With a recent surge in adoption of Robotic Process Automation, many midsize companies are asking how they can get in on the action. Here’s what they’ll need to successfully implement this back-office transformation accelerator.
obotic process automation (“RPA”) may not have the same headline appeal as other digital technologies, like AI and blockchain, but don’t let that fool you into believing it’s any less transformative. Over the last decade, RPA has become a fundamental pillar in the evolution of back-office operations as businesses continue to build atop the bedrock of automation.
The RPA market is booming as adoption is forecast to increase and RPA providers continue to raise significant capital. In April of this year, RPA provider UiPath raised $568 million at a $7 billion valuation, while another, Automation Anywhere, amassed $300 million. Earlier in the year, Blue Prism stated it would be raising nearly USD$130 million (£100 million) and recently announced it would be buying Thoughtonomy, which uses a cloud-based AI engine to deliver RPA solutions.
For forward-thinking leaders, the question isn’t if they’ll adopt RPA, but when and how. Given the relative simplicity of deploying a bot, adopting RPA is an immediate way to generate value in the form of accuracy, efficiency and cost savings. Furthermore, regardless of the maturity of current processes and competing priorities, RPA can produce instant results with relatively low effort. However, the real game changer is leveraging RPA to stand up a digital workforce: launching a program to implement RPA across multiple processes involving a critical mass of resources to realize transformative changes and benefits.
So where do companies start? Here are two key steps businesses can take to successfully adopt and implement RPA.
Step 1: Develop a Pilot
Consider the pilot as an experiment or an icebreaker to get stakeholders acquainted with RPA. Typically, the CFO, in partnership with the CIO, will mobilize teams to quickly develop their first bot and start the automation journey. This involves the following:
1.1 Select an RPA platform and prioritize use cases — Select a use case with a strong ROI potential. This will help you evaluate RPA software that best aligns to your functional, technical and cost-of-ownership criteria.
- During this step, engage stakeholders across the organization beyond functional areas, including Internal Audit, Technology and Security to help establish necessary governance and avoid noncompliance on technology and security standards.
- Aim for a low-complexity use case for your first bot. Adopting a highly complex process will significantly increase the project timeline and put unnecessary stress on those directly and indirectly impacted by the pilot.
1.2 Redesign the process — Conduct interviews and walkthroughs with process owners and capture the current-state of process steps from A to Z. Identify areas of improvement and make appropriate changes as part of the design of the future state. Process redesign documentation should include detailed process maps and a process definition document that together outline future-state bot requirements like triggers, cycle time and systems — these will be used by the developer and will help accelerate the bot development time.
- Use this opportunity to optimize inefficient processes before turning over requirements to the bot developer to avoid automating a broken or inefficient process.
- Ensure the business verifies the process definition document to minimize/eliminate rework. The last thing you want to do is identify a critical requirement when you are about to go into production.
1.3 Build, test and implement a bot – Develop the automated solution according to the process definition document, performing careful unit testing along the way. Engage end users through user acceptance testing and include them throughout the implementation journey to ensure business requirements are met. Craft an exception-handling framework to make sure that known and unknown exceptions of both systems and processes are able to be managed by the business and IT professionals.
- Before new use cases are prioritized, train end users and technical support to build internal RPA capabilities and speed up the bot adoption process in your company. At this stage, it is important to document lessons learned from the pilot to increase deployment speed, improve accuracy and reduce errors on the next wave of use cases.
1.4 Operate and optimize — Accelerate benefits realization by establishing a benefit-tracking mechanism to measure the success of your bot deployment while identifying additional opportunities for optimization (e.g., minimize human reviews, automate more complex steps, reduce exceptions and clean data).
- Your existing bot can be used as a blueprint to fast-track the development and deployment of similar bots in other locations and/or similar processes, thereby increasing your ROI potential.
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Step 2: Scale RPA and Standup a Virtual Workforce
This step focuses on strategically deploying new bots (in waves) to gradually stand up a “virtual workforce” that will help the organization realize the benefits promised by RPA: increased productivity, improved quality and accuracy, maintained operations 24/7 and the redeployment of humans to perform more value add and analytical tasks while lowering the cost of the general and administrative (“G&A”) platform. This step involves the following:
2.1 Prioritize New Use Cases, Implement and Repeat — With the newly gained bot development capabilities and lessons from the pilot, launch an effort to rapidly prioritize new use cases across the G&A platform and implement them in waves (implementation roadmap).
- Similar to step 1.1, the focus should be on high-value, low-complexity use cases. As internal RPA capabilities are developed, the appetite to tackle more-complex processes will increase. However, it is important to generate a cadre of successful use cases before moving on to more-complex processes.
2.2 Establish a COE to provide Governance and Scale — As you begin to stand up bots and move them into production, a Center of Excellence (“COE”) will become a necessity to maintain and enhance the nascent virtual workforce and to develop a pipeline of new bots. Standing up the COE will require identifying key stakeholders (senior sponsorship, program and project leads) to run the RPA Program; developing a lean governance and operating model; and collaborating with technology, cybersecurity and Internal Audit to design the IT infrastructure and control framework.
- The Internal Audit team should be an ally and not an impediment/bottleneck of your automation strategy. Engaging them early and educating them on the differences between deploying RPA and more traditional technologies will help simplify the effort to meet Internal Audit requirements relating to the adoption, testing and maintenance of the new virtual workforce.
With this approach, organizations of all sizes can benefit from RPA, and misconceptions about the technology’s complexities can be addressed to build stakeholder confidence in adoption. The key is to understand the “art of the possible” when applying RPA to transform the back office.