7-Step Guide to Successful Enterprise RPA
Published on : Tuesday 11-01-2022
Prepare for strategic RPA implementation in your organisation, and reap the benefits of increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved morale.
These 7 steps aren’t the only way to approach this issue, and this white paper is not intended to be a detailed instruction manual. There is simply too much variation in the needs and capacity of different organisations looking to take advantage of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Instead, these steps provide a logical flow that, based on our own experience chances of delivering a successful result from your RPA implementation efforts.
There are certainly potential challenges relating to personnel management when an RPA solution reduces the number of staff required for a particular task. However, there is already some evidence to suggest that when implemented in the right way, RPA will have a positive effect on employee attitudes and workplace culture. This is because employees will have greater opportunity to focus on work that is more engaging and more suited to their talents and interests.
Automating boring and repetitive manual tasks means employees are free to focus their attention and efforts on things like creative thinking, strategic planning, long-term projects, product development, customer research and satisfaction, collaboration with colleagues, and idea generation. In other words, all the things humans can do much, much better than robots. In short, by combining RPA with optimised processes, you can bring your next product breakthrough or innovative revenue-generating activity closer to fruition, by unlocking the creative potential of the entire workforce.
Business Case & Baseline
The first step in implementing a successful RPA initiative is to ensure there is a solid business case to proceed. As with almost any innovative technology, there is a strong temptation for organisations to treat RPA as a one-size-fits-all solution that will immediately double profits and halve costs, without any effort required. While it may be possible to reach this outcome in time, there is a lot more involved than simply firing up the robots then sitting back and relaxing.
The decision to be made before implementation is not only how your organisation could use RPA, but whether you should. Of course, any RPA solution is doomed from the beginning if there is no baseline from which it can work. You will need a clear understanding of how your business processes actually operate—not just how they are supposed to operate—in order to decide if an RPA solution is the right approach.
This requires that your organisation capture and document its current processes and assess any variances. The best way to achieve this is to make use of automated process discovery tools, which help discover underlying system processes and provide insight into variations and compliance issues.
In doing so, you will be able to see how and where processes may need to change before RPA enters the equation. Process mining in this way also helps you understand the limitations of RPA, i.e., the percentage of cases that are ‘exceptions to the rule’ and will need human intervention to handle.
Keep in mind, while automated process discovery will capture system processes—the facts on what happens as well as variances— it will not capture the full story. For that, you also need insights from users and process participants. When collecting these insights and feelings, the best approach is to use tools that rapidly capture information from users, and enable the models to be built for them. Only by combining ‘facts’ with ‘feelings’ can you arrive at a single holistic view, and from there properly assess the price, impact, and value of change.
Success at this stage means you will have a clear idea of the reason you want to make use of RPA, and understanding of how the potential benefits will impact your organisation. It is also vital to have an insight into the way your business processes currently work, including process deviations. Taken together, this information acts as a survey of your circumstances, making sure you are well-prepared for a successful RPA implementation.
Refine & Test
Once Step 1 is complete, the temptation is to just dive in straight away, and simply find the quickest, cheapest way to start automating tasks. This is a missed opportunity! Using RPA to complete the same tasks in the same way as usual, except this time faster and with robots, is a quick fix that neglects the possibility of improving the process itself.
Having surveyed your environment and used process mining to establish a baseline of the way your business currently operates, Step 2 is to refine your ideas and test your assumptions:
a. Is your business case still strong?
b. Do the results of your baseline process discovery show RPA is still the right solution?
c. Do you have the right level of support and buy-in from management, stakeholders, and employees?
Simulation has a valuable role to play here, offering a way to examine and improve your project without the risk of impact on your actual processes. Modelling and simulation can also assist in gauging the potential impact different scenarios or external circumstances may have on the project you have in mind. Remember, it is easier and cheaper to test and fix a model than fix a wrong implementation!
Think of this process of refining and testing as a blueprint for success—it will help ensure your RPA implementation is manageable, while providing evidence of business value for senior decision-makers. With this blueprint in place, the next step is to select a suitable task to act as a pilot project.
Waste & Pilot
Before a task can be automated, it needs to be optimised. After all, if the quality of the underlying process being automated is poor, you risk still doing the wrong things, just faster and cheaper. Taking this to the enterprise level equates to optimising your organisation’s process structure, before seeking to apply RPA. In practice, this means removing or reducing waste; that is, tasks or activities which are redundant, outdated, or extraneous.
