Enterprise-level interest in robotic process automation (RPA) has become greater than ever. Businesses are quickly realising that using RPA technology results in compelling cost, performance and quality benefits. By way of example, Deloitte Consulting estimates a Fortune 1000 company with $20 billion in revenues and a 50,000 headcount can expect to bring more than $30 million in annual savings to its bottom line, just by automating 20 percent of business processes that are able to be automated today.
So, where do you begin? For the most part, companies begin their RPA journey with small-scale, tightly-defined pilots around processes that fit the RPA profile. These are made up of repetitive, high volume, rule-based tasks. The pilots are then analysed and polished-up before moving into a larger roll-out phase across the enterprise.
Wash, Rinse, and Repeat
Iterating increasingly successful pilots before the larger roll-out creates a culture of success, which means positive momentum can spread throughout the organisation. Positive noises are vital, as the recruitment of RPA champions from business units all the way to the boardroom is essential to breed the necessary evangelisation that characterises successful robotic process automation initiatives.
Whenever organisations struggle to implement post-pilot RPA projects, a lack of proper preparation and refinement during pilot activities is typically the root cause. Group involvement and dedication are critical at this stage of the process.
A Method Of its Own
Before any robots are deployed, the roll-out team must root themselves within a business plan that maps out the required resources for the proposed scope. The needs of the human team, the ‘virtual workforce’ robots, and the over-arching RPA platform must be clearly defined. A well-set plan is critical to enable the company to forecast milestones, measure ROIs and accurately track the performance of the implementation team.
As your criteria for robotic process automation qualification will carry a heavy emphasis on well-defined, high volume, repetitive tasks, this will result in roll-outs that will most likely begin in back-office functions such as procurement processing, HR activities or finance and accounting. Most companies will have already documented many of these areas if a shared service centre or outsourced relationship is in play, which eases the adoption process.
Once you’ve set an RPA business plan, successful execution is highly dependent upon a sound implementation methodology. The primary focus should be establishing well-understood policies and procedures around the qualification and prioritisation of RPA introduction. In order to maintain the momentum of successful pilots, the implementation team must populate a pipeline with highly qualified RPA automation opportunities. Failure to do so often leads to a lack of direction, low enthusiasm and ultimately, loss of executive support.
Avoiding these bumps in the road can be eased with third-party implementation partners. Many companies have found that during the pilot and initial roll-out phases, this is often a practical route, as RPA is still an emerging technology. Very few companies have a deep supply of qualified skill sets available to manage a successful robotic process automation roll-out.
What’s more, businesses who choose to use an implementation partner enjoy a smooth on-boarding process alongside the benefit of training their own people at the same time. Building internal RPA resources enables companies to build a sustainable capacity which can help extend automation across the enterprise. For example, one insurance company has recently increased an initial trial to inserting robots into 10 out of the 12 organisational departments in a short 18 months.
The Robotic Operation Centre
As a successful roll-out progresses, the implementation team should begin to evolve into a centre of excellence (COE). Establishing a COE enables you to ensure the virtual workforce meet (and hopefully exceed) service level and customer experience expectations.
The automation process is facilitated by the COE which in turn manages optimisation of governance in the form of change management, risk management and the erection of operational and technical support frameworks. The marrying of responsibilities allows the COE to construct consistent and robust processes across the business.
However, there can be a big stumbling block for the COE whilst trying to implement and govern large-scale RPA roll-outs. Without proper unified oversight by senior management, alongside the involvement of relevant business units and the IT department, the adoption can be hamstrung and its potential never reached.
Group Dedication and Expertise
You need commitment from all levels to enjoy RPA’s full potential, there’s no substitute for cohesion. Sponsorship from senior management is essential because implementation priorities should always mirror the strategic direction of the company. Without direct access to the people who set strategic direction, the implementation team will be working on ‘best guesses’.
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are also invaluable to the implementation team. The involvement of relevant business units is essential, because in reality, although the RPA profile specifies rule-based processes, business rules are dynamic and documentation is rarely completely current or accurate. As one customer requested of his business unit leaders, “you give me your smartest SMEs and I’ll give you the smartest robots”.
Finally, the IT department should be represented from the first pilot to the ongoing operations of the COE. In the pilot phase, the IT department will need to validate that the architecture of the RPA technology is compatible with the company’s infrastructure, whilst achieving compliance with all security requirements. As the pilots move into the roll-out phase, the IT department will need to create sufficient development, test and production environments for the implementation team.
Fortunately, RPA implementation is very similar to that of any other enterprise technology. Even better, the differences that do exist are very advantageous. For example, RPA automation is done at the user interface (UI) level, the robots operate with the same interfaces as a human user. As a result, no underlying systems or databases are touched. The implementation complexity, risk and timelines are a fraction of typical technology deployments.
The result? Automating a single business process can be done in as little as a week, and a series of complex, interrelated process can be accomplished in just a month or two.
This combination of cost and operational benefits, quick returns and low implementation risks shed light on why RPA adoption is growing so rapidly. The most important thing to remember for companies embarking on the RPA journey, is that all those advantages depend upon sound planning, accountability and dedicated teamwork.