The Challenges of Implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Posted on : 25-01-2019 | By : kerry.housley | In : Innovation, Uncategorized

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We recently surveyed our clients on their views around the future of technology in the workplace and the changes that they think are likely to shape their future working environment. 

One of the questions identified by many clients as a major challenge was around the adoption of RPA. We asked the question; 

“Do You Agree that RPA could improve the Efficiency of Your Business? 

Around 65% of the respondents to our survey agreed that RPA could improve the efficiency of their business, but many commented that they were put off by the challenges that needed to be overcome in order for RPA deployment to be a success. 

“The challenge is being able to identify how and where RPA is best deployed, avoiding any detrimental disruption 

In this article we will discuss in more detail the challenges, and what steps can be taken to ensure a more successful outcome. 

The benefits of RPA are:

  • Reduced operating costs
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduce employee’s workload to spend more time on higher value tasks
  • Get more done in less time! 

What Processes are Right for Automation? 

One of the challenges facing many organisations is deciding which processes are good for automation and which process to choose to automate first. This line from Bill Gates offers some good advice; 

automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency” 

It follows therefore, that the first step in any automation journey is reviewing all of your business processes to ensure that they are all running as efficiently as possible.  You do not want to waste time, money and effort in implementing a robot to carry an inefficient process which will reap no rewards at all.  

Another challenge is choosing which process to automate first. In our experience, many clients have earmarked one of their most painful processes as process number one in order to heal the pain.  This fails more often than not because the most painful process is often one of the most difficult to automate.  Ideally, you want to pick a straightforward, highly repetitive process which will be easier to automate with simple results, clearly showing the benefits to automation. Buy-in at this stage from all stakeholders is critical if RPA is be successfully deployed further in the organisation. Management need to see the efficiency saving and employees can see how the robot can help them to do their job quicker and free up their time to do more interesting work. Employee resistance and onboarding should not be underestimated. Keeping workers in the loop and reducing the perceived threat is crucial to your RPA success.  

Collaboration is Key 

Successful RPA deployment is all about understanding and collaboration which if not approached carefully could ultimately lead to the failure of the project.  RPA in one sense, is just like any other piece of software that you will implement, but in another way it’s not. Implementation involves close scrutiny of an employee’s job with the employee feeling threatened by the fact that the robot may take over and they will be left redundant in the process.   

IT and the business must work closely together to ensure that process accuracy, cost reduction, and customer satisfaction benchmarks are met during implementation.  RPA implementation success is both IT- and business-driven, with RPA governance sitting directly in the space between business and IT. Failure to maintain consistent communication between these two sides will mean that project governance will be weak and that any obstacles, such as potential integration issues of RPA with existing programs, cannot be dealt effectively. 

Don’t Underestimate Change 

Change management should not be underestimated, the implementation of RPA is a major change in an organisation which needs to be planned for, and carefully managed. Consistently working through the change management aspects is critical to making RPA successful. It is important to set realistic expectations and look at RPA from an enterprise perspective focusing on the expected results and what will be delivered. 

 RPA = Better Business Outcomes 

RPA is a valuable automation asset in a company’s digital road map and can deliver great results if implemented well. However, often RPA implementations have not delivered the returns promised, impacted by the challenges we have discussed. Implementations that give significant consideration to the design phase and realise the importance of broader change management into the process will benefit from better business outcomes across the end-to-end process. Enterprises looking to embark on the RPA journey can have chance to take note, avoid the pitfalls and experience the success that RPA can bring. 

Will Robotic Process Automation be responsible for the next generation of technical debt?

Posted on : 28-03-2018 | By : kerry.housley | In : FinTech, Innovation, Predictions, Uncategorized

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All hail the great Bill Gates and his immortal words:

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

With the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) wave crashing down all about us and as we all scramble around trying to catch a ride on its efficiency, cost saving and performance optimising goodness, we should take a minute and take heed of Mr Gate’s wise words and remember that poorly designed processes done more efficiently will still be ineffectual. In theory, you’re just getting better at doing things poorly.

Now before we go any further, we should state that we have no doubt about the many benefits of RPA and in our opinion RPA should be taken advantage of and utilised where appropriate.

Now with that said…

RPA lends itself very well to quick fixes and fast savings, which are very tempting to any organisation. However, there are many organisations with years of technical debt built up already through adding quick fixes to fundamental issues in their IT systems. For these organisations, the introduction of RPA (although very fruitful in the short term) will actually add more technological dependencies to the mix. This will increase their technical debt if not maintained effectively. Eventually, this will become unsustainable and very costly to your organisation.

RPA will increase dependencies on other systems, adding subtle complex levels of interoperability, and like any interdependent ecosystem, when one thing alters there is an (often unforeseen) knock-on effect in other areas.

An upgrade that causes a subtle change to a user interface will cause the RPA process to stop working, or worse the process will keep working but do the wrong thing.

Consider this; what happens when an RPA process that has been running for a few years needs updating or changing? Will you still have the inherent expert understanding of this particular process at the human level or has that expertise now been lost?

How will we get around these problems?  Well, as with most IT issues, an overworked and understaffed IT department will create a quick workaround to solve the problem, and then move on to the myriad of other technical issues that need their attention. Hey presto… technical debt.

So, what is the answer? Of course, we need to stay competitive and take advantage of this new blend of technologies. It just needs to be a considered decision, you need to go in with your eyes open and understand the mid and long-term implications.

A big question surrounding RPA is who owns this new technology within organisations? Does it belong to the business side or the IT side and how involved should your CIO or CTO be?

It’s tempting to say that processes are designed by the business side and because RPA is simply going to replace the human element of an already existing process this can all be done by the business side, we don’t need to (or want to) involve the CIO in this decision. However, you wouldn’t hire a new employee into your organisation without HR being involved and the same is true of introducing new tech into your system. True, RPA is designed to sit outside/on top of your networks and systems in which case it shouldn’t interfere with your existing network, but at the very least the CIO and IT department should have an oversight of RPA being introduced into the organisation. They can then be aware of any issues that may occur as a result of any upgrades or changes to the existing system.

Our advice would be that organisations should initially only implement RPA measures that have been considered by both the CIO and the business side to be directly beneficial to the strategic goals of the company.

Following this, you can then perform a proper opportunity assessment to find the optimum portfolio of processes.  Generally, low or medium complexity processes or sub-processes will be the best initial options for RPA, if your assessment shows that the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) savings are worth it of course. Ultimately, you should be looking for the processes with the best return, and simplest delivery.

A final point on software tools and vendors. Like most niche markets of trending technology RPA is awash with companies offering various software tools. You may have heard of some of the bigger and more reputable names like UiPath and Blue Prism. It can be a minefield of offerings, so understanding your needs and selecting an appropriate vendor will be key to making the most of RPA. In order to combat the build-up of technical debt, tools provided by the vendor to enable some of the maintenance and management of the RPA processes is essential.

For advice on how to begin to introduce RPA into your organisation, vendor selection or help conducting a RPA opportunity assessment, or for help reducing your technical debt please email Richard.gale@broadgateconsultants.com.