Have the “innovator” and “early adopter” waves for robotic process automation (RPA) passed? Is the RPA industry evolving into a new phase in which the majority of companies are using RPA technology? Companies are recognizing that automation can free their teams from manual repeatable tasks, which means humans can spend more time on tasks that require their brains and projects that bring value to themselves and the company. Over the next five to eight years, we will see tremendous growth in the adoption of digital workers that can handle repeatable transaction business processes.
Is your company ready for digital workers? The following will help you decide:
First, understand what RPA is good for. In short, RPA makes sense for business processes that use structured data, well-defined business rules and enough human effort to justify the ROI. The primary goal of RPA is to improve efficiency – not effectiveness. This is accomplished by robots that eliminate errors, work 24x7 and execute tasks faster than a human. Here are the five primary functions of RPA:
- Importing data – Automations pull and aggregate data from connected sources, such as Excel data files, databases, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, bank files and websites.
- Processing and verifying data – Automations perform data manipulations and calculations, such as matching transactions between different systems, identifying fees, performing depreciation adjustments and certifying balances.
- Identifying and managing exceptions – If the automation cannot solve the discrepancy, the data or transactions are forwarded to a human supervisor.
- Reporting and analysis – Automations prepare the necessary data for analysts to interpret and build reports, which means more time is available to interpret the data and run reports more often.
- Auditing – Automations will log the tasks performed, reasons for the decision and other metrics that auditors may use to verify compliance. Knowing precisely how a task is completed and recording relevant information is necessary for audit and compliance.
Second, understand the potential benefits of a digital workforce. Acquiring RPA technology will change the way an enterprise executes business processes – and disruptions are inevitable. Before launching a new technology that will change the business, understand why. Leaders need to build the business case and communicate effectively with employees about the decision to use RPA. Here are some of the reasons:
- Improve customer experience. Changing business processes should improve service response and deliverables, reduce cost and transaction time and improve client satisfaction.
- Improve operational efficiency. Robots improve efficiency by speeding up processes and eliminating errors. Automations perform five to ten times faster than human workers without variance, as dictated by the scripts. And robots don’t make input or output errors.
- Increase business agility. Reorganizing, changing processes and spinning up or spinning down the human workforce is expensive. Retooling a digital workforce or spinning up and spinning down digital workers can be accomplished quickly. A robot also can work across business functions, running automations for HR, finance or supply chain, for example, while human operators normally reside within a business unit.
- Reduce costs and increase capacity. An annual software license for a robot ranges from $5,000-$15,000 a year and can handle the work of approximately five humans, who are then freed up to focus on higher-value efforts – and use their brains!
- Improve compliance. Robots will do the same task over and over again without flaw and document its actions to an audit log.
Third, make sure leadership is committed to developing and managing a digital workforce. RPA spans the organization, requiring, at a minimum, the business unit, HR and IT to align and deliver a successful RPA program. The following roles are necessary to deliver an effective RPA program:
- A Program Sponsor is responsible for sponsoring the RPA program and tracking its performance to achieve ROI.
- A Steering Committee should provide oversight, guidance, direction and resolve major issues.
- A Project Manager should oversee and manage the RPA projects and initiatives.
- IT Operations must plan, implement and verify the installation of the RPA software, provisioning access and authorization to systems or applications.
- Business process SME(s) are responsible for providing details of the business processes to be automated and participating in the development and approval of process definition and automation design documents, provisioning test data and test cases and reviewing test results.
- Automation builders should be trained on the RPA technology, how to manage the automation lifecycle, generate process definition and solution design documentation and support deployed automations in the production environment.
Automating business processes is not hard with current RPA technology, but building and managing a digital workforce is. The time is now to decide how your company will leverage automation. Contact us if you want to learn more about building an automation program.
About the author
Richard Baldwin is an experienced consultant with more than 30 years of experience in information technology, process automation, transformation and software development. His consulting experience includes work for firms such as Accenture, Genpact and Toshiba. His industry experience includes Department of Defense, energy and utility, retail, finance and the public sector. He has held executive and senior technology positions for consulting and finance firms.