What are some typical business processes that no organisation, including your own, can do without? A few examples are invoicing, billing, accounts payable, compliance, onboarding and offboarding, data management, etc.
Do these processes involve menial, monotonous tasks, that your employees must perform? How much time do they spend scanning databases, looking for the specific information they need, entering it in the right cell of the right Excel file?
Does this time decrease their capacity for more valuable, creative, and productive work? Do you find it difficult to handle the errors that come natural with employees’ fatigue and weariness?
In case your answers are affirmative, it is quite likely that you are open to the salutary effects of technological advancement. And since RPA is promising gains like improved throughput rates, improved process adherence and standardization, or increased productivity, to name but a few, we believe that a guide to a successful robotic process automation implementation might serve you well.
How to ensure a successful robotic process automation (RPA) implementation
The list below is meant to help you design an appropriate plan to approach the digital mode of doing business, and to make the most of RPA implementation.
1. Start by identifying the processes most amenable to automation
Since software robots are largely designed to handle tasks that allow a clear formulation in conditional format, rule based processes are the primary candidates. Processes that can be evaluated against a known cost and/or time basis should also be considered, because their savings are measurable and so the impact of automation can be rigorously tracked.
Error prone, low fault tolerance, high volume, mature, company specific, or irregular labour demands are other features that can help you make an efficient process selection. It might be useful to know that as many as 60% of back office processes have such features.
You can find here some process-related questions that are worth asking in order to make a correct decision. The answers are likely to assist you in picking those processes that promise the greatest benefits when automated. Prior to implementation, you can also consider process improvements, i.e., simplification, reductions in the necessary programming and auditing effort, enhancement of customer experience, etc.
2. Focus on the departments that rely mostly on the selected processes
This, just like the previous point, is a strategic way to go for quick wins. By doing so, you establish a strong foundation that is most likely conducive to a successful enterprise wide automation journey. Since sales operations are largely ‘automation friendly’ (in the sense described above), the sales department might be your first option.
In the HR department, you may start from recruitment and employee onboarding. Data and contract validation processes recommend the use of RPA in legal departments. In finance departments, you may consider RPA deployment for O2C, consolidations, or reporting.
3. Choose the right RPA tool for your company
The first thing on your to do list is to have a crystal-clear set of objectives that your company aims towards. Two sets of criteria should help you to make an optimal choice regarding the RPA tool you will work with.
On the one hand, you should consider vendor related criteria, such as their experience or their orientation to future-proof automation solutions. On the other hand, you should try to match the RPA software features, like security and screen scraping capabilities, ease of implementation, total cost of ownership, etc., to your company’s hierarchy of goals and needs.
4. Plan the automation journey according to a thorough assessment of economic profitability
This step refers to a fine-grained analysis of the feasibility of RPA implementation per department. You basically want to compare investment against return, and to decide based on this to what extent it is profitable to invest in RPA. It is recommendable to involve the stakeholders in this evaluation.
5. Secure endorsement from management and stakeholders
It is crucial that those involved fully acknowledge the benefits of RPA for your business. The most effective automation projects are those that have full support from the people in your organisation. The management can be very efficient in raising employees’ confidence that RPA is an opportunity and not a threat.
You certainly want to stay away from the stereotypical “Robots will steal our jobs”, and having authority figures, i.e., the executives, as an ally is conducive to this end. Their assistance is essential for dealing with people’s natural tendency to favour the status quo and to resist large scale, long term changes such as those involved by digitisation.
6. Educate and train your employees
A long term perspective of the automation journey facilitates decision making at all steps. One of your primary goals should be to ensure that the staff is able to not only maintain the current RPA project, but also come up with new suggestions for further rolling-out the incipient programs.
7. Don’t rush
Scaling to enterprise adoption might look very exciting given the promised benefits, but it is recommended that you ‘keep your feet on the ground’ and pace wisely. This should be done according to the ability of your organisation to handle the implications.
The impact of robotic process automation implementation is profound, and it takes time to obtain a clear image of its effects at levels beyond the financial one, e.g., effects on the organisational climate. Take the time to test your RPA solution, and to run and evaluate a pilot before going live.
8. Put the expertise of the IT team to good use
Executives can easily fall prey to the lure that RPA is mainly a business initiative. It isn’t! The technical expertise of the IT is necessary to surmount unexpected problems, or to choose an optimal RPA solution for the specific, temporally anchored needs of your organisation.
Moreover, they can help to cut down unnecessary expenses by not discarding the professional resources that are already in place prior to RPA adoption, but continue to use them wisely to augment the functionality of RPA.
9. Choose an appropriate governance model
You can opt between centralised, hybrid, and federated models, each with its own benefits and challenges. The important part is that the chosen model ensures full transparency regarding the processes assigned to undergo automation, the distribution of labour and responsibilities among the employees along the way, as well as the post-implementation maintenance duties.
The bottom line is that you are more likely to enjoy the full benefits of successful robotic process automation implementation by following a certain strategic path, with a business process design that is well suited to your goals.
A nested goal hierarchy and a long term plan for attaining those objectives, consideration of the business impact based on objective measures like the ROI of labour but also on the assessment of the organisational climate, or an adequate rate of putting software robots into action, are some of the factors that smooth the way towards success.
What does success mean? A practical definition according to a NelsonHall report is after a regular three-month implementation time, RPA can result in cost reductions of over 30%.