Paving the Cow Path: Automating As-Is Can Pay Off Quickly


Organizations have a choice to make when it comes to automating business processes. One way consists of reengineering the business process (also known as business process re-engineering or BPR) prior to automating it. The second is automating the existing process “as is” with robotic process automation (RPA) technologies. This is called “paving the cow path.”

Building a digital workforce with RPA is challenging enough. Developing a new version of a process in addition to implementing new technology introduces risk and delays return on investment (ROI). Clients choosing the BPR path prior to automation often find themselves on a frustrating journey. BPR has significant costs related to standing up proper governance, reengineering the process by creating new work processes and new forms, training the operators on the new process, then developing the automation once the new process is proven, piloting the process during a trial period and, finally, deploying the new process – assuming it is stable.

Conducting BPR and automating an unstable process is risky: a BPR process is unproven, steps in the new process may be incomplete or may have unintended consequences – and the BPR effort takes time. The client often begins with great enthusiasm that then turns into overwhelming stress as costs mount without significant progress.

For enterprises just beginning their digital workforce transformation, “paving the cow path” will increase chances for success with RPA, support transition to a digital workforce and optimize your ROI. “Paving the cow path” offers the following four benefits:

  1. Realizing benefits faster. Successful organizations are busy; finding time to improve processes is difficult. The disruption that happens when automating an existing process is less than the disruption of going through a complex and BPR effort and then executing automation. Automating an existing process with RPA will enable delivery of benefits faster and begins to free up personnel to think through and work on higher-order challenges and issues.
  2. Freeing up capital for further investments. Successful companies must continually change to meet the demands of the market, but change is hard and can be expensive. Revenue-generating activities can be a funding source to pay for change, but funds for change in the back office typically materialize only under duress, like impending catastrophic failure or a regulatory requirement. Because a typical RPA bot can do the work of three to five personnel, the cost for automating existing processes and software licenses in these cases can be recovered within the first year of operation. The time savings also reduces overtime costs, delays the need for new hiring and allows the elimination of positions – funds that can be put toward more complex automation initiatives.
  3. Taking the simplest path to success. A well-defined and stable process often is easily automated on time and within budget. Automating a mature process allows the organization to focus on ongoing RPA performance benefits and adopting the change RPA brings to the organization. An investment in RPA should come along with a disciplined approach to identifying and calculating the ROI, creating a strong RPA governance structure, sharing ownership of RPA between IT and the business and reallocating personnel to perform higher-complexity work. Conducting BPR and automating a newly designed process along with the before-mentioned activities introduces risks and delays that could dampen initial enthusiasm and even kill the program.
  4. Meeting the business need. Software should be able to change at cost-affordable price points. The costs of large implementations and integrations have made organizations resist software change, but RPA is a cost-effective solution to automate business processes without reengineering existing applications. Many tasks can be automated and maintained by the business and do not require highly technical software engineers. RPA is not the Wild West of uncontrolled change. Automations need lifecycle and configuration management – and changes to automations should go through an organization’s governance and change management groups – just like other software products.

“Paving the cow path” is an excellent approach for building a digital workforce and achieving success with RPA projects. Drop us a line to discuss whether RPA software is right for your organization.