Technology Excellence Week


Driving a Pathway to True Operational Excellence through Digital Technologies and the Cloud

Returning September 21-23, 2020

Robotic Process Automation: Reality vs. Fairy Tale

By: TEX Week

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is barreling its way to the top of the automation food-chain. On the surface it, automation repeatable processes might seem like a no-brainer, but with popularity comes scrutiny. With a large amount of RPA implementation failures taking place, the darling of the automation industry does deserve a closer look.

‘While RPA can transform the economics and service level of current manual operations, we have seen as many as 30 to 50 per cent of initial RPA projects fail.’

Failure levels reaching anywhere near the 30-50 per cent mark for first time starters should be setting off a number of red flags for those looking into the technology. If the numbers were lower, perhaps we could chalk it up to the pressures of cutting edge technology. But, RPA has been around for a while now, surely most industries have learnt from the mistakes of others. Another contributing factor could be the lack of education surrounding the technology. RPA is in no way a fix-all solution, so applying it to any and all processes without prior thought is a quick way to gain a lot of really fast, inefficient processes.

On the other side of the coin, RPA is a technology which, if used correctly, can provide a host of benefits on both the front and back end, including: decreased process time, increased efficiency, reduced faults and aiding front-end customer service agents. With benefits on offer the automotive program maintains its high-ceiling when properly implemented. So why is the failure rate so high? There’s certainly not a lack of thought leadership on the topic. The real question is can RPA live up to the hype? Or is it all just a fairy tale?

Strategy

Automation can be a leading force in transformation and can truly revolutionize the way organizations conduct process excellence. However these innate positives must be tempered with a good implementation strategy for beginners and an industrialization strategy for more advanced players wanting to expand.  

‘Successful implementers holistically think through the entire plan for digitization, instead of just focusing on the one RPA component. A typical automation effort requires a set of complementary component technologies that together address the entire requirement.’

The critical factor in the strategy is to take every touch point in the value chain into consideration. You have to say to yourself ‘this might be a front-end process but how will it impact the back-end?’ Rather than believing RPA will bring you success, those who succeed are the ones who look at all of the impacted factors. Those who develop RPA in an isolated bubble not only risk alienating FTEs, but also create an incomplete solution that overlooks vital aspects of the value chain. 

A major aspect for the implementation of RPA is to have a viable data set in place for it to draw information from. This is also where an RPA solution can come crashing down, and an often overlooked step in the build up to piloting and subsequently, implementation. The data-set you build to incorporate with your automation strategy must not only have appropriate scale, but also have the purpose of the RPA in mind. Failure to take these two factors to heart may lead to a useless set, by way of being too small or not relevant.

Program

Understanding the program you are implementing, its ceiling and limitations, is very important. This process falls in the research phase of RPA maturity, it will not only aid in the selection of the program but also what processes you are able to apply it to.

The individualized nature of applying RPA to processes means that is not a fix all solution. For the untrained, or those doing automation without proper research this could be a fata pitfall and could be one the reasons we see such high-failure rates in new-starters. Some of the most egregious hype surrounding RPA is that it will solve any and all problems in the blink of an eye. The success of RPA, much like many other tech solutions, is dependant on how and where you apply it and the preparation put into it to give it the best foundation possible. 

It is important to be realistic about the expectations from RPA, what you put into it will not necessarily have a 100% return in the short term. Utilizing the technology to automate repetitive process does not hold a massive amount of value for all companies. While in specific circumstances the percentage of automation might represent a like-for-like to the percentage of savings, the majority of organizations must accept this will not be part of the case. Mitigating expectations is a vital part of determining success and fail states for automation.

‘Robotizing 75% of tasks doesn’t necessarily translate into 75% savings. The tasks that are robotized are non-value add tasks.’

Culture

One last thing that RPA providers often fail to mention is the impact that automation has on the office culture. While the old idea of ‘robots are going to take our jobs’ has been dispelled, there is still lingering doubt among many FTEs on how impactful RPA will be.

RPA does remove the need for humans in repetitive processes, this much is true, but rather than replacing FTEs a conscious organization should focus on upskilling and re-training staff to add more value-added work to the spectrum. On the flip side the focus on technology can also have adverse effects on your stuff on a deeper level. With technology taking a more prominent place in the strategy of, those companies spearheading technology excellence need to consider the impact of the technology onto its staff members.