In June, the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA-AI) conducted a study of business technology leaders in more than 22 industries and 40 countries, which showed that automation has become part of almost every process and industry in the world.1 But where—and how—does RPA fit into this? While RPA can drive a lot of process efficiencies and cost savings, it also can be a huge financial undertaking that requires a lot of change management.
So, how can your organization be sure it’s implementing RPA where it will be most beneficial to the bottom line instead of just using technology for technology’s sake?
In this third post of the three-part blog series on RPA, we are going to talk about how businesses can ensure a successful RPA implementation and what to consider prior to rollout.
Identifying the right processes for RPA
The IRPA-AI survey noted that the processes most ripe for RPA are typically in shared services organizations – areas where there’s a lot of repetition and well-defined processes but also a lot of human intervention.
Surveyed companies specifically called out financial activities as the most common processes they planned to automate in the future. RPA can help improve financial processes by automating expense receipts, collections, approval workflows and some standard reporting.
The second most common area prime for RPA mentioned in the survey is Human Resources (HR). RPA can enable HR staff to rapidly track timesheets, store documents, calculate benefits, and issue onboarding information to employees.
Finally, the survey also mentioned procurement as another target area for RPA influence. The automated approval of requisitions and invoice processing can significantly help reduce human intervention in procurement processes. Not only can organizations reduce costs and gain efficiencies by using RPA for procurement, but they also can improve the vendor management process with more communication and better expected planning.
Narrowing the field
There are other areas in which RPA can fit as well, including high-volume and high-frequency activities, repetitive, transactional activities, data-intensive activities, rule-based activities (interrogation of data, tax and compliance), tasks that pull data from disparate systems, and activities with standardization opportunities.
While there’s a host of processes that could benefit from RPA, organizations should evaluate them each separately to determine how they can ensure a successful implementation for each one. Before diving in and making any RPA project a reality, consider these suggestions:
- Define “transformation” before thinking about the tools. Technology does not solve the problem. It’s the vehicle to get you to the solution. Would you select building materials before designing the house?
- Define automation objectives – e.g. headcount cost reduction, improving productivity, accelerating financial reporting cycles, redeploying resources to higher-value activities, enabling the organization to bring roles back onshore while maintaining an efficient cost structure, or improving compliance and controls.
- Establish the right governance. To accelerate transformation, an organization will need to expand automation in a managed and thoughtful manner and not just as a series of separate projects. With this in mind, it is useful to plan and work in concert with business-led, end-to-end process improvement initiatives.
- Plan for transformation. Change Management is key for any RPA implementation. Considerations should include changes to job design, roles, capabilities and skills required.
- Conduct a pilot. This can be helpful for understanding the effort required to program and run the tool and the impact on resources.
Getting executive—and employee
—buy-in for RPA roadmap
Once your organization has begun a RPA implementation, it’s essential to show ROI beyond cost savings to ensure you gain buy-in from both executives and employees for future projects.
You can do so by identifying and quantifying opportunities for how RPA can be used in revenue-generating activities in addition to cost-saving or compliance activities. Don't just focus on RPA’s ability to reduce labor costs as its only benefit. Carefully set expectations of what the tools can do and how your organization can use them to support automation in an overall digital transformation strategy.
You also can identify other processes that touch multiple systems across the enterprise that could benefit from a nonintrusive approach to automation. Evaluate RPA opportunities where you have people acting as "swivel chair integration" — rekeying data between systems — and where they’re performing work that involves structured, digitalized data processed by predefined rules. This analysis forms the basis for your enterprise automation roadmap.
Lastly, identify alternative existing tools or services which have most of your required functionality at a suitable price point and evaluate these solutions in parallel with RPA, or as a hybrid solution. Also keep an eye on future artificial-intelligence-based options to ensure your organization chooses the right technology for each future automation project.
As always, please reach out if you have questions, comments or concerns about RPA. We appreciate your feedback.
1 Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence Survey. IRPA-AI. June 2017
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