Why RPA Has Yet to Transform the Workplace - and How It Still Can


It’s been over a decade since robotic process automation (RPA) came roaring into the operational efficiency conversation. And despite the noise reverberating around this echo chamber we call our industry, are we any further along on the path to capitalizing on the promise of low-code automation?

I first deployed RPA over 11 years ago, so this is not a new capability. And while the value of automating the actions of a human workforce seems obvious, we have unfortunately not transformed “work” in the ways some postulated – or freed ourselves of repetitive and mundane work to a significant degree. The question is, if we haven’t yet, will we ever?

A recent ISG Provider Lens series gets at a few of the reasons enterprises are facing obstacles in wide-scale automation transformation.

1. Most work isn’t that simple or repetitive. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, it seems that most work isn’t swivel chair and repetitive enough to lift and shift enough of it to our cheap and cheery digital colleagues to truly transform our cost base. For anyone who has worked on the coal face long enough, this isn’t a surprise. On the face of it, most work feels like it requires the same high-level actions. But just a scratch under the surface will reveal that our simple, repeatable steps are often completed on the back of some autonomously remembered logic that has gone undocumented for a decade and now only resides in the head of the SME, who is now consciously unaware that he has been cemented into the middle of a given process with no simple way to be de-lodged. Here’s an upcoming talk I’m having about taming your process complexity.

2. Citizen developer programs aren’t working (most of the time). The idea that the Accounts Team will suddenly stop manually printing off paper copies of the invoices that they then highlight before processing in favor of automating the task because of a day’s worth of training on RPA really does seem laughable when you think about it. It should not be a surprise then that four out of five citizen developer programs fail to deliver a return on the investment in training and licencing costs. A recent UiPath report highlighted the lack of support that citizen developers receive post training, with more than 70% claiming they were expected to complete the build of any automation on top of their day-to-day role. This lack of investment and support is why 90% of citizen developers create no more than one process automation (ever)! Here are three tips for maximizing the use of citizen developers.

3. The resistance to culture change is real. Automation is much more than just a technology. It’s a capability that completes work. Just as much as clicking your mouse and using your keyboard in a CRM or ERP. Thinking of it as a capability requires a mindset reset. We need to get over the idea that manual effort is always required, that manual tasks are a non-negotiable part of the workday. Instead, we should ask why. Why am I being asked to do this? Why don’t our core platforms already do this? Why aren’t these tasks being automated? We need to understand that mindset shifts must involve everyone, not just a select few. Adopting a systems thinking mindset is just one of the ways that we can make sure automation is used in an organisation to complete work differently. This path to culture change is long, but it must be travelled. Here’s my podcast about driving change through citizen innovation.

Albert Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I don’t think the world is insane, but if we want our work lives to change, we have to change the narrative of how automation can transform human work. After all, the most precious gift we can give our staff is time. Let us not scrimp on it and still expect miracles.

There is no silver bullet to automation transformation. The solution is a mix of people, technology, capabilities, processes and mindset. There is not one thing to put into action but a collection of activities that will combine over time to enable change. And changing our mindset is the start.

ISG helps enterprises explore and better understand the changing landscape of the automation market. Contact us to find out how we can help you adopt automation to improve efficiency and employee satisfaction.


About the author

Wayne Butterfield

Wayne Butterfield

Wayne is an automation pioneer, initially starting out as an early adopter of RPA in 2010, creating one of the first Enterprise scale RPA operations. His early setbacks at Telefonica UK, led to many of the best practices now instilled across RPA centres of excellence around the globe. Customer centric at heart, Wayne also specialises in Customer Service Transformation, and has been helping brands in becoming more Digitally focused for their customers. Wayne is an expert in Online Chat, Social Media and Online Communities, meaning he is perfectly placed to help take advantage of Chat Bots & Virtual Assistants. More recently Wayne has concentrate on Cognitive & AI automation, where he leads the European AI Automation practice, helping brands take advantage of this new wave of automation capability.