RPA use cases expanding in large enterprises

Robotic process automation veterans at Blue Prism's virtual conference talk business process automation strategies, obstacles and untethering bot deployments from cutting jobs.

Tech teams at media giant ViacomCBS developing RPA bots to automate work processes can face anxiety about bots displacing human employees.

"I would think hard about how early or at what point tying the benefits of RPA to specific FTE [full-time equivalent] savings or cuts, at what point in the program does that make sense," said James Immordino, vice president of ad sales, strategy, operations and finance at ViacomCBS. "Consider doing it later, because if people see RPA as 'This is a reason to take away my heads,' some people might initially be disincentivized."

Immordino appeared June 23 on a panel of robotic process automation veterans discussing RPA use cases and strategy at the virtual conference of United Kingdom-based enterprise RPA vendor Blue Prism. The company's Blue Prism World conference ran Tuesday and Wednesday.

The livestreamed and recorded session was hosted by Steve LaValle, managing partner of Blue Prism partner WonderBotz, a Las Vegas-based vendor of intelligent RPA software and services.

RPA veterans discuss how to use the automation technology
Tech and business leaders from InterContinental Hotels Group, ViacomCBS and Equinix discussed RPA strategy at Blue Prism's virtual conference this week.

Enterprise RPA uses growing

As RPA use cases proliferate in large enterprises, fear of eliminating human jobs is not the only impediment to the fast-growing array of RPA applications in enterprises, according to the panelists.

I would think hard about how early or at what point tying the benefits of RPA to specific FTE [full-time equivalent] savings or cuts, at what point in the program does that make sense.
James ImmordinoVice president of ad sales, strategy, operations and finance, ViacomCBS

Among other challenges to consider is defining the roles of IT departments and end-user departments such as finance. Sometimes IT and other groups have shared responsibility for deploying and maintaining RPA bots that automate business processes including reconciling financial accounts, reading sales documents and producing Oracle database reports.

"There were differing views about who should run this," said Jaideep Vijayakar, director of finance strategy and transformation at Equinix, a global colocation data center vendor. "IT had a strong feeling that this is a technology initiative that needs to be done with IT. And for finance, we felt it was a business-focused technology that could be run by people like me and my team, who have a mix of technology and process experience."

Bots with names

For Equinix, one strategy to humanize bots and make them more relatable is to name and visualize them with individualized images.

"Oscar" is his favorite, Vijayakar said.

"I love all of my 'children,'" he said with a smile, referring to his department's bots. But Vijayakar said Oscar stands out because it has matured since its inception a few years ago, when it ran four Oracle reports, to today, when it runs 30 reports, multiple times a day, and distributes them to several different teams.

Meanwhile, Elliot Stivers, global director of robotics and artificial intelligence at InterContinental Hotels Group, noted that in a project with Wonderbotz, the RPA firm helped devise a method to use URLs in the Tableau analytics visualization platform to streamline an RPA application. "That was a big time savings," Stivers said.

RPA use cases streamline human work

LaValle, of Wonderbotz, described some of the interactions between humans and bots and the limitations of each of the parties.

"A person can't maintain all the URLs in their head, and they can't keep large amounts of data and do calculations in their head. So there are different steps and checkpoints in a process when people do it," LaValle noted. "But we have to remember that the digital worker is also a computer, so it doesn't need to do that. It can just do an SQL against a database so we can skip steps in the process."

The lesson, LaValle said, is to "streamline out human accommodations in the process."

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