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. 

Welcoming Robots to the Team

Posted on : 30-05-2018 | By : richard.gale | In : Finance, FinTech, Innovation

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Research suggests that that the adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI technologies is set to double by 2019. This marks a fundamental change in how organisations work and the potential impact on employees should not be underestimated.

For many years we have seen robots on the factory floor where manual processes have been replaced by automation. This has drastically changed the nature of manufacturing and has inevitably led to a reduction in these workforces.  It is understandable therefore, that we can hear the trembling voices of city workers shouting, “the robots are coming!”

Robotic software should not be thought of as the enemy but rather as a friendly addition to the IT family.  A different approach is needed. If you were replacing an excel spreadsheet with a software program an employee would see this as advantage, as it makes their job quicker and easier to do, therefore welcome the change. Looking at RPA in the same way will change the way employees view its implementation and how they feel about it.

There is no doubt that in some cases RPA is intended as a cost saver but organisations that see RPA as simply a cost saving solution will reap the least rewards. For many companies who have already completed successful RPA programmes, the number one priority has been to eliminate repetitive work that employees didn’t want or need to do. Approaching an RPA project in a carefully thought out and strategic manner will provide results that show that RPA and employees can work together.

Successful transformation using RPA relies on an often used but very relevant phrase  “it’s all about the People Process and Technology”.  You need all three in the equation. It is undeniable that automation is a disruptive technology which will affect employees outlook and affect the way they work. Change management is key in managing these expectations. If robots are to be a part of your organisation, then your employees must be prepared and included.

Perhaps it’s time to demystify RPA, and see it for what is really is, just another piece of software! Automation is about making what you do easier to execute, with less mistakes and greater flexibility. It is important to demonstrate to your staff that RPA is part of a much wider strategic plan of growth and new opportunities.

It is vital to communicate with staff at every level, explaining the purpose of RPA and what it will mean for them. Ensure everyone understands the implications and the benefits of the transition to automation. Even though activities and relationships within an organisation may change this does not necessarily mean a change for the worst.

Employees must be involved from the start of the process. Those individuals who have previously performed the tasks to be automated will be your subject matter experts. You will need to train several existing employees in RPA to manage the process going forward.  Building an RPA team from current employees will ensure that you have their buy- in which is crucial if the implementation is to be a success.

With any new software training is often an afterthought. In the case of RPA training is more important than ever, ensuring that the robots and employees understand each other and can work efficiently together. Working to train RPA experts internally will result in a value-added proposition for the future when it comes to maintaining or scaling your solution.

When analysing the initial RPA requirements, a great deal of thought must be given to the employees who are being replaced and where their skills can be effectively be redeployed. Employee engagement increases when personnel feel that their contribution to the organisation is meaningful and widespread.

Consultation and collaboration throughout the entire process will help to ensure a smoother transition where everyone can feel the benefits. Following a successful RPA implementation share the results with everyone in your organisation.  Share the outcomes and what you have learnt, highlight those employees and teams that have helped along the way.

The robots are coming! They are here to help and at your service!

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.

 

Are you ready to take advantage of Robotic Process Automation?

Posted on : 28-02-2018 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation, Uncategorized

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Robotic Process Automation or RPA is growing fast. We were initially sceptical as to how innovative it actually is but are always looking for ways to help our clients (and Broadgate!) work more efficiently.

RPA technology, sometimes called a software robot or ‘bot’, mimics a human worker, logging into applications, entering data, calculating and completing tasks, and logging out.

RPA software isn’t really part of an organisation’s IT infrastructure. It sits above, enabling a company to implement the technology quickly and efficiently without changing the existing infrastructure and systems.

RPA could be seen as a ‘tactical’ approach to solving a business problem. In the long term the ‘bots’ should be replaced by strategic solutions but the advantages of quickly being able to make a process more efficient and remove human error can make immediate efficiency gains. And we all know how long these tactical solutions can remain in place….

The evolution of RPA

Although the term “robotic process automation” can be traced to the early 2000s, it had been developing for a number of years previously. We worked on screen scraping applications in the early ’90s to help turn ‘green screens’ into newly fashionable GUI applications.

RPA evolved from three key technologies: screen scraping (mimicking user interaction), workflow automation and artificial intelligence.

Screen scraping is the process of collecting screen display data from a legacy application so that the data can be displayed by a more modern user interface. The advantages of workflow automation software, which eliminates the need for manual data entry and increases order fulfilment rates, include increased speed, efficiency and accuracy. Lastly, artificial intelligence involves the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that normally require human intervention and intelligence.

