U.S. companies eager to implement robotic process automation — software that automates how humans interact with software — are often fixated on seeing a proof of concept, said RPA technology expert David Brain. And that’s not good.
“I feel bad going to clients and proving what’s been proven several times over,” Brain said. People will automate a simple process that might require one employee and half a spreadsheet and declare success.
“‘Yes, we’ve proved the concept!’ But all they’ve proved is that the technology works. What they haven’t proved is whether there is a business case for automation and will it deliver the scale of improvements the company wants to achieve,” he said. Rather than a POC, companies should insist on POV — proof of value — before embarking on RPA. “That’s the bigger challenge.”
Brain is co-founder and COO of Symphony Ventures Ltd., a consulting, implementation and managed services firm specializing in what the firm dubs “future of work technologies”– RPA technology among them. Founded three years ago, the firm has worked on RPA projects across a broad range of industries and geographies. “We’ve done deployments in five continents so far,” he said.
All work is local
The firm’s projects have also covered a diverse set of business processes. That’s because RPA is not a “process-specific solution,” Brain stressed, but rather the automation of rules-based, manual work not covered by a company’s process-specific technology systems. And that work necessarily varies from company to company.
“You can have five organizations and they each could be running the same ERP system, but the way in which these systems are configured depends on the particular company’s rules and that means there is different work that falls out manually,” Brain said.
At some companies, Symphony experts are called upon to automate the current manual process, using RPA technology to automate the work the same way employees do it. Other companies will want help on optimizing the process first before automating it.
“It really depends on what is driving the business decision,” Brain said. The nature of the work Symphony automates is always rules-based, but those rules can be extremely complex. (The firm has done projects in which it’s taken several months to capture and learn the processes that are eventually automated.)
Proof of value: Five steps
But, whether the RPA work is of the “lift-automate-shift” or “lift-shift-automate” variety, or involves simple or complex rules, companies need to follow certain steps in order to get a “proof of value.” Here is a synopsis of Brain’s five steps for deploying RPA technology:
- Scope the transformation
“RPA is a transformational tool, not a desktop macro builder. Look for pain points within the organization and identify what needs to change. This isn’t just a cost play; rather, it has to do with mitigating the challenges of growing in a linear fashion by increasing the number of full-time employees. For some, it is about improving speed and quality to differentiate in the market. Others are attracted by the insight and analytics that come from consolidating all transactional data into one database for real-time visibility.”
- Capture, map, measure
“The next step is to analyze the business and map processes at keystroke level. To do so, use experts in RPA, as it is important to drill into the areas where configuration will be complex. Standard operating procedures, training materials and system manuals will be great inputs, but not enough by themselves. Have the RPA experts sit with the process experts to map what really happens; afterwards, it will be easier to plot costs and service levels to the processes as a baseline.”
- Analyze and design
“With the scope defined and mapped, identify processes and parts of processes most suitable for automation. Then calculate the time and cost to implement these, as well as the benefits of doing so. Design a target operating model (TOM), which is a graphical depiction of the business structure and processes affected by the RPA implementation; it should detail everything from stakeholders to the applications/systems used by the automation. It’s important to map not just the RPA portions but also the scope of the business to determine how to redeploy resources to drive greater business value.”
- Plan and forecast the journey
“Consider all that is involved in the transformation and don’t underestimate the time required for change management and benefits realization. Create the implementation plan and financial model by looking at the savings and the cost avoidance that this transformation will bring over an estimated three years. Consider the cost of not only implementing RPA but maintaining the solution and updating it to take on additional tasks as needed.”
- Gain sponsorship
“Use the business case, TOM and strategy to get support for prioritizing this transformation. The business case will justify that, usually predicting ROIs of 300% or more.”