What does RPA mean?
RPA stands for “Robotic Process Automation”, but we prefer saying process automation, to save you the confusion of thinking about industrial robots.
RPA is a technology based on a specific software, that is used for automating business processes and tasks performed on a computer. Essentially it is software robots that mimic actions a human would normally perform on a computer in order to complete a certain task. So, you might want to consider it as your digital workforce that is much faster, more efficient than a human and does not make any mistakes.
Why should we even care about RPA?
It is a technology that has been growing and spreading at a pace that has never been seen before. There is no doubt about the value that RPA adds to a business and everyone knows that. The main question right now is which businesses will be the pioneers in this and get the competitive edge over their competition, instead of just jumping onto the train when it’s already leaving the station. With the popularity of RPA growing so rapidly, more and more companies of various shapes and sizes from all kinds of industries attempt to use it to increase their efficiency and productivity.
That is why it is a must to at least consider RPA. Especially because trying it out can be really cheap or maybe even come at no initial cost. But after deploying RPA solutions, the return on investment is amazing – some of our customers have enjoyed payback within the first 3 months and almost all of them – within the first year.
What is the business value of RPA?
The value is huge and there are numerous articles and studies that cover it. The key takeaways are usually as follows:
✓ Enhanced productivity. RPA works around the clock 24/7/365 with no holidays, sick leaves, etc. This means that a single robot has much more working time than a human. Putting processes on autopilot allows companies to focus on more value-adding activities and boost growth.
✓ Higher efficiency. RPA achieves more with less amount of resources consumed. While their speed often depends on the process itself, but it is estimated that a software robot is usually at least 5 times faster than humans and they also improve production quality with error-free operations.
✓ Improved customer experience. Customer queries and orders are handled much faster and without making mistakes, which makes them a lot happier.
✓ Standard operational procedures. RPA provides greater transparency and detailed auditing. Automated processes are always run according to standard procedures, which improves compliance with regulatory procedures.
✓ Cost reduction. With automation of repetitive manual processes, administrative costs are significantly reduced and the need for back-office resources is eliminated.
✓ Scalability. RPA solutions are easy to adjust, fit into multiple processes and scale throughout the whole organization. This helps organizations deal with a continually changing workload, as well as facilitate business growth.
✓ Greater agility. RPA solutions can be effortlessly retrained to adapt to new demands and changes in your organization. Agile business management is often the major factor of success.
How much does RPA cost?
There’s some cost associated to the software licence and then there is the solution development cost.
We estimate that a single robot licence (which can facilitate multiple automated processes) and a single automated solution may cost up to 1/3 of an average annual salary of a human employee.
If such a solution can free up a single FTE, it will pay off within less than 4 months.
Is RPA like screen scraping or macros?
It is similar, but much more advanced. The idea of RPA came from macros, but the major difference is that an RPA solution is a universal application orchestrators. Any application that can be used by a person can be used by a modern robot, whether mainframe, legacy, bespoke application, web service enabled or even a closed 3rd party API hosted service.
What is RPA usually used for?
Most processes performed on a computer can be automated. RPA solutions are thus used in many ways. Some of the most popular examples include: document (orders, invoices) handling, customer queries, data collection from various sources, data aggregation, transformation and migration between separate systems, report generation, IT service desk automation, system backups and updates and many more. This may not sound very interesting, but the reality is that RPA solutions can be applied to all industries and all parts of the business. We have deployed solutions in production, sales, procurement, QA, marketing, IT, human resources, finance and accounting and other kinds of businesses and departments.
What kinds of processes can be automated?
It is technically possible to automate almost any process that is performed on a computer. However, the best value comes from automating processes that:
✓ Have high volumes;
✓ Are time-consuming;
✓ Are standard and rule-based;
✓ Do not require cognitive functionalities;
✓ Generate value.
In addition to that we also often like to add simplicity. When a process is simple, it is easier (and cheaper) to automate, support and, if needed, adjust.
What is the RPA journey?
Process automation in not just a project. Like process improvement by applying LEAN methodologies, RPA is also a journey that consists of multiple very important stages. Also like the road towards LEAN, the RPA journey is based on continuous improvement. But the important thing is that this journey requires a certain amount of preparation.
Here are the major stages on the RPA journey:
- Awareness– there are loads of resources on RPA available to the public and they need to be analyzed in order to understand what RPA is, how it works and what value it brings to the business. The word must also spread throughout the organization in order to make sure that every person in every department is aware of what it can do.
- Readiness– choosing the right person or people to be responsible for the RPA initiative and identifying the major problems that RPA should solve as well as the targets it should reach.
- Vendor selection. It is important not only to make the right choice when selecting the tool to use for RPA, but also the service provider that will help you on the way. Even for organizations that choose to use their internal resources to develop RPA solutions, the initial steps are crucial for success and the many questions that arise on the way will need to be answered by someone.
- Proof of Concept, which is no longer used to prove that RPA works and brings value to the business (because there is no doubt about that), but instead is used to test the unique cases and needs of the business, as well as choose the deployment model and tools for automation.
- Pilot projectwill help evaluate the deployment model selected by doing a trial run of RPA on an actual process within the organization. This helps the business see whether RPA meets expectations and works well with their environment, collect feedback and learn from possible mistakes.