You will need to conduct a process analysis based on the process discovery you undertook in Step 1. This analysis will provide a clear, unambiguous snapshot of exactly how processes operate within your business. Using process modelling software to create models of your processes is an especially effective way to highlight the waste that can be removed, and resolve any bottlenecks or redundant steps.
Once a process has been refined to its most efficient and effective form, it is time to begin the pilot. A successful pilot program offers the strongest foundation for successful RPA implementation, as it demonstrates the impact of optimised processes when combined with RPA in a real-world scenario.
In addition, by focusing on a single process, organisations create a small-scale testing environment, which can be thoroughly monitored and examined while the RPA solution is in operation. (Of course, depending on the size of the organisation, ‘small-scale’ is a relative term—some organisations may be piloting RPA across a task with hundreds or even thousands of instances.)
A word of warning, however! Sometimes, the general enthusiasm for RPA leads management to implement the initial RPA pilot using a relatively large and complex process, which is often not suitable for a limited proof-of-concept project. The best pilot project would avoid large, mission- critical tasks in favour of tasks with low criticality, but high user frustration. In resolving these frustrations, user approval will go up, increasing the likelihood of further RPA initiatives being welcomed.
Since you have worked through the steps already outlined in this paper, your pilot should be operating according to expectations. You have a firm foundation for your RPA implementation. Step 4 is where things really start to happen.
Champion & Ramp-Up
Champions play a crucial role in sharing the benefits of RPA with their colleagues, with a specific focus on the ways in which RPA can make employees’ lives easier. Since you selected a pilot project that significantly reduced user frustration, those previously frustrated users will now work hard to convince their colleagues of how much better things are now their work is enhanced and supported by RPA. This provides the breeding ground for further support, and turns your RPA implementation from a ‘push’ project, where you are trying to convince people, to a ‘pull’ scenario, where staff come to you to suggest additional tasks for RPA, or to ask how RPA can help them.
Collaboration within and among teams also plays a vital role in this step, as true champions are likely to be those staff members who have seen RPA in action and want to share their experience with colleagues. If your organisation has a means of employees quickly and easily communicating and working together, even if they are organisationally or geographically separated, then this process will be even easier.
Keep in mind such champions may be found in unexpected places—finance and HR managers are just as likely to be open to RPA solutions than the CIO, and just as likely to spread the word. These champions also play a vital role in preparing staff for more and more tasks and processes to make use of RPA. They’re like construction workers, only what they’re building is internal support for RPA.
The other element of Step 4 is also about building, but in this case it’s about solidifying the role of RPA in your organisation. Once your pilot project has demonstrated success, there should be a smoother path towards introducing RPA into more tasks within your organisation. A short list might include recruitment and onboarding of new employees, Finance Department activities like accounts receivable, accounts payable, and invoicing, or processing application forms. Of course, simply adding more robots without considering the quality of the processes being automated is still poor practice. You’ll need to apply the same level of analysis and forethought to each possible process that could take advantage of RPA, if you’re to achieve long-term success with automation.
Achieving success in Step 4 means you have enlisted internal champions to help your colleagues understand and welcome further RPA opportunities. In addition, you have moved beyond your pilot project and expanded the size and/or number of RPA solutions in place in your organisation, while remaining aware of the challenges of this approach.
Educate & Listen
Step 5 involves a comprehensive plan for educating users on the new ways of working RPA will require. It will also mean seeking feedback from staff about how RPA is actually working in practice; that is, taking advice from the experts.
RPA implementation is a change management exercise as much as any other business transformation, and therefore staff must be provided with the information they need to understand what RPA will mean for them, their work, and their colleagues.
Frequent and detailed technical updates may not be necessary (though they should be available for staff who are interested) but an ongoing commitment to keeping staff up-to-date with the reasons for implementing RPA, the selection of a pilot program, the results of the pilot, and the opportunities for future roll-out, should be a bare minimum approach. The champions from Step 4 also play a further role in this step, bringing in their personal experiences of how their (or their team’s) productivity has improved, how much extra time they have in their day, and how their recorded error rates have dropped.