Benefits of RPA

Robotic process automation technology can help organisations on their digital transformation stories by:

  • Creating cost savings for manual and repetitive tasks
  • Enabling employees to be more productive
  • Enabling better customer service
  • Ensuring business operations and processes comply with regulations and standards
  • Allowing processes to be completed much more rapidly
  • Providing improved efficiency by digitising and auditing processes

Applications of RPA

Some of the applications of RPA include:

  • Financial services: Companies in the financial services industry can use RPA for foreign exchange payments, automating account openings and closings, managing audit requests and processing insurance claims.
  • Customer service: RPA can help companies offer better customer service by automating call centre tasks, including verifying e-signatures, uploading scanned documents and verifying information for automatic approvals or rejections.
  • Accounting: Organisations can use RPA for general accounting, operational accounting, transactional reporting and budgeting.
  • Supply Chain:  RPA can be used for procurement, automating order processing and payments, monitoring inventory levels and tracking shipments.
  • Healthcare: Medical organizations can use RPA for handling patient records, claims, customer support, account management, billing, reporting and analytics.
  • Human resources: RPA can automate HR tasks, including onboarding and offboarding, updating employee information and timesheet submission processes.

 

What’s so different from regular automation?

What distinguishes RPA from traditional IT automation is the ability of the RPA software to be aware and adapt to changing circumstances, exceptions and new situations.
Once RPA software has been trained to capture and interpret the actions of specific processes in existing software applications, it can then manipulate data, trigger responses, initiate new actions and communicate with other systems autonomously.
RPA software is particularly useful for organisations that have many different and complicated systems that need to interact together fluidly.
For instance, if an electronic form from a Compliance system (such as know your customer) is missing a postcode, traditional automation software would flag the form as having an exception and an employee would handle the exception by looking up the correct postcode and entering it on the form. Once the form is complete, the employee might send it on to Compliance so the information can be entered into the approved customer system.
With RPA technology, however, software that has the ability to adapt, self-learn and self-correct would handle the exception and interact with the payroll system without human assistance.

What to look for in RPA software

When enterprise leaders look for RPA technologies, they should consider a number of things, including:

  • Simplicity: Organisations should look for products that are simple enough that any employee in the business can build and use them to handle various kinds of work, including collecting data and turning content into information that enables leaders to make the best business decisions.
  • Speed: Enterprises should be able to design and test new robotic processes in a few hours or less, as well as optimise the bots to work quickly.
  • Reliability: As companies launch robots to automate hundreds or even thousands of tasks, they should look for tools with built-in monitoring and analytics that enable them to monitor the health of their systems.
  • Intelligence: The best RPA tools can support simple task-based activities, read and write to any data source, and take advantage of more advanced learning to further improve automation.
  • Scalability: Organisations shouldn’t select RPA software that requires them to deploy software robots to desktops or virtualised environments. They should look for RPA platforms that can be centrally managed and scale massively.
  • Enterprise-class: Companies should look for tools that are built from the ground up for enterprise-grade scalability, reliability and manageability.

Prerequisites for robotic process automation

  1. Are you able to describe the work? This doesn’t mean your documentation exists or is current. The task could be described by recording a user performing their work on a computer including how they handle exceptions.
  2. Is the work rules-based rather than subjective? Robots need to be prepared (aka, taught, trained, configured) to perform specific actions on your systems. Current technology is insufficient for a robot to determine on its own what to when faced with a new situation.
  3. Is the work performed electronically? It doesn’t matter how many different applications are required or whether they are in-house, cloud-based, Citrix, desktop or mainframe.
  4. Is the required data structured (or could it be structured)? If not, you may be able to utilise an OCR and/or cognitive application capable of structuring the file.  Alternatively, you could have people enter the data into a structured format.

Disqualifiers for robotic process automation use cases​​

  1. Process stability. If your organisation keeps changing the process (e.g., responding to competitive factors or new sources of information), then it may not be the right time to automate it. Despite investing resources to stabilise the current activity, you may end up with too much maintenance to keep your automation aligned to business needs.
  2. Target applications suitability. Some applications are harder for robots to use than others. It’s a fact that vendors don’t really like to highlight in the sales process. Starting with an especially challenging target application could delay the whole program, cause fatigue in leadership and put your credibility at risk. If you have to do it, make sure that you build in an accurate view of the time required.

Organisational impacts of RPA

Though automation software is expected to replace up to 120 million full-time employees worldwide by 2024, many high-quality jobs will be created for those who maintain and improve RPA software.

When software robots do replace people in the enterprise, managers need to be responsible for ensuring that business outcomes are achieved and new governance policies are met.

Robotic process automation technology also requires that the CIO take more of a leadership role and assume accountability for the business outcomes and the risks of deploying RPA tools.

Additionally, the COO, CIO and HR, as well as the relevant executive who owns the process being automated, should all work toward ensuring the availability of an enterprise-grade, secure platform for controlling and operating bots across systems.

Where the robotic process automation market is heading

One report expects the RPA market to reach $5 billion by 2024. The increased adoption of RPA technologies by organisations to enhance their capabilities and performance and boost cost savings will reportedly drive the growth of the robotic process automation market most during that time.

We are excited that the mix of technologies and domain business expertise will enable this growth and we are focusing on growing our skills in this area.