Robotic Process Automation: 6 Ways to Scale Your Enterprise RPA

According to a Telsyte survey, by 2020, the robotic process automation market is expected to reach $870 million in Australia and New Zealand, which represents a 45% growth compared with 2016. By the middle of 2017, more than half the businesses with over 20 employees had considered giving robotic process automation a try, while 12% had already moved beyond the “consideration stage” - that is to say, those 12% had started the implementation procedure.

If we focus on larger businesses (i.e., with more than 500 employees), the RPA picture is yet more dense, justifying an even brighter outlook: 38% of the economic organisations surveyed had already initiated the activation of RPA programs. So the Big Four are definitely not outliers when it comes to automation.

We will assume that you are among the open minds that have already given robotic process automation a try by mid-2018 - a justified assumption, given the percentages above. As you know that RPA is a strategic program that favours large-scale deployment, you might be concerned right now about how to scale your enterprise RPA and thereby move on to a mature model. The Telsyte study equates maturity with the stage subsequent to implementation, this is, the scaling stage.

 Source: Telsyte "ANZ Robotic Process Automation Study 2017"

Source: Telsyte "ANZ Robotic Process Automation Study 2017"

The bit of mind-reading we just did is meant to explain why we believe it is worth spelling out some recommendations that lead to a successful expansion of RPA at enterprise level.

How to scale your enterprise RPA

Automation is enticing - once you start with it, you’d better keep moving forward in the direction of an enterprise-wide use for maximum gain. According to UiPath quoting a recent worldwide survey by technology research firm Gartner, 58% of the  companies consider operational scalability to be a top business priority.

Given that scalability is among the top benefits of RPA, it comes natural that many CEOs consider adopting it at scale. The findings emerging from a Deloitte survey corroborate such expansion decisions, and support the above piece of advice: 78% of the businesses that have already given RPA a chance expect to increase, or significantly increase investment in RPA in the next three years.

So let’s see some suggestions for how to scale your enterprise RPA. Once you started the RPA journey by implementing a strong and stable infrastructure (as we were recommending here), you should be set for macro scale, enterprise-wide development. So on your marks, get set, scale up!

1. Be aware that RPA is an “enterprise platform”. This should help the strategic planning that we discuss next. You could, for instance, start in a company department where processes are more amenable to automation, and things are likely to work out according to higher expectations. HR or Finance are examples of such departments. Further, success here might be used as an argument for expansion across the whole business. This final step of scaling calls for a comprehensive, “bird’s eye view” over the business processes (see also (6) below).

2. Scaling requires a certain degree of foresight, operationalized in terms of medium- and long-term strategic planning. For instance, you could consider automating back office functions first and proceed to front office ones in a second step. All along the way, potential difficulties must be acknowledged and addressed, if possible before they become actual obstacles. Think employees’ resistance, keeping expectations realistic, deciding upon the right sequence of processes to be automated, figuring out the targeted scope of automation, etc.

3. Try to surmount an over simplified understanding of the benefits of RPA. A valuable piece of advice courtesy of the Deloitte report The robots are ready. Are you?, is that the benefits of automation are best understood beyond cost reduction. It is doubtlessly true that by delegating rule-based tasks to performance by software robots, less employees must be hired and those that are already in place can be assigned higher value roles, less free days or trainings need to be paid by the company, and the pace of production is considerably increased.

It is also true that arguments based on cost reduction and fast payback are what primarily drives investment in robotic process automation. However, there is a lot more than this! As the graph below shows, improved compliance, quality, and productivity have met or even exceeded investors’ expectations from the implementation of RPA. Therefore make sure you see the bigger picture when evaluating the benefits.

 Source: Deloitte report "The robots are ready. Are you?"

Source: Deloitte report "The robots are ready. Are you?"

4. Do not leave the ‘geeks’ outside! The IT team is critical for getting most out of automation on the long run. As David Wright, Director at Deloitte, points out, experience with many diverse implementation trajectories shows that IT can make a lot of difference in terms of speed and cost of the process of automation.

The 2017 Telsyte research showed that 57% of Australian and New Zealand enterprises benefited a lot from collaboration with an IT service provider for proper implementation.

Longer term scaling makes IT involvement even more necessary, to ensure technical flexibility as well as cyber security along the way. We also noted in an article about RPA predictions for 2018 that collaboration for shared objectives between business and IT functions of a company, is what is expected from a smartly driven automation process throughout 2018.

5. Deal with employees’ resistance properly. That is to say, help people who work for you overcome the mythology of “robots will steal our jobs”.  Make it crystal clear that robots are meant to provide assistance, to free them from tedious jobs like manual data entry that stress them terribly, and to facilitate use of their skills and expertise for higher goals. Adherence to the RPA journey and practical support from engaged employees will smooth the way of scaling your enterprise RPA.

6. Implement best practices by leveraging support from an organisation with a holistic view of the automation project. Remember that the main objective of your engagement in scaling RPA is to attain the benefits enterprise-wide, that is, maximally. To this end, you should increase the probability of avoiding the pitfalls that haunt you on the way.

Operational oversight, idea generation, and proper resource development are such mandatory practices. An automation centre of excellence is the kind of responsive RPA-specific support organisation that is likely to make such practices available in the long run.

Conclusion

As you might expect, scaling is not exactly a piece of cake. The journey will most likely involve challenges that you must learn to surmount. However, it does pay off. The main reason is the default that robotic process automation works best (i.e., promises to bring about those gains that are music to your ears) when applied at scale. Moreover, the positive experience of those who have already engaged in scaling (as shown by recent surveys) reinforces your own decision to scale up.