Sandra Williams, HGS SVP, Sales and Strategic Account Management
Some lessons are learned, rather than taught. Right now, most industries are reeling on half-truths about the impact and influence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). These misconceptions lead to missteps in a company’s automation journey aimed at achieving cost efficiencies and enhancing customer care. Many stumble—not choosing the right business problems to address or the right business partner, or quite frankly, relying too much on technology not the right process design. Let’s step back and address five of the top misconceptions that have led many astray.
1. RPA should be applied to all standard, rules-based processes.
Forget about it! Just because a process could be automated doesn’t mean it should be automated, even if it passes an obvious pre-selection check-list. It is often touted that business process automation gets work done more quickly, less expensively, and more accurately. So ask yourself if the process identified for automation will:
- Save measureable time.
- Produce sufficient ROI.
- Show measurable quality improvements.
These three benefits set the baseline litmus test. If the process passes the test, then you can probe more challenging characteristics to ensure the rules-based process is the right automation candidate. Does the process experience a high level of change management? Is it stable? Is it an efficient process today, or is it broken with redesign a must for success? Are exceptions too high? Only after vetting these additional operational aspects and impacts does implementation of robotic process automation makes sense – debunking this myth regardless of whether or not the process itself is perceived as rules-based.
2. 100% automation is the best way to capture optimal results.
Perhaps, but only if you operated in a perfect, simple transactional world where pure numbers rule the typical output from start to finish. These conditions do exist in certain administrative (heavy recordkeeping and reporting) functions where total elimination is the ultimate goal of automation. More common though is a blended automation approach for more complex, and higher-volume transactions, where some level of manual intervention is still required to complete the process. Automation zeros in on precision, accuracy, and skill utilization to tackle these transactions where extensive exceptions and costs lie beneath error-prone processes. While 30%, 40%, or 50%-plus may be the best conversion rate achieved, partial automation, nonetheless, is a better path to capturing the most benefits and boosting savings. Remember, too, that over automating can lead to maintenance woes. The Pareto Principle states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, and it rings so true in dispelling this myth.
3. RPA ROI is only viable with employee reductions.
Really?! It’s the term “reduction” that is a misnomer, in this case. Think more about the personnel saving in terms of “time recovery and productivity,” and a better ROI result unfolds. Now, the business case can show other options for cost efficiencies; whether it’s deferment of planned new hires as existing staff handles more, redeployment of skilled resources to other areas, or better yet, redirection of talent to customer engagement activities aimed at revenue growth. Normally, it’s optimal to keep an existing employee where you have already made a massive investment in time and training than to absorb hefty onboarding costs that too can strain financial outlooks. It’s also an effective approach to create employee enrichment that in turn promotes stronger individual performance. Yes, personnel reduction is still typically the top approach to justify RPA viability, but there are many ways of realizing benefits from your digital labor strategy besides reduction as the sole ROI consideration.
4. RPA must always be viewed as a long-term solution.
Nope, nope, nope, and nope. One of RPA’s greatest advantages is its ability to connect legacy systems that normally don’t “talk” to each other, a huge challenge and daunting expense in most operations. In fact, this valuable feature allows RPA to bridge the gap either as an interim solution or a long-term solution. It’s a fast fix with a short implementation cycle, three to five months. It’s an affordable fix, too. Companies constantly push to deliver the best possible user experience relying greatly on getting data sooner for inquiries or status. Faster data retrieval and management may drive forward-thinking leaders toward a short-term RPA solution verses waiting years for IT resources. Situations create stop gap needs, too. Mergers and acquisitions may call for access to data from multiple sources–a temporary need that RPA can help address. Your company’s broader technology transformation efforts will no doubt continue to keep pace with changing industry demands, but RPA is a powerful tool that can positively affect real-time business needs. A word of caution: Don’t get caught up on a quick-win mindset and forget about the ROI. Just realize the possibilities are endless no matter the duration, so let’s say this one is a myth gone wild.
5. RPA is all about the right platform fit.
Who says? It’s called Robotic “Process” Automation for good reason. There are plenty of reputable RPA software providers with comparable platform features in the marketplace—considered “tablestakes” for a creditable RPA starting position. RPA’s true value and reward comes through design thinking centered on optimizing a chosen process. Make sure you look at the data sources, create end-to-end process flows, and understand problems surrounding the process you are trying to fix. Sound process design upfront prevents scenarios of flawed processes producing repetitive errors in production. Enhance the process where possible by first identifying all relevant scenarios. And look at the upstream and downstream process and application environment. Observe the process, just don’t read about it! Engagement of subject matter experts (SMEs) goes without saying, but also involves pushing these resources to think outside their comfort zone. Unconstrained thinking and a free flow of ideas to solve business problems are encouraged. It takes a changed mindset to be creative, putting thinking caps on to design for unmet customer needs. Design is automation’s competitive advantage to beat, not meet, customer demands thereby shattering this common myth.
Sandra is HGS SVP, Sales and Strategic Account Management. In her role, she participates in the HGS Global Innovation Council and leads RPA client engagements to introduce RPA and design automated solutions for process improvements, along with the internal Business Transformation team. She acts as a strategic ambassador bringing focused thought leadership to HGS clients and prospects in this explosive RPA space. She is a member of HfS’s Future of Operations in the Robotic Age (FORA) Council, a select group of industry experts.