Before you invest time, money, and effort into robotic process automation (RPA), you need to be sure “is rpa worth it”? What are you trying to do? Is it worth doing? Is RPA the best way to do it? Do you have everything you’ll need to make it a success?
Knowing if and when the time is right to commit to automation can be tricky.
We recommend starting with the following three questions.
|①||Should you automate parts of your business?|
As the author Simon Sinek says, start with ‘Why?’ Until you know why you’re thinking about automation, and why you want to change, it’s impossible to be sure that automation is the right approach.
One of the most common reasons to automate is to improve productivity and efficiency, either to reduce operating costs or to support scalable growth.
When you picture your business in two or three years’ time:
- is it fundamentally the same business but bigger, or does it look and operate quite differently?;
- are your manual processes still carried out in roughly the same way as they always have been?; or
- will large swathes of routine activity have been automated, allowing your team’s precious time to be focused on better serving your customers, developing new capabilities, and growing your business?
Figuring this out is stage one of our three-stage RPA approach.
Understand the likely benefits of automating
Another key question at this early stage is, ‘Is rpa worth it?’ Assuming that you could automate parts of your business, should you do it and what would the payback be? Some quick calculations will give you an idea of the potential benefits of automating. For example, how beneficial would it be to automate 5-10 of your core business processes?
In a typical business,15-20 per cent of processes could be ripe for automation. In a service industry (e.g. financial services, professional services or consumer services), it could be far more than that. But whichever sector you’re in, if you can’t see this major opportunity within your business, you may be looking in the wrong places.
In many service industries automation is now so deeply embedded that it’s essential just to keep up. But if you want to do more than just keep up, you’ll need to think strategically and for the long term.
Many in the market will claim that RPA is quick and cheap. But doing it properly can take time to repay your initial investment. Can you accept a short-term investment to help meet your longer-term goals?
|②||Could you automate parts of your business?|
Even if you’ve answered a confident yes to question one, you should also ask whether you could automate parts of your business – and there are a number of ways to do this.
The first is to review your key business processes to see if they’re suitable for automation. A simple rule of thumb is to ask if the process is any of the following:
- IT-system based;
- driven by data; or
- requiring little human or professional judgement.
If your answers are predominantly yes, then you might have a process well suited to automation. Activities and processes that tend to have high automation potential include:
- processing transactions, such as invoices and receipts;
- reconciling data;
- transferring data from one IT system to another;
- producing reports;
- filling in forms with information;
- many activities in customer contact centres; and
- many activities in high volume transactional processing businesses.
Prove that automation can work with a small trial
We can help you assess the automation potential of your processes, but the best way to be sure that RPA is the right approach is to actually see it working in your business.
So before you commit to a significant investment in time and money, run a small proof-of-concept (POC) or pilot. This is the first step in stage two of our three-stage RPA process.
A successful POC or pilot shows your leadership team that you can plan, implement, and run automation – and gives them the confidence to green-light a full programme.
But successful is the key word. Running a pilot doesn’t automatically mean you should move forward to the next stage. You may decide, during or after your trial, that it just isn’t working.
And that’s okay. This is your opportunity to say, yes or no, do we want to take this on? No is a legitimate answer, just as long as you gave yourself every chance to succeed.
|③||How will you automate parts of your business?|
One of the top reasons that automation projects fail is that people see it as an issue just for the IT department. It isn’t. It’s a whole-business venture that calls for proper governance and senior business sponsorship.
You’ll need developers, security, support, and other IT specialists. But you’re also likely to need process experts, a business analyst, maybe a project manager.
And arguably the most important person on the team will be your subject matter expert: the person who knows the process you’re automating inside-out, who lives it every day.
If you’re automating a customer service process, the right person to lead the project may be someone from your customer services team – not an RPA developer.
Communication is an important part of automation
Having the right understanding within the project team of both RPA and the subject matter is vital for a number of reasons, one of which is communication.
People understand their semi-manual processes. But automation is new. Talking to staff about how and why automation is happening is a critical job for a knowledgeable team.
From the initial scoping and development work to the live roll-out and day-to-day running, your automation project will only succeed if you can invest in the right team and governance.
And if you’re going to achieve the holy grail in RPA of developing and embedding your own centre of excellence, defining standards and governance at this early stage is essential.