If you aren’t willing to go all-in, then don’t put on your RPA swimsuit

RPA Reebot blog series in collaboration with Kieran Gilmurray

RPA can be complex and expensive. It is not the perfect tool for all occasions but then again no technology is. Automation isn’t a quick fix. It’s a journey. For real results, you need to do more than deploy software robots. Before any organisation jumps headfirst into #RPA there are many questions that need to be asked and answered.

What is your organisation’s digital transformation strategy?

RPA needs to be part of a clearly articulated business transformation strategy. Don’t blame your vendor for your lack of transformation planning, strategy or foresight. Organisations need to articulate clear business outcomes from the very beginning of any RPA infused digital transformation program. It’s ok not to have your strategy planned to the nth degree but do understand the transformation direction you are going upfront. Begin simply, but have a plan to rapidly move up the intelligent automation value chain (RPA, AI, Analytics, process mining, OCR, Chatbots etc) to digitally transform your organisation (i.e. adopt a crawl, walk, run approach).

“RPA requires buy-in from all levels of the business, but for it to be successful firmwide, it needs to start at the top. I’ve seen many examples of where the wrong stakeholder have been engaged from the start and this has led to a failure in getting traction on the automation journey“
Amyn Jaffer – Head of Intelligent Automation at Ultima

Is automation a strategic priority for your business with strong executive support?

If the answer is no; then stop here. Programs that don’t have a strong executive sponsor are far more likely to fail. Executive teams need to lead from the front and present this picture of a brighter augmented future to their employees from the start.

“Implementing RPA can be far and reaching in any business, from Execs to the colleagues on the ground completing the work the BOTs may be brought in to automate, everyone can be impacted. It’s very important to have Exec level sponsorship but it is equally as important to make sure the people on the ground are communicated to from the outset….very often it’s the people on the ground who play a huge part in teaching the BOTs“
Andrew Hartley – RPA Consultant

Do you want a fast, cheap and easy RPA digital program?

Well, you can’t have one. Don’t blame the vendor for you wanting fast, cheap and easy. Nothing that Kieran (in his 25 years) or myself (with my time in the space) have seen delivers results that are worthwhile and sustainable in the medium to long term that is cheap and fast. An automation program of reasonable scale will cost £250k in the first 6 months alone. Whatever your vendor tells you, implementing RPA correctly takes considerable time and money.

“A straightforward way to improve your probability of automation success is to have a selection of vendors automate the same process as part of a competitive PoC process. Each vendor should fully involve you in their POC. That way you can see exactly how things are done using their software. You or they can produce a video showing live software with customer sample data demonstrating exactly how the proposed automation will work to show others. This approach reduces your all round risk with the added bonus of a head start with the software you end up going with“
JD Wilson Jr – RPA Hyper Innovator

Has someone else in the company already looked at RPA?

Kieran explained that he has come across large UK retailers and banks who have simultaneous RPA pilots running with separate vendors due to the fact that the business functions had a history of not communicating with each other. Do complete a comprehensive RPA product review. Don’t just rely on the recommendations in analyst reports. Look beyond the top 3 vendors. Select an RPA toolset that best suits your organisation’s digital strategy otherwise your RPA program may struggle to deliver anything at all.

Do you fully understand what RPA can do and can’t do?

RPA won’t work in lots of situations. In fact, an API may be a better solution. RPA works when processes are pre-defined; structured; repetitive; easy to understand; digital; high volume; where data quality is excellent and there is a logical set of predefined steps to follow. RPA does not work well when innate human judgement is required.

“RPA works well for structured, well ordered processes. It does not work well when human cognition is required; nor should you use RPA when there is a ready made API available“.
Matthew Coffey – RPA Delivery Lead at Pearson

Have you done your due diligence and determined what RPA will deliver in terms of tangible benefits to your organisation?

Have you completed a business process review, costed RPA, completed a POC (a well-defined and delivered RPA program costs a lot of money e.g. a mid-sized firm would burn through a quarter of a million in 6 months) and found that real business returns will accrue? See this article on measures you might consider when building your RPA business case.

Are your IT team aligned, their resources allocated and are they openly willing to support you?

Have you got a plan for how you’ll build and support (a key facet of RPA programs) your RPA program for the next 3 years? If you don’t have your IT teams buy-in then you are going to struggle to create momentum for your RPA program. IT help is needed to create a stable, agile cloud environment (recommended if you want to grow in an agile fashion), roll out software, help with network access, support bot pcs and lots more besides. Rolling out and successfully supporting more than 25 robots is a tough challenge. Without the support of a fully bought in IT team, your program will struggle to survive.

Have you got a well-defined ‘hearts and minds’ communications program in place to clearly articulate how, what and who will benefit from intelligent automation?

Newspapers and online news sites are choc a bloc with stories of major job losses caused by robotics. Consequently, the people you need to both offer up, and work with you to automate processes, may not be as excited about an RPA program as you are. Your HR team should have a strategy in place that clearly articulates how your organisation will grow in an era of increasing automation.

RPA is not about talent replacement, it’s about talent augmentation. – not just about cost optimisation, it’s also about organisational transformation. – not about taking the robot out of the human, but bringing the human back inside the human”.
Shail Khiyara – RPA & Intelligent Automation Executive

Is your organisation in the middle of a transformation initiative already? Will you have enough time rich subject matter experts (SMEs) to help your intelligent automation program?

Considerable SME time is required in design thinking, development, documentation and agile ceremonies. Never underestimate or under-communicate the effort needed from your SME (and their team members who run the process day-to-day) to help you automate and support processes.

Is your organisation’s RPA program easy to set up, code and use?

Superior product usability can lead to quicker scalability, greater ease of deployment, higher levels of adoption, cheaper run, and build costs and lots more. If the RPA product and its configuration, build, run and administration of processes are not efficient or easy to understand then this will likely lead to higher run costs.

Is your organisation’s culture aligned?

A workforce culture that truly embraces change will provide a platform for you to succeed at anything. A siloed, broken culture, riven by personal interest will stop any program, technology or otherwise, in its tracks. Which is yours?

RPA can play a transformative role in automating processes within your organisation. However, if you don’t prepare properly, then RPA can become a sinkhole which swallows your resources and time.

What questions would you recommend organisations ask before they implement an RPA program?

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