Designing Processes for Robots vs. People
When your organization creates a new process, what role are the robots playing?
From what I have witnessed working with dozens of organizations over the course of my career, business leaders hire new employees or onboard contractors to stand-up new processes. In the past, this was the fastest way to get the ball rolling and deliver the outcome that the new process was created for.
To date, robotic process automation (RPA) has traditionally been used to imitate the steps that humans perform in existing processes. That presents a great set of target opportunities. It is low-hanging fruit and it’s where most organizations will prove the viability of RPA as they can compare the process before and after RPA.
The true, untapped opportunity in front of us now is designing net-new processes for robots to execute—free from the design bias inherent in all of us that processes are 'the steps that someone will do'.
Today, we design new processes with human limitations. Tomorrow, we will design processes that are only limited by external dependencies.
Designing with limitations? Yes. We are all human and we have limitations. Processes that humans implement are designed around these very real limits and even risks. This manifests itself in how service-level agreements (SLAs) are defined, quality-check steps (such as reviews and approvals) are conducted, and how we define role responsibilities.
Those limitations do not exist for processes that are automated on Day 1. Software robots don't make typos, have no free will, operate at a quicker and more consistent pace (i.e. no phone call interruptions), and can be multiplied in moments during a volume influx.
Given that this is all true, why would we design a process for humans and then, shortly after, have robots perform those same steps? We’re building in the need to have that transitional phase from humans to robots. One that I would argue is unnecessary.
We should be designing the process for the robots upfront to avoid this transitional phase, and leverage employees’ creative talents to go after strategic initiatives and higher-value efforts.
If you haven’t already, you may want to talk to the teams within your organization who are tasked with designing or re-designing processes. And ask them to insert a robot swim lane in their process flows.
Continuous improvement, operational excellence, business architecture, and solution architecture are just some of the common types of teams within organizations that should be well-versed with when, why, and how to design processes with robots from Day 1.
I am sure that you can think of processes and steps your organization could take to mitigate risks, help create a smoother experience for customers, or even make work less stressful for employees. The problem is that often we don’t have the people available to focus on these activities. And even if we do, the tasks are too trivial and monotonous to require a person to perform them. This is the sweet spot for software robots.
You can design a net-new process or set of steps for the robot to begin performing to provide relief to these pain points or opportunities in the organization.
Having led a process automation team, I found opportunities with my business constituents to leverage robots to perform steps that humans were not performing at the same scale. We were able to leverage robots to perform morning “check outs” on the most business critical systems (internal and third party) by logging into them through the front end to ensure there was absolutely no issue that could result in business delays or downtime. This was game changing to quickly identify issues. And if there was an issue, the employees could focus on escalations to restore service versus continuing with the remaining check outs. I know this is a super simple and small-scale example of leveraging robots to perform a net-new process, but I would like you to think bigger.
Your organization is creating new processes all the time. Maybe it is the introduction of a new regulation that you must adapt to or a new product that you are trying to quickly get out to market.
Or maybe it is simply the introduction of a new business system or vendor into your environment.
All require your organization to determine “how will we do this” and then design a set of steps to get it done.
My advice? Create that robot swim lane.
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