Thinking of implementing RPA in your organisation? Before you do, ask yourself these essential RPA questions
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA for short, is a suite of technologies for automating entire business processes. Unlike many alternative forms of automation, it can be cost-effectively applied to existing processes with little or no application changes. This means your organisation can automate processes through the same applications (including desktop, web and Citrix hosted) that are currently in use, as well as behind the scenes with databases and APIs.
RPA’s flexibility extends to both modern and legacy applications which your critical business processes rely on. The most effective use of RPA is the automation of static, rule-driven activities. In these scenarios, RPA can add a powerful support element to complement your existing structure through automated programs that can work around the clock, won’t suffer burnout or make errors through fatigue.
While the benefits of RPA are enticing, organisations shouldn’t assume it’s the best solution for their existing systems. Here are five key RPA questions for you and your organisation:
Question 1 – Can your processes be significantly optimised through minor process or application changes?
If so, these options should be given very careful consideration over RPA as they will usually be more practical to implement. Small changes with tools and talent already at your disposal allow your organisation to focus on an ideal future state of operations where efficiency and traditional automation can be considered a requirement from the offset.
Once RPA is applied, it can be very difficult to implement further application changes later down the line as such changes will also have to be factored into the automated process which now runs on top of your established process.
However, many of our clients have applications that cannot be easily adjusted to accommodate desirable business scenarios. This can be due to legacy codebases or mission-critical needs which make changes too risky to perform. In these scenarios, RPA can be very cost-effective as an interim or permanent way to automate your business process.
Question 2 – Are your business processes fully understood and documented by all teams that are involved?
The most obvious answer to this question is ‘yes’. However, processes performed by humans have a surprising habit of deviating from the original vision over time. This usually happens through minor enhancements, shortcuts or speed tricks introduced by SMEs or that Excel macro-wiz in your department. As a result, it’s critical to invest time in discovery and analysis to fully determine the scope of effort involved in introducing automation because changes are usually passed along through introductory training sessions or internal workshops rather than formal documentation.
This discovery is best performed with the end-users who know the intricacies and edge cases of the process they perform regularly. This will allow for formal documentation to be produced which ensures the business vision for automation can be fully realised.
Question 3 – What tools can be used to automate your processes?
Many tools exist for RPA with various levels of functionality and many modern business applications from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Atlassian already include capabilities to introduce micro-automation within the scope of their software suite. These can be as simple as rules within email clients or CRMs which handle known business scenarios and are easy to set up and maintain.
More sophisticated tools such as Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism or UiPath can be used to automate existing processes on almost any application. These tools typically require a higher level of both investment and technical expertise to use effectively. However, this investment puts a significant amount of automation potential at your disposal and offers a single technology to automate an entire process across multiple applications or deployments.
Question 4 – What is the existing perception of automation within your organisation?
Although the possibilities for significant business efficiency and enhancements are exciting concepts for senior management, the terms ‘Automation’ and ‘Robotics’ can be frightful to your frontline staff. This is with good reason: a significant number of industries now use automation instead of human workers and these comparisons should not be ignored.
Instead, they should be put into perspective. We find that our clients consider automation as a tool to augment their existing human workforce rather than replace it. Your team may have already unconsciously employed their micro-automation through email rules or task management software.
RPA has the potential to ensure that your processes are not reliant on temporary workers or overtime to achieve your goals and deadlines. Terminology and the use of personification can also be a strategic way to shift opinion. The term ‘Automated Assistant’ is much less imposing than ‘Robot’. Furthermore, many of your existing team members would jump at the chance to have a personal assistant to pick up mundane tasks which take them away from the work that requires real human brain power or a personal touch.
As such, the development of a bot should be considered akin to the training of a new employee. RPA developers will produce an assistant that follows your instructions without deviation, will queue and prioritise activities as you assign them, and doesn’t mind receiving that last-minute email at 18:00 on a Friday for that essential task that can’t wait until Monday.
Question 5 – Can your most complex, convoluted processes be effectively automated?
In short, almost anything can be automated if the investment is tangible. The most effective way to break tasks down is through the discovery and analysis of your existing as-is process and your desired to-be solution. An external RPA team can provide a wealth of automation experience and knowledge to help you effectively realise the potential of RPA.
One benefit is the ability to break down your existing process into smaller, micro-processes. Today, the most practical way to complete your process may be to assign it to a case matter expert because the introduction of less-experienced or unfamiliar staff could result in a net productivity decrease.
RPA, on the other hand, can be used to split a complex task into smaller microtasks that leverage all the robots you have at your disposal. They can communicate with one another and distribute tasks to other robots or human users at key points to ensure escalation and efficiency.
The result is a scalable workforce that understands the breadth of your organisation’s needs, the priority of work assigned to them for effective task management, and ultimately frees up your invaluable colleagues so they can do what they do best: being human, not robots.