Over the past three years, awareness of the common capabilities of robotic process automation (RPA) technology has become much more widely known: an ability to “learn” repetitive tasks; the ability to interact with graphical user interfaces; and the capability of performing activities across different applications. There’s no question these characteristics are inherently appealing. To paraphrase King Henry II, who hasn’t been tempted to cry out on a particularly loathsome workday, “Will no one rid me of this repetitive task?”
For the person intrigued by this innovative technology, the challenge is to distinguish between appealing and practical – to make the informed decision as to whether or not the benefits would really apply to your company or just, in a limited way, to your own immediate work activities. It’s very possible individual repetitive tasks can be cured with a minor application enhancement or excel macro.
In the majority of instances, robotic process automation is introduced into workplaces through a bottom-up approach. That is, managers closest to operational process flows recognize automation's potential and bring it to a higher, sponsorship level. This may change in the future, as RPA gains greater visibility and higher levels of implementation, causing more upper and senior management to be aware of its possibilities and push it down for analysis and review.
Although there is a often a difference in rigor and formality between small and larger organizations, the key steps for adopting new technology are very much the same for both.
- IT Buy-in & Business Buy-in (runs parallel)
- Finance Buy-in (Pilot Trial Scope & Budget Placeholder)
- Pilot Trial Design & Success Criteria
- Budget Award
- Pilot Trial Implementation & Reporting
The first step in RPA adoption is acquiring a sponsor. Think of this person as a true believer – knowledgeable, articulate and passionate about this emerging technology's transformational powers and the game-changing process automation it will bring to the company. The sponsor must be highly credible, able to make an initial, back-of-the envelope value proposition/business case (sufficient to get the ball rolling), and capable of legitimizing the investment of other people’s time and effort.
This person could be you.
IT & Business Buy-in (Runs in Parallel)
IT Buy-In: buy-in from the IT department is crucial. One, for many good reasons (security, common architecture, etc.), they are tasked as the gatekeeper for new technology (fortunately, software robots have very light footprints). Second, although robotic process automation is very business-friendly, you will need some time from IT resources. Simply put, if IT isn’t on board, the train isn’t leaving the station – a very good reason for the sponsor to have evangelized a powerful business case before knocking on their door.
Business Buy-In: there are two types of business buy-in – primary & secondary. Primary business buy-in involves managers/users whose operations would likely be directly impacted by process automation and could become Pilot Trial participants. This group must embrace the business case.
Secondary business buy-in involves manager/users whose operations are indirectly impacted by outcomes from primary users. An example would be a business process from which data is handed off from a primary group to a secondary group. The secondary group will have to be fully aware of any Pilot Trial risks and comfortable with how they will be managed.
Finance Buy-In (Trial Scope & Budget Placeholder)
Supported by IT and business, the sponsor designs a high level scope document for a Pilot Trial and uses it to create a high level budget. Finance is approached for a preliminary commitment towards funding the trial. Although the commitment is non-binding, it does guarantee funds have been put aside for this purpose.
Trial Design & Success Criteria
With access to funds assured, the sponsor designs the Pilot Trial with collaboration from both business and IT. Essential steps in this process are:
- The definition and approval of success criteria by all parties - ensuring that all post-trial decisions meet expectations
- Identification of, and commitment from, all essential participants.
With an approved Trial design, commitments from essential resources and finalized budget, the sponsor makes a formal request for funds from Finance - referencing the initial non-binding commitment and clearly explaining any variances between it and this request.
Trial Implementation & Reporting
Pilot Trial Implementation: the Pilot Trial should be implemented as a project plan with interim checkpoints and milestones that tie to the final success criteria. The sponsor is the owner of the Trial and must pay particular attention to important factors beyond the goal of hitting pre-determined success factors. Such factors include:
- Unexpected FTE bandwidth – the sponsor should work with primary business owners to have alternate activities available for any ‘empty’ employee time caused by unexpectedly high productivity gains.
- IT lessons learned - because ongoing IT support is essential for continued adoption, the sponsor and IT managers should closely monitor and document the footprint of IT support, from the beginning to the end of the trial.
- Driver/Rider User Training – the sponsor should look for opportunities towards the end of the Trial to test a driver/rider user training approach. This approach utilizes adept robotic users (the driver) to train new robotic automation users (the rider) so that ongoing training and support can be highly scalable.
Reporting: Pilot Trial reporting should cover two elements – results (tied to success criteria) and issues. It is highly recommended that the sponsor create a three person report committee (IT, Primary Business, Secondary Business) to review ongoing and final results, take any desired actions based on results, and resolve or escalate significant Pilot Trial issues.
The champion is a senior member of management who can work with the sponsor to implement the results of a successful Pilot Trial in other areas of the company.
While every company has its own culture and unique characteristics, this adoption approach should serve as a useful, foundational, tool for acting on robotic process automation opportunities - and laying the groundwork for informed decisions by both IT and business organizations.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.