Where does RPA currently stand? What is the forecast for 2018?
Worldwide use of robotic process automation has led to significant, positive impacts on business productivity. In 2017 the adoption of robotic process automation grew globally at a higher pace than ever before.
According to Deloitte, RPA has become a “top priority for global business service leaders” across the industry landscape. Sectors such as banking, insurance and financial services have led the charge with their uptake of RPA to date. Pleasingly, the range of industries now investing in or actively investigating robotic process automation is growing, including manufacturing, utilities, mining, hospitality and FMCG, to name a few.
With its non-intrusive and flexible architecture, an automation scope that encompasses such a wide range of applications and business processes, and its ability to facilitate better management of the changing labour market, robotic process automation has become more than merely a viable option.
Indeed, extrapolating RPA’s growth trajectory into the near future would imply adoption as a necessary step that competitive businesses must take. According to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence Survey from June 2017, 66% of respondents were considering expansion of robotic process automation programs and 70% were allocating increased funds for investment in 2018.
Zoom in on Australia
According to Frederic Giron, research director at Forrester - quoted by Beverley Head for ComputerWeekly - one of the most ardent concerns of Australian businesses with respect to automation will be innovation.
To this end, companies will focus on sourcing bright (human) minds who can fuse the best of both worlds - human intelligence and collective experience, with the power of process automation. Such automation is expected to work hand-in-hand with broader company mandates to provide personalised products and services that provide the best possible customer experience.
In CiGen’s feature in the Australian Financial Review, Leigh Pullen, Executive Director and co-founder says of the Australian landscape: “RPA has moved to proven technology and is providing tangible benefits to the companies that deploy it”.
Let us now list some of the robotic process automation best practices that can help to lock in these tangible benefits.
Top 6 robotic process automation best practices
1. Select the processes to be automated wisely
CiGen’s Leigh Pullen states that in order to tap into the vast potential of robotics, it is essential to begin an RPA implementation with those business processes that are best suited for automation. Selection should be made based on criteria such as:
Mature, stable processes - processes that are stable, predictable and well documented, with operation costs that are consistent and well defined
Low exception rates - low rate of variable outcomes that would otherwise require complex human intervention
Measurable savings - cost savings and/or benefits gained can typically be expressed in terms of greater accuracy, faster response times, lower cost base, etc.
High volume / high frequency - these processes often provide a faster ROI
2. Understand the human resources required to build your automation projects
People are at the heart of any successful, sustainable robotic process automation program. There is no “one size fits all” approach to building an RPA team, so taking the time to evaluate your options is key. Will you look to build your team from internal talent, who may have an existing knowledge of business processes and ideal automation opportunities?
Do you prefer to hit the ground running by working with a specialised RPA consultancy, who can build, implement and manage the automation projects for you? Or perhaps a blend of both, where your internal Centre of Excellence is initially guided and trained by an RPA consultancy, before taking full control themselves? Answering these questions at the beginning of your automation journey will help drive a more successful outcome.
3. Have an “RPA sponsor” with a holistic, centralised vision of the road towards RPA implementation
It is crucial that automated processes remain compatible with all the other procedures of your business. Merging of RPA into the overall functionality is therefore a must. This is why having someone who can have a “bird’s eye view” over all the relevant aspects facilitates efficient implementation on a larger scale.
PlantAutomation-technology and ETtech take this one step further and recommend that such a person be an executive sponsor, or someone who can also handle the financial aspects of implementation. Relatedly, an RPA centre of excellence (COE) might ensure the right level of centralisation, which is likely to provide not just short-term process automation but also a coherent longer-term plan.
4. “Divide and conquer”
This piece of advice comes courtesy of Sreyans Jain, Wipro BPS. Suppose after a thorough analysis, you are faced with the reality that the process whose automation is likely to be most useful is also a very complex one. Should you go for the second-best option? Not at all.
It may be better to invest time into breaking this complex process into several sub-processes, and then implement automation only for those that do not require human-level decision making. For instance, the parts that simply gather the information needed to make a decision could be automated, and leave the decision-making itself to human employees.
5. Having a test plan and a fallback plan is critical before deploying an automated process to production
As with any automation technology, rigorous testing of an automation build is critical. It is recommended practice to be prepared with multiple environments where the build can be developed and tested, before finally being approved and deployed. We highlight some important points to consider in order to minimise any frustrations when transitioning to live production:
For all applications interacted with during the automation, ensure an application version match between Test/Development and Production environments
Sufficient test data should be made available in Test/Development environments, with the test data set being as recent as possible
An agreed fall back plan is in place should the automation build require re-work after deployment to Production
6. Train and educate your employees so that they can move beyond the mythology of “robots will steal our jobs”
Never miss an opportunity to explain to your employees what your automation projects are being used for, identify where the automations will assist them in their day-to-day responsibilities and how this forges a pathway towards higher value, business building projects that will tap into the true skills and expertise of your workforce.
Be very clear regarding what robotic process automation can do (and what it cannot), so that expectations are maintained at a realistic level. In doing this, you build and foster a sustainable, long-term development of RPA within the business.
Sreyans Jain makes the enthusiastic statement that “Sooner than later robots will be embraced by all.” We believe that this is the natural conclusion to be drawn, after showing how accessible software robots are in fact. If this information is corroborated with knowledge about the numerous benefits of RPA technology, one cannot but embrace Jain’s optimism about the future of robotic process automation.