The impact of Covid-19 on RPA implementation and deployment

PEX Network catches up with Rinat Malik, former RPA Implementation Specialist at BMW Financial Services, to find out how Covid-19 is affecting RPA projects

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Alice Clochet

As firms around the world adapt to a “new normal” in respect to how they conduct business, they are having to reevaluate the way forward for their brands and products in their marketplaces. PEX Network caught up with Rinat Malik, former RPA implementation specialist at BMW Financial Services, ahead of RPA & Intelligent Automation Live on 22–25 June 2020, to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on RPA projects, Malik’s golden rule for implementation and how he believes RPA will evolve over the next few years.

PEX Network: How has Covid-19 affected the implementation and deployment of RPA in organizations?

Rinat Malik: What I have heard from my network and former colleagues is that the expansion of robotics has slowed down as most organizations wait until this period is over to reevaluate the way forward. It is expected because RPA, being a cutting-edge technology, is associated with risk.

While organizations are very keen to save money and increase efficiency they are always cautious to release budget for something new. They have to do their cost benefit analysis and, in this unprecedented time, it is difficult to forecast their own budget and what they will be left with after the decrease in business.

What is interesting is all the robots that have been implemented pre-Covid-19 are working perfectly and they do not have the same limitations as humans. These robots are immune to coronavirus and are all working 24/7 to generate value for businesses and save them money. I have spoken to my past colleagues at all my previous engagements and the robots I implemented and delivered are working quite well, even though humans have had to self-isolate or take time away due to illness.

When things go back to normal, companies will see the overall benefit of implementing robotics very quickly, and they will take more of a serious measure to expand their RPA implementation. Within a month or two of lockdown ending there will be a big boost of RPA.

What tips would you give to someone looking at restarting their RPA projects post lockdown?

RM: I would have three pieces of advices for post lockdown RPA implementations.

Firstly, because of what we experienced during lockdown, businesses might automatically lean towards “Unattended Robots” as they will be keen to detach humans from the process. However, “Attended Robots” in my opinion still remain just as beneficial, because they are meant to augment human performance. Anything that a human does while working remotely can still benefit from having an attended robot augmenting their performance. I would advise not to scrap the implementation of attended robots completely, rather recalculate the bespoke business need for your own organization and come up with a tailored distribution of attended and unattended robots.

Secondly, I have always put extra emphasis on the need for real time robot performance monitoring and designing a robot in such a way that they operate transparently and report when they have to shut down operation due to any error. Due to the lockdown, the important of this has now become even more evident. The business should always know about the progress and performance of each robot in real time, so they can get insights adjust/improve anything remotely. The RPA vendors usually offer various ways of monitoring, but this need often gets ignored.

Thirdly, building on from my second point, robots and all related IT systems should have very detailed logging mechanism for automated error handling and troubleshooting. If a robot breaks down due to its own code or due to IT infrastructure, the support team should be able to quickly, easily and remotely identify what the issue was and have the ability to resolve the problem remotely. The importance of these factors has become more visible due to the lockdown as everyone has been working remotely and having access to support the robots has been found difficult.

PEX Network: Before Covid-19 came along and disruptive industries around the world, how was RPA evolving?

RM: In general, RPA deployments were a mixed bag pre-Covid-19, as I witnessed through my experience at UBS, BP, a city council in England and a number of clients I have worked with in the legal and HR sectors. Those organizations were quite diverse in size, implementation, budget and the way they want to implement RPA. One thing they all had in common, however, was that they all wanted to know about the power of robotics.

It is very important for them to stay cautious on the practicality of how they can implement it. RPA has to be a bespoke implementation since every organization is different and these differences need to be taken into account.

PEX Network: Given your past experience, why do some RPA projects fail?

RM: There are a number of parties involved in RPA projects which have stakes in the implementation such as the IT, BPM or the process excellence department. One of the main reasons RPA projects fail is the lack of responsibility distribution. Everyone should be clear about what their responsibility is as a department so there is no risk of conflict of knowing who needs to do what or which resources need to be commissioned at what stage. Another important factor is having a clearly defined, measurable success criteria specified at the beginning of the project, so the project does not deviate from its overall objective on the face of various obstruction it will face along its way.

Communications, responsibility matrix (or project RACI) and specifying a clear final goal at start are three things that make or break RPA implementation projects.

PEX Network: What would you say is the golden rule for RPA implementation?

RM: One of the very important stages of RPA implementation is the opportunity assessment/process discovery stage, to identify which process is ideal for automation. This can single-handedly make or break it.

The first few processes should be chosen carefully by a skilled business analyst responsible for identifying the success criteria and what needs to be achieved when mapping out the process. This should be carried out to a very detailed level in a collaborative manner with a technical expert on RPA or an RPA specialist. Both should work together and understand they are choosing the right processes from the start.

"When things go back to normal, companies will see the overall benefit of implementing robotics very quickly"

PEX Network: What do you expect to see in the RPA space in the next few years?

RM: RPA is very up and coming right now and a lot of companies are already seeing the benefits. In the next 12 months there will be more and more adaptations and an increase in number of successful implementations. This includes those organizations that failed to see a potential return in the technology first time and will be part of a second wave of implementation. There will be more successful scenarios and stories of how companies have benefited from it.

Within two or three years RPA will have become normalized after which we will see machine learning- and AI-supported RPA solutions. While we already have those, the technology is still in its infancy at the moment. It is very powerful but it is yet to be implemented in a way that interacts very well with legacy IT.