- Center of Excellence (CoE) is fundamentally the RPA A-team both technologically and professionally. It acts as a concentrated hub for RPA expertise to all business functions and is extremely important to scaling RPA across the organization. Ideally, it is a joint effort by the business and IT. In some cases, it makes a lot of sense to include outsourced external experts into the CoE.
- Scale– this is a stage when existing and new solutions are adopted throughout the organization. This requires everyone to be aware and involved into the RPA initiative in order to select the correct processes and provide efficient automation.
- Transformation– RPA must be one of the major parts of digital transformation within the organization. It is not just a side project that someone pushes on their spare time. Process improvement and automation must be included in the short-term targets and long-term strategies, because only this way the RPA journey will definitely take off and lead to success.
What are the common RPA mistakes?
Even though in some cases it is enough to deploy a single RPA project and the investment is paid back in up to 3 months, the actual RPA journey towards digital transformation is rather long and packed with challenges. Some common initial misconceptions or popular myths in the media lead to a lot of failed attempts at RPA. It is usually related to one or more of the following common mistakes:
- Thinking that “anyone can do RPA”. Software vendors often say that their products are easy to use, because no IT and coding skills are needed, and the user interface is very intuitive. But this is usually just a marketing stunt to boost their sales. By far not anyone can automate processes efficiently. And it’s even more difficult to do so in a way where the automated processes would be able to handle all possible contingencies. This requires extensive experience and a certain mindset. It can be solved by hiring experienced developers, outsourcing these services, or training internal staff.
- Bad change management (or no change management at all). Any change in the organization needs to be handled correctly. If your employees will think that their processes are being automated in order to cut cost by reducing headcount, they will undoubtedly resist. It is thus extremely important to introduce the RPA initiative well, explain its benefits to the staff and spread the word throughout the whole organization.
- Attempting to “bypass IT”. Most RPA solutions are famous for being easy to deploy without the participation of IT, which seems like a very attractive way to solve problems quickly. However, co-operation with IT is necessary in order to use the full potential of RPA, administer it and scale it.
- Ignoring success criteria and targets. The RPA journey often loses its pace simply because it is pushed towards reaching a wrong goal. Process automation in itself is not a goal. It is a tool use to achieve actual business targets, such as accelerating customer order handling, enhancing legal compliance by eliminating human errors, improving the decision-making process, etc. Establishing high-level targets and defining the means to measure them is pivotal to a successful RPA journey.
- Choosing the wrong processes to automate. Not every process can be fully automated. In some cases, user involvement to a certain extent is necessary. And sometimes the existing data is not enough to train a robot to perform a task efficiently. Attempting to automate a process that cannot be completely automated may lead to disappointment and a premature end of the RPA journey. It is thus important to select the correct processes to automate, in order to meet the expected results.
- Attempting to automate processes “as-is”. A lot of business processes are not documented or standardized, they are often performed in the same way for years without ever considering changing anything. Therefore, process improvement (by applying LEAN Six Sigma methodologies, for instance) is an important stage that needs to happen before making the decision on automation. Process analysis and improvement sometimes reveal that the process itself may not even be needed anymore or are outdated and inefficient. In some cases, improvement may lead to a process becoming efficient enough to not need automation. In other cases, it will make it much easier and thus cheaper to automate a process that is already optimized
What is an RPA Center of Excellence?
An RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) is a sort of an organization within an organization that is responsible for the success of the RPA initiative. It is a team of people that deploy, support, advocate and spread the word about the RPA solutions throughout the organization. Even though the payback period of the RPA investment may be very short, you would usually not want to stop generating additional value after you “got your money back”. The longer your processes are run by robots, the more added value the investment generates. That is why essentially RPA is a long-term initiative and thus its goals and targets must also be long-term.
Therefore, it is often recommended (especially for larger organizations) to have an internal team of people that would make sure the RPA journey is successful. It is usually a team of people that include people of different skills and competences, established by combining members of different parts of the existing organization.
There are multiple recommendations about the structure of the Center of Excellence, but the best practices usually include at least the following roles:
✓ RPA Sponsor. This is the person from within the business that should make sure that the RPA initiative becomes an integral part of the long-term strategy for the organization. It is also the person who spreads the word throughout the organization and thus making everyone involved.
✓ RPA Analyst. This is the person that analyses business processes, handles process selection, improvement and automation-readiness.
✓ RPA Architect. This is the person responsible for the entire infrastructure and the tools required for RPA solution deployment.
✓ RPA Developer. This is the person who develops, tests and supports RPA solutions.
✓ RPA Administrator. This is the person who administers all RPA-related resources and makes sure they are used in an efficient manner.
In some cases, it also makes sense to also have people responsible for RPA change management, support and other functions.
It is crucial that the Center of Excellence should never consist of only people “from the business”. It must be a joint effort with IT, because they usually manage the whole system infrastructure and have resources required for a successful RPA deployment.
Another important thing to note is that some roles of the CoE (or even the entire CoE) can be outsourced and handled by external consultants and service providers. This is especially true to RPA solution development, support, administration, business process analysis and other tasks.
What are the advantages of RPA versus system integration?
✓ No IT infrastructure changes are required – robots can adapt to any systems and use existing integrations or the user interface.
✓ No integration costs – robots drive existing applications.
✓ The robot knowledge can be easily re-used for other processes.
✓ Robots are trained in a live environment, which makes projects much faster and less expensive than traditional IT integrations.
✓ Robots are much easier to scale.