There are times when the benefits of robotic process automation (RPA) are such that the technology seems too good to be true: headcount decreases, capacity increases; costs decline dramatically, accuracy spikes upward; quality improves and so does scalability. What’s the catch? RPA is a new technology – so that’s a catch of sorts, but – if these 5 pitfalls are avoided, the RPA experience should be a very good one.
5 RPA deployment pitfalls
Is your company seriously considering automating business processes with robotic software technology? Has a team been reviewing product vendors and evaluating product features? Then it’s time to make sure there’s a preliminary implementation plan in place to guard against the following unforced errors – mistakes that will likely cause disappointment.
Immature process automation strategy
Most of the discussion around adoption of new technology tends to focus on slow acceptors, business and IT resources that cling to old ways of doing things. With robotic software the opposite is often true. Advantages are so dramatic the transition to automated processes takes place without clearly thinking things through.
Process automation should be part – perhaps a big part – but still just one element of an overall process optimization strategy. Before any process is automated, all processes should be filtered through centralization, standardization and optimization filter. This doesn’t mean obvious and/or automation opportunities should be delayed, and it doesn’t mean centralization, standardization and optimization has to come first (in fact, automation savings may have to fund those efforts). It does mean automation is directed only at relevant and well qualified business processes.
A great strength of automation is accuracy – the configured software never deviates from its algorithms. Of course, that is also a great weakness. Should any internal or external aspect of a business process change, the software will likely fail to perform. In order to avoid automation failures, changes will have to be planned, communicated, tested and made within a strong governance framework.
This will be an organizational and third-party challenge because many business processes are undocumented and revisions occur less formally than in a governed change control process. Governance is rarely done well in a reactive mode; the framework should be proactively put in place before any deployment begins.
Optimistic effort estimates
Robotic software is still software: the deployment roadmap should reflect more conservative software configuration effort estimates than guidelines from either the product vendor or any third-party advisory firm. Despite all the “so easy, even a caveman can do it!” declarations, the fact is automation software is not quite that user-friendly and quick to configure. The fault lies in nature of business processes and the fact that software is literal – it can do only what it’s been told to do. Because humans are anything but literal, there are often ‘missing’ rules in a process simply because the decisions just make sense to the human operator. It will take time for current process employees to identify and document innate rules they currently follow without even consciously thinking about them.
By automating processes, a company changes the means to an outcome but not the outcome itself (though accuracy, efficiency and costs will improve) – so it’s important the deployment incorporate new roles well beforehand.
Clearly a new type of team lead will be required to manage the output of software robots. This lead will have new responsibilities: maintaining and improving service levels for the human interventions needed for process exception-handling; a liaison with the IT department, insuring current support needs are meet and future needs communicated; change management, proactively re-configuring robotic software in coordination with changes in process activities and rules.
Depending upon the size of the deployment, a management slot above the lead position may be needed to implement the rollout across other business units, structure reporting data for senior management and collaborate with IT department management.
While deploying robotic software to automate business processes entails risk and requires an investment of human and financial capital, the implementing company receives two attractive benefits – all the associated savings and complete operational control. An early part of the strategic plan should question whether automation should be done in-house or by a business process outsourcing (BPO) provider.
Experienced BPO providers such as Genpact, Cognizant, Accenture, Xchanging, and TCS have robust service offerings with well integrated capabilities across technology, process optimization, change management, automation technology, and labor arbitrage.
Outsourcing process automation does present its own set of issues, particularly the risk of becoming locked into a provider’s technology and the inherent conflict of the same third-party providing offshore headcount and also responsible for eliminating headcount through automation. With this technology changing so rapidly, entering into a long term contract with a third-party provider has to be balanced against an objective measurement of a company’s internal capability to do the job itself.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.