Over the last year, organisational understanding of robotic process automation (RPA) has come a long way. The process has demonstrated that automation is possible and can drive significant positive business outcomes.
During this time, there’s been a slowdown in the number of new entrants in the RPA market. Many of the main players have secured additional venture and investment funding, which has helped them stabilise their products. While the technology itself has not materially matured over the last 12-18 months, desktop, monitoring and reporting tools have continued to evolve.
Customers are now demanding greater visibility into ‘bot’ performance as they need to demonstrate that their desired business outcomes are being realised.
RPA should not be used for processes that haven’t been standardised or optimised, in which bots and humans must be able to resolve inconsistencies created through inefficient processes.
At this stage, the market isn’t entirely sure whether RPA is a permanent fix for automating certain business processes or a temporary stopgap. It’s reasonable to assume that modern day enterprise applications will fully automate their technologies in the near future. We often see companies handle the temporary stopgap risk by managing the RPA payback period within 18 months or less.
Tasks with highly manual transaction volumes in relatively non-complex environments with structured data tend to drive the greatest business value for RPA. The worst use cases are exactly the opposite, and in many instances they make RPA a non-viable option. RPA should not be used for processes that haven’t been standardised or optimised, in which bots and humans must be able to resolve inconsistencies created through inefficient processes. Additionally, other factors that can negatively impact RPA are transactions and activities that are seasonal, sporadic or unpredictable in nature.
Another mistake that we typically see businesses make with RPA is not considering end-to-end processes.
Viewing RPA as a technology-only solution is a mistake. Few organisations design with a broader view of all the technologies available to them. Business leaders should consider ‘stacked solutions’ that use other tools, such as workflow and application programming interface (API) calls, for example, in conjunction with RPA. It’s best to work with a partner who knows the realities and limitations of RPA, what benefits it can drive specific to your business and what it will cost to drive them.
Another mistake that we typically see businesses make with RPA is not considering end-to-end processes. Often, RPA is being used to address data errors or inconsistencies that were cheaper to remediate with lower-cost labor, rather than using higher-cost labor or having their legacy systems do something different.
When combined with integrated process and organisational reengineering, RPA can drive better outcomes, but don’t let a proof of concept (PoC) mentality drive automation aspirations. It’s ok to use a PoC with a very limited scope to test RPA and a particular platform. However, when it’s time to automate, start with 100% automation.
The way companies modernise once RPA is in place is highly dependent on the specific business opportunities automation can potentially achieve. Many organisations are using RPA to control the rate at which selling, general and administrative (SG&A) costs rise by introducing new ways to address capacity needs. The same rationale also helps companies address talent shortages by allowing RPA to remove what is often considered to be ‘mundane’ work. The individuals performing those activities are being reskilled and redeployed to more value-added activities. And as their business grows, companies don’t need to add headcount to handle higher volumes.
As the use of RPA and process automation evolves, we (and our clients) are shifting focus away from transaction volumes and more towards customer experience. Businesses can now begin thinking, ‘How can RPA be used to improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency with which I serve my customers?’ Interestingly enough, the same automation used to improve customer experience will also lower the cost of operations. It’s simply a matter of timing.
About the author
Author: Albert Rees, is the SVP Head of Business Consulting, EPAM
Mr. Rees brings over 20 years of experience in the business and management consulting industry and, prior to joining EPAM, he served as President of North Highland, leading the North and UK Region, and overseeing more than 400 consultants and support people. In addition to having full P&L responsibility for the region, Albert provided large-scale business transformation advice to numerous Fortune 100 companies. Prior to that, Albert served as a Partner in Accenture’s Human Performance Service Line, where he led HR business strategies, combining strategic planning, trends and technologies with business needs and creating actionable recommendations. He holds an MBA from Tennessee Technological University and a Bachelor of Science in Finance from the University of Tennessee.
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