This week Rod and I were happy to support our friends at Velocity IT with their RPA Breakfast Workshop, a collaborative workshop designed to introduce the topic of RPA, encourage debate, highlight common problems and answer questions from the participants.
A Quick Demo
The workshop opened with a live demonstration of RPA in action showing a real-world problem of updating core systems from inbound emails. A terrific example of how RPA can be applied to optimising mundane tasks and taking the Robot out of the Human. The short scenario demonstrated a few of the key benefits that can be achieved through RPA:
Processing Time Reduction: The automation was able to complete the simple task 5 times quicker than the manual equivalent.
Waiting Time Reduction: In reality tasks queue up in the inbox and the customer experiences a wait time delay before the email is read and processed, an automation continuously monitors the inbox for new emails therefore operating in real time.
Defect Reduction: Manual keying of data from one system to another generally results in defects, people are “only human” after all. Automation will repeat the process the same way every time. Quality improvement and reduction in wasted time for rework are two common benefits achieved through RPA.
Auditability: RPA provides additional information about the process being carried out, providing auditability of the process itself and further data to improve efficiency of processes. Transparency of processing is an important factor to any industry operating in an increasingly regulated world.
The Opportunities for Automation
Following the demonstration, participants engaged in a facilitated discussion, an opportunity to understand real scenarios in order to provide tailored insight into how RPA can be applied.
Increasing Customer Trust: Automation is not just about simplification and taking steps out of processes to increase efficiency, sometimes it be value adding to introduce new steps. The example of adding steps to a process to keep the customer informed of progress was just one of several examples where small changes can be introduced to improve the overall value to the customer.
Data Migration: RPA is an option for data migration tasks, consistently replicating how a person would transfer the data between systems.
Strategic or Tactical: RPA can provide both a tactical or a strategic solution. Data Migration can be tactical short-term need for example, whereas integration across multiple systems may provide the long-term solution to address significant business processing challenges. Cost, Quality and Efficiency are key strategic agenda items that RPA can help to improve.
The Challenges Faced
Of course, the real world can be messy, and the discussion focused on some of the challenges.
Finding the right approach: An interesting discussion developed around methodology adoption. Is Agile right? Should we move from “old” approaches to modern methodologies? The answer depends on many factors, the organisational culture, the type of automation tool selected and the problems being addressed to answer the question fully. In principle though, a collaborative approach such as lean startup or similar works very well for RPA projects, opening the door to more innovative thinking and new opportunities.
Dealing with a Complex Systems Landscape: Do you simplify and modernise, or do you use RPA? Timeframes for RPA are far more rapid that the Software Development Lifecycle, whether a tactical or strategic approach is taken RPA meets a specific need that is not addressed by other systems developments (following rules across multiple systems like a person). RPA is your digital workforce more than an additional software licence.
3rd Party Systems: Many 3rd party providers now include clauses to allow early notification of systems changes and even access to pre-release test systems. When your automation runs across 3rd party apps, make sure that these clauses are in place and actioned to test your automation in advance of the changes occurring. You don’t want to find out on the day the system is changed!
Overcoming the Obstacles to RPA
Inconsistent Terminology: A common problem when discussing automation is the inconsistency of vocabulary that is used. To help avoid the pitfalls and misunderstandings one of the first goals will be to create a common vocabulary to ground everyone’s understanding of what automation actually is, and also what is realistically achievable. Perceptions of RPA will range from disbelief that any automation is possible through to unrealistic belief in science fiction so clearly articulating what automation is will allow all your stakeholders to communicate consistently. (see also Categorising Automation)
Selecting the Right Solution for Business Needs: Some failed RPA programs are not a failure of RPA but rather a failure of selecting the wrong tool for the business need. There is now a huge range of capabilities that are possible from the different tools available, it is important to take a business-first approach to identify your motivation and the problems to be solved rather than be vendor-let, adapting your business processes to fit the capabilities of the tool. (see also When RPA Failure is actually a Success!)
Selling RPA into Business: This is a challenge for any organisation of any size. Despite the range of options available and costs to suit any budget, there is still hesitation to move forward. Like the previous point in matching up the right vendor to the business need, identifying the “burning platform” or motivation for RPA will is your most crucial first step. (see also Creating a Strategy: Why Automate?)
Work with a partner: If you are interested in learning more about opportunities for RPA in your business then Wzard Innovation and Velocity IT can provide tailored insight, education, facilitated discussion, and deliver the structure and experience for your whole RPA journey. Working with a partner can accelerate your RPA journey and reduce risk of failure by learning from experienced professionals.