To Automate or Not to Automate: What Happens When PEX Meets RPA?
Many of you will have heard about Robotic Process Automation or RPA. But are you wondering how we, as Process Excellence professionals, should be thinking about it? Firstly, if you don’t know what RPA is , take a look at one of my previous blogs here, which gives you a flavor of what it is and what it can do: http://www.processexcellencenetwork.com/business-process-management-bpm/columns/the-difference-between-robotic-process-automation/
When I am asked what Process Excellence is about, I always answer that it’s the application of systematic problem solving using tools and technology, where appropriate, to deliver business improvement. It’s within the tools area of Process Excellence where RPA fits and I, therefore, look to use it.
However, as you start to build a better understanding of what RPA can do, the next challenge we face is to determine when to automate and when not to automate? The cost to automate processes is relatively low once you have established an RPA capability. This means in some cases the automation of a process may be easier to achieve than a complete process re-design.
But, is this really the right thing to do? Should we automate bad processes or fix them first and automate after?
To answer this question really depends upon the business and environment you are working in. What speed of change do you need to achieve and what is the cost to achieve you are prepared to outlay?
You may then look to RPA as a short term tactical solution as well as a long term solution. In some cases RPA may be used to quickly deploy and make some improvements, whilst in parallel a more thorough ‘traditional’ process improvement initiative takes place. In other cases RPA may be used to help a business reduce variation in manual processes, in order to, in turn, provide the data (through the automation tool) needed to process mine and look for areas of further process refinement. Finally, RPA may be used to free up resources in your processes to start looking at creating new ways to create value elsewhere in your business, building new processes.
I know there are many more examples and scenarios out there, however it is clear to me that Process Excellence and RPA sit together and should be used that way.
But what do you think? Are you using RPA to automate processes? What advice would you offer to others?