When RPA is NOT the Solution


The robotic process automation (RPA) market has many players offering a wide variety of tools. From data entry to reporting, payment processing and service ticket resolution, these tools provide a range of capabilities that make entering the RPA arena feasible for companies of various sizes. Today, many companies have pursued automation and are now waiting to realize benefits; the promise is increased operating efficiencies, streamlined processes, reduced error rates and upskilled employees. Sadly, some will never realize these benefits.

When a company is struggling to complete a process assessment, develop a new automation or increase the efficiencies of an automation, the question of becomes what if RPA is not the solution we need? It’s a legitimate question that needs to be answered.

Let’s look at four scenarios that are not good fits for RPA, each of which can be identified in a thorough process assessment.

1. The process is not suitable for automation.

Nearly everyone has heard the standard pitch: processes that are highly manual and repetitive in nature and that consume large amounts of time are potential candidates for RPA. This is mostly true, but it is possible for a process to meet all the criteria and still not be suitable for automation. Questions that can help determine a process’s automation candidacy include:

  • Is the process mature and stable?
  • When was the last process change implemented?
  • Are there in-flight projects that may affect any portion of the process?
  • Is the process managed with well-documented business rules?

While a process may remain on the bench during this first inning, do not rule them out of the RPA game entirely. Their candidacy potential can improve with additional in-depth assessments and documentation. Remember, successful RPA begins with a solid understanding of the process. Processes that fall into this lineup should be part of demand management as their suitability for automation may change over time.

2. The expected benefit of automation is not sufficient.

Automation assessments are designed to provide insight into the specific steps being performed with each process. Then you must examine the potential return on investment (ROI) for the effort. This evaluation takes into consideration the following questions:

  • What is the average handling time (AHT) per item for this process?
  • How many people (full-time equivalents) are performing this process?
  • How often does this process need to be completed?

If the anticipated ROI falls within the company's acceptance policy for new initiatives, RPA might become the next pinch hitter for your team. But ROI is not the only factor. For some organizations, soft benefits – reduction in error rate, increase in available metrics, improved employee morale, upskilled employees who can take on other activities – can add substantial return. Understanding the impact each benefit holds in an organization could mean the difference between a base hit and a home run.

3. The process flow can be improved to increase efficiencies, with or without automation.

The CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, Ralf Speth, said “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.” This is true in the back office as well. Assessment results are often used to identify process improvement opportunities such as re-ordering process steps, removing repetitive or redundant process steps and removing steps done because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

In some cases, improving the process flow in these small ways can have a greater impact on overall organizational efficiency than automating them. Certain processes can be re-designed and then automated, leading to the best of both worlds; however, do not underestimate the time needed for re-design of the process and the re-establishment of process maturity before automating.

4. The process provides no value to departments or downstream processes.

Due to technology advances, software changes and departmental reorganizations, many processes can become unnecessary. Yet, in most cases, individuals continue to perform the work. Leaders must constantly evaluate processes to determine their value of the organization. There are three categories:

  • A value-added process that adds value to the organization when performed
  • A necessary process that must be performed regardless of value
  • A non-value-added process that does not add value to the organization when performed

If a process is either value-added or necessary, additional evaluation may be necessary before continuing. However, non-value-added, obsolete activities could be eliminated, freeing up employees for other activities. This type of evaluation is relevant when searching for ways to increase the value of work being performed.

While most companies want to be a part of the automation game and quickly score big benefits – and it’s clear that RPA is often seen as the “gateway drug” into automation – it is not the solution for all scenarios and organizations. Nor is it the only solution out there. ISG helps companies understand what has automation potential and how to make the most of their investments. Contact us to find out how we can help you.