Offering an opportunity for staff to provide feedback will also assist in a more effective RPA solution, including allowing staff members to raise questions and concerns before and during the RPA pilot project. Employees should have access to a range of formal and informal ways to provide feedback, including anonymously. These mechanisms could include an online venue for collaboration and discussion, regular staff meetings, a dedicated mailbox or contact person, surveys, or any other approach that fits the structure and culture of a particular business.
Success in Step 5 looks like a happy and informed workforce, who feel ready to embrace RPA and offer suggestions for additional opportunities to make use of the technology.
Monitor & Measure
The relative simplicity of this step belies its importance. Monitoring the way RPA solutions are operating across an organisation is vital, in order to ensure the robots are operating as intended, following the rules they have been given, with demonstrable positive impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation.
However, a robot cannot analyse and extrapolate data about its own performance, it can’t alert you if a process is not working the way you intended, and it can’t make suggestions for improvement. For this, you will need a process monitoring and analysis tool.
To show, for example, the amount of time saved and what that time equates to in staffing costs, the tool you select will require some means to present the information in an easily understandable format. In addition, to support continuous improvement, the tool should be able to provide real-time and ongoing updates, as well as be able to combine information from other, non-RPA processes within your IT landscape.
Any return on investment can only be proven by monitoring and measuring results over time, so monitoring the results of your RPA solution against its expected value is crucial to ensure value for money is being achieved. Some questions to consider may include:
a. Are the automated processes working as they should?
b. Is productivity really improving, or is RPA simply moving work from one desk to another?
c. Are the expected savings being delivered?
d. Do you need to fine tune or even change the way that robots are being used?
e. Are there any unexpected ‘knock-on effects’ impacting other processes?
f. Have the automated processes revealed challenges in other, unrelated processes?
g. Have the processes themselves changed since they were revised?
h. Is the operating environment the same (e.g., physical infrastructure, internal support)?
i. Have any requirements changed (e.g., new regulations introduced) that require process or task rules to be updated or changed?
Of course, this monitoring and measuring should never actually stop, even when a strongly positive result is determined. A commitment to continuous improvement, informed by rigorous data collection, should form a cornerstone of the way any business operates, and implementing RPA solutions is no different.
Expand & Improve
By this point in your RPA journey, you should be able to see real improvements in the process (or processes) you have automated. You should also see the corresponding benefits to your business, whether through savings, increased efficiency, or better staff morale. As outlined in Step 6, it is vital to quantify these improvements, in order to ensure the internal support for RPA is maintained. Combining this quantifiable data with qualitative information, in the form of positive stories from colleagues who have handed over some of their dreariest tasks to uncomplaining robots, can have a powerful effect on employees at all levels within an organisation. Gathering this information and demonstrating the value of RPA to the business will likely assist employees to overcome their potential distrust of RPA and embrace its positive impact on their work. In turn, this may encourage more staff to identify tasks and processes that would benefit from an RPA solution in their own work, and RPA solutions can expand across the organisation as required.
At the same time, a cyclical approach to RPA offers dramatic scope for further organisational improvement. As with any business transformation, RPA implementation can be viewed as a cycle to be worked through continuously. This means Steps 1-7 outlined in this paper can be applied over and over to new processes, or to processes that have already been automated, with a view to constantly improving the RPA solutions in place.
Therefore, success in this step is potentially never-ending—it is a constant cycle of improvement and refinement as you work towards increasing efficiency in all your business processes, whether taking advantage of RPA or not.
Organisations that think strategically about which business processes can and should be automated, engage supporters early on, and plan an effective implementation process, will be well-placed to tackle the human resources challenge RPA can pose while at the same time reaping the benefits of automation. They will be able to take a strategic approach, and embed RPA into the way they work.
This enterprise approach represents a better way to take advantage of the power of RPA. Instead of short-term tactical gains, enterprise RPA means concentrating on optimising processes first, and introducing automation second. In other words, an enterprise approach makes sure you are addressing the right problems, not just doing the wrong thing, better.
RPA works most effectively to augment human employees, not as a replacement, and sits along- side existing efforts to optimise processes. It can also be considered as insurance against corporate memory loss—there is no need to ask, “Now how did we do that process again?” if a robot is already in place and successfully working away.
Increasing efficiency and reducing costs drives up the value of an organisation, and there is no better way to increase efficiency and reduce costs than by taking a strategic, enterprise view of robotic process automation.
Article courtesy: Signavio