiency for staff to carry out value add roles, that’s great but it misses the key point of this – improve your customer experience.
At a recent Digital Leader Summit in London attend by 160 business leaders from different sectors, only a shocking 12% had ever carried out a customer experience journey.
Let’s be clear, no change should be happening without doing this first and understanding the root cause of the challenges within the organisation where RPA can be there to assist. This is also key for your benefits realisation which is outlined below in point 6.
3. Do not let the IT department define your RPA strategy alone
Your technical department will add huge value to this change, but it needs business input for it to be successful. Let the IT department be involved but let’s be clear this is a business change and there is no such thing as IT project!
4. Hearts and minds
Now with anything that is going to be changed within your organisation, the first part of the strategy should be your Hearts and Minds. This is without doubt the easiest piece to get right but always the bit that gets missed.
Many people will be worried about bots coming to take their jobs, this is not the case. But put yourself in their shoes, if you don’t communicate properly with them people will naturally jump to conclusions.
Take time to get them involved, listen to the concerns, coach them and make sure they really understand what is happening and why.
5. Get your business processes in order
Don’t be a statistic and end up being involved in a project that goes over budget, delivers no value and somebody will lose their job over.
Before you get seduced by the technology vendors on what can be achieved, understand what you want from it first.
To do that you need to do 3 simple things:
- Business process discovery – outline all your business process (not map) including their owner, input, output and outcome it delivers
- Fix the immediate issues – RPA will not fix your business processes if the processes are broken in the first place. Once you have completed your process discovery, a simple analysis can be undertaken to understand where changes are required to business process before you automate them
- Process validation – not all processes are suitable for RPA. Work on the ones that are going to deliver the best efficiency, customer experience and value to the organisation. Unless you prioritise, you will end up trying to fix everything which is unachievable.
6. Benefits realisation
At some point in the future, somebody will question why this project was undertaken and what this has delivered back to the business.
Benefits realisation is critical to your success. Make sure you document the problem you have, the impact on the business and how this project will resolve this.
It needs to be quantifiable with something tangible using your customer experience mapping as well as the efficiency are good places to start.
Go back 3, 6 and 12 months after go live and retake the measurements to ensure it is delivering the desired effects, if not, adopt and improve – this project will never be complete.
7. Understand where your skill and resource gaps are
Not all organisation have the luxury of skills and resources to undertake what is required for this type of project. Again, not just from a technical prospective but also business capabilities.
Ask yourself candidly, do you have the skills to map out processes effectively? Are you equipped enough to challenge the ways you are currently working? DO you have enough resources to do this even if you did have the skills?
If not, work out the resource plan and build this into your cost model.
8. Compare the market
Once you have done the internal work, then you are ready to engage with the market. It is imperative to do this way round so you don’t get seduced on the features and benefits of the technology but turn the tables and make sure you are clear on the outcome you are trying to achieve and allow the tech to demonstrate how they can support you in achieving this.
You should have enough information now to get an understanding of the costs, timescales, risks and assumptions that gives you sufficient confidence
9. Build the business case
There are many things that can be added to your business case but the above gives you a starting block to allow you to make an informed decision.
Make sure the vendor you select signs up to your business case. “Skin in the game” should be used to ensure they deliver what the business case said it would.
10. Take your time
You have your business case approved, budgets and resources released – but don’t rush. There is a lot of learning to take place along the way.
Start with a proof of concept with a select few processes and outcomes, make sure you run the required governance to deliver this and then undertake a lesson learnt exercise before going out to the rest of the business.
RPA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. If used correctly, RPA coupled with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will add considerable operational efficiency to your organisation but ulitimatley deliver an unrivalled customer experience your peers will aspire to.
As with all good technology e.g. personal computers, smart phones etc. RPA is no longer at the embryonic stage, RPA it is is here to stay. More and more organisations are turning to the technology to gain competitive advantage and lower operational costs. Whilst we do not know the extent of the ability of the software to
According to Gartner, “Hyperautomation 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.