The phrase “robotic process automation”, or RPA, often conjures up images of computer banks running 24/7, and of workers made displaced – or even redundant – by automation. But despite the fear-mongering that all too often surrounds technological innovation, some of the most effective RPA implementations make it possible to achieve cost-cutting measures without actually impacting headcount.
When implemented in a smart and sustainable way, RPA can be used to free up your team so that more of their time can be spent adding greater strategic value for your company.
Here are six essentials every business leader must know about RPA.
What is RPA?
RPA can be defined as the structured use of software technology to automate business processes. Order management, customer service, accounting, and data compilation are all examples of the kinds of horizontal functions that can be managed by an RPA program. RPA interacts with software the same way a person does to help them get on with their jobs.
Some of the tasks you can hand over to a robot to do are:
- Logging into applications
- Moving files and folders
- Reading and writing to databases
- Scraping data from websites
- Connecting systems APIs
- Extracting content from documents, PDFs, emails and forms
- Opening, interacting and replying to emails and attachments
- Making calculations and interacting with office applications
These are just a few examples of the capabilities of RPA technology, and they can be customised to suit your organisation’s needs with the help of a RPA Service Partner.
1. Every Business Needs an Automation First Mindset Strategy
Every business – whether they’re trying to drive growth, or they’re struggling to be more efficient with processes and systems – needs to be looking at how automation can support their operation and initiatives.
Every business has the potential to start their automation journey in 2020 – all you need to begin is the right mindset. The automation of what are often long-standing business processes requires a mindset of change, and a willingness from your team to work with experts such as those from Converga.
When you begin considering moving to automation and RPA, you might think it hard and time-consuming, but by working with the right partner this can be alleviated as they help your business navigate through this evolution by managing the process and drawing on their experience and knowledge of RPA.
A few steps you can take to begin preparing for your business to make the move to RPA include:
- Review your existing business processes to assess what you stand to gain by automating some or all of them. In particular, consider what processes are keeping you from focusing on your core service, and then ask: are these processes repeatable? Are they easy to document? If the answer to these is yes, then RPA can help.
- Identify changes you can make in the near-term to ensure a smooth transition when you are ready for RPA. Such changes could include streamlining/updating existing processes to ensure no unnecessary actions are being taken, or which team members could be moved to new roles within the organisation if their current tasks are automated.
- Review internal technical capabilities and capacity, such as analysing the technical skills of your in-house developers (if applicable), as well as creating a short-list of reputable partners.
And remember – it’s not an efficient use of your team’s time to automate processes that should be eliminated due to irrelevance or redundancy, so it’s best to ensure your processes are as streamlined as possible before pursuing RPA.
In addition, using a partner who already has an RPA Centre of Excellence and offers a fully outsourced model means you don’t have to be consumed by implementing an RPA programme , yet you can still realise all of the benefits – they can help you through the process.
2. Adopt the right RPA Model for Your Business – In-House or Through a Service Model?
Because the scope of processes can be small or large – or anything in between – implementation times and the resources they require will vary from company to company, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model.
The transition will also vary based on whether companies pursue RPA in-house, or whether they work with a partner that provides an “RPA as a Service” (RPAaaS) model.
Take the example of Canon Australia. Before pursuing an RPA implementation through Converga, the Canon team had investigated whether or not they could achieve their goals of greater business efficiencies and lower overall costs through an in-house RPA program managed by their internal team.
What the team’s leadership quickly realised, however, was that leading such a project would involve establishing their own internal Center of Excellence, including the purchase of the necessary technology licenses, and building up both a new team and its capabilities. The effort and cost associated with this they estimated would mean it would be 12-18 months before they’d be getting their first process to market. Instead, by leaning on Converga’s expertise in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and their already established RPA Center of Excellence, Canon Australian could activate automation in weeks (instead of years), at lower costs, and with reduced risks through RPAaaS.
3. Anything That Can Be Automated, Will Be Automated
In Canon Australia’s case, the company was able to transition 140 roles in finance, accounting, accounts payable, analytics, and contracts administration to its RPA program. However, these are only a few of the responsibilities and activities that can be automated with RPA.
As the table below demonstrates, RPA can be used to automate day-to-day tasks across a variety of functions and industries. Claims processing, for example, represents a major opportunity for insurance companies, while the automatic generation of bills of materials (BOMs) can improve efficiency at manufacturing businesses.
