Selling RPA? Start Small and Keep it Simple

Over the past year, much has been said and written about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and its game-changing impact on the outsourcing business. Observers have expounded on the demise of labor arbitrage, the end of the traditional FTE-based business model and the increasing irrelevancy of offshoring. Many believe that the foundation that supported the growth of the global service provider industry is crumbling, and that survival in the new age of automation will require dramatically new approaches to doing business.

In response, many service providers have seen the light – or at least the writing on the wall – and have started to aggressively integrate RPA capabilities into their roster of service offerings.

Indeed, perhaps they have been too aggressive.

I’ve seen a number of situations where providers selling RPA solutions have come to the table with ambitious transformational plans, promising to deliver unheard of results in terms of cost savings and business benefits. From the client side, the initial reaction is typically one of skepticism – it sounds too good to be true, we say. Or, we worry that the project is too complex or too disruptive. These objections are met with earnest counter-arguments about RPA capabilities and the provider’s proven expertise in optimizing processes and managing disruptive change. End result is that often, the discussion never progresses beyond this spirited debate.

In my opinion a more realistic and constructive approach would be to begin the conversation on a different footing. Specifically, start small with a pilot project that demonstrates capability and results and validates the hype surrounding RPA. Make the business case about driving improvement within a specific business unit. This allows the client to respond to a specific proposal rather than an underlying concept. In other words, by starting small, a service provider can frame RPA in a context the client can wrap their head around.

This test the water approach can also help incumbent providers – who may be reluctant to cannibalize existing revenue and FTE-based business – transition to RPA and new delivery models.

The problem with the go-slow approach is that it doesn’t play to the competitive frenzy surrounding RPA. Fearful of being eclipsed by competitors making lots of noise and grand promises around enterprise-wide transformation, providers feel they have no choice but to make noise themselves. But, speaking from the buyer’s perspective, we’re actually more likely to notice the whisper rather than the scream.

Guest author Purvee Kondal is a buy-side executive with a major North American financial services firm. She has more than 15 years of procurement, strategic sourcing, and vendor management experience with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Bank of America.