RO-BLOG#9: RPA “Forward To Basics”

RPA Fundamentals – “Forward to Basics” 

If a week is a long time in politics, try a year in RPA!

Twelve months ago, we published our first in a series of articles offering insights and best practices for an RPA journey. At that time, there were a number of promising RPA vendors emerging and establishing their place in the market. The early adopters of RPA were forging ahead and deploying hundreds of bots to automate manual, repetitive tasks at a respectable scale, while the future was full of opportunity for those just beginning to explore the RPA concept.

Fast forward twelve months and the pace of change and development has been phenomenal. Those early adopters are now exploring and exploiting the potential of “Smart RPA”, augmenting robotic automations with machine learning and cognitive capabilities. Small and Medium sized enterprises are catching up fast and beginning to enjoy comparable benefits as their larger corporate counterparts from a year earlier. Those few promising vendors have matured and grown along with their core product and future roadmaps, buoyed by strong investment and an increasingly experienced and certified labour force, and a number of new entrants are piloting their place in a maturing RPA market; and all this has helped RPA gain much wider acceptance and credibility with IT professionals and the IT profession in general.

Like all transformational change, the last 12 months has shown that RPA still needs sound planning, engagement with key stakeholders and an effective delivery methodology. Clear options for RPA Operating Models and Governance Frameworks are now more commonplace, and this is helping to deliver more successful deployments.

In our first article a year ago, we outlined a blueprint for an RPA roadmap, which included the following key underlying points:

  • Automation Objectives – When embarking on an automation journey, define clearly “why” and “what” are the intended objectives, priorities and desirable outcomes. Build a Business Case that clearly defines the expected benefits and don’t focus purely on the ROI, as RPA is capable of  delivering much more than labour arbitrage, however compelling this may be.

  • Automation Framework – Consider the foundational elements for the automation journey from the very beginning. They don’t all have to be 100%, signed, sealed, finished, but set out considering options and arguments for what could be an appropriate Operating Model and Governance Framework; also don’t ignore the importance of effective Stakeholder Engagement, Change Management and Communications. Review sourcing options, in order to decide whether, what and when to insource or outsource which elements of the automation program.

  • Automation Feasibility – When deciding what to automate, remember to keep it simple (at least initially) and select tasks which are repetitive, manual, routine and rule-bound, with mostly well-structured data. Assessing the suitability and feasibility of processes for automation is as relevant now as it was then, and ensure that the Roadmap is flexible and agile, with 3-month delivery increments, then review & adjust accordingly, with a clear end-game in mind. ”Start Small, Prove, then Scale”.

  • Transformational Approach – The process of automation often results in a re-sequencing or reordering of activities, but may also include the elimination, simplification or standardisation of other activities and tasks. We have two recommendations in relation to this: first, this is often necessary to deliver a fully optimised automated solution; second however, don’t delay any planned automation unnecessarily because of this and also don’t try and “fix” all the issues first, as the time and effort that can be saved by deploying the automation, will usually outweigh the cost of striving for perfection: therefore, combine automation with traditional business transformation discipline, and use automation as an enabler.

  • Manage Expectations – Don’t neglect the importance of effective change management and communication, engaging early with Stakeholders to set expectations and gain support, especially with IT, who’ll be needed to help set-up, manage and maintain the automation infrastructures. The most successful journeys begin with support from the C-Suite downwards, with engaged IT support, clear expectations, with RPA as the overall transformation enabler.

Conclusion – From our experience, this suggested RPA blueprint remains just as relevant and effective 12 months on, and has helped Lawrence & Wedlock to deliver successful automations on time and budget, saving thousands of hours in manual effort, enhancing customer experience and compliance and freeing up staff from repetitive, monotonous activities allowing them to focus on more value adding and rewarding work.

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