Everything from IT help desk to HR on-boarding and customer service functions stand to benefit from RPA. However, that doesn’t mean that implementing these solutions requires eliminating human workers and replacing them with robots.
4. Robots Work as Team Members
Yes, it’s true that RPA robots offer a number of advantages. They work with a high degree of speed and efficiency, completing tasks around the clock in a fraction of the time required for a human worker to finish the same work. And as they can work to compliance by following established sets of business rules, they can offer 100% accuracy (as well as an audit trail, in case their activities need to be reviewed).
But robots are also not able to do everything a person can. For example, in situations for situations where a ‘judgment call’ is required, or a decision requires past experience to allow for a decision to be made in context, then it’s still essential to have a level of oversight from a person in the company.
For these reasons, it’s best to think of the robots deployed through RPA as individual members of your team. They can report to human workers as part of a traditional org chart, and they can be given tasks that are appropriate for their capabilities.
In RPA implementations, robots can operate on either an attended or unattended basis:
- Attended robots perform designated tasks only when they are manually triggered by a user.
- Unattended robots are triggered automatically, and are capable of continuously executing preset tasks without direct human intervention.
Claims processing, for instance, may utilise an attended robot that is able to input necessary information into relevant software before escalating the review of the claim to a human agent. BOM processing, on the other hand, may be successfully executed with an unattended robot, if the information included can simply be scraped from an existing system.
5. RPA ROI Must Be Greater Than Cost Reductions Alone
RPA is highly variable in nature – it needs to be to accommodate the sheer number of different businesses it can integrate with – and if you think of the potential Return on Investment (ROI) purely in terms of hourly reductions of your existing team then you won’t be able to understand or take advantage of the full benefits of RPA implementation.
For this reason, when calculating your ROI for RPA implementation across the team, these additional factors should be kept in mind:
- Improved quality and process outcomes, potentially resulting in fewer returns, greater customer satisfaction, and increased referrals.
- Stronger staff morale and reduced turnover, as repetitive, low-impact tasks are taken off team members’ plates.
- Greater efficiencies that may result not just from implementing RPA, but from any opportunities to eliminate redundant steps or streamline workflows that are identified when existing processes are examined prior to RPA implementation.
- Greater profitability or innovation, as team members are able to allocate greater portions of their days to higher-value or mission-critical activities.
6. Getting Started with RPA Doesn’t Have to Mean Going All-In
Finally, although RPA implementations can be complex – spanning multiple job roles and departments – adopting this new technology can be as simple as starting with a single process, in a single business unit, then scaling as value is realised and delivered to the business. This approach can minimise the need to align with company CapEx budget cycles and lengthy approval processes, meaning business can focus on immediate savings, faster time to value and thus facilitating easier internal adoption. Most importantly, RPA as a Service (RPAaaS) should be approached with a ‘return on investment’ mindset. To facilitate this, there are RPA models that do not require an initial large outlay, allowing for an organisation’s compliance with their CapEx and OpEx budgets.
Although it’s advantageous to have an internal champion driving RPA implementations, that champion doesn’t need to own RPA across all business units. Instead, it’s the business unit that has to own the process. In this way, the RPA lead can focus on coordinating services, rather than struggle to navigate the complexity of each department’s processes.
According to Ken Hickey, Head of Digital Services,
“RPA is about being able to take the ‘robot’ out of the human. Your team should be able to focus on the impact tasks, and the repetitive. Low value tasks should be automated.”
RPA isn’t something to be feared. As with all new technology, business leaders must be careful to separate the facts from the fiction in order to evaluate the potential advantages and disadvantages of RPA on their own merits. Some leaders would be wise to streamline existing operations before pursuing RPA, while others stand to benefit right away in terms of potential cost-savings, greater efficiencies, improved morale, and more.
The one thing you can’t afford to do is to ignore the growing impact of ROI. Whether or not RPA implementation makes sense for your organisation at this time, you can bet that your competitors are paying attention to the opportunities afforded by our increasingly automation-driven world.
Learn more about how to streamline your business operations by watching our RE:IMAGINE Efficiency Customer Immersion Event recording, where we explore disability services provider Scope’s journey to efficiently increase their IT capacity to support staff and clients.