In FY2019 alone, enterprises spent USD 2.3Bn on Robotic Process Automation (RPA), while the global RPA addressable market stands at a whopping USD 50Bn. It’s no wonder that organizations are accelerating the process of putting programs in place for implementing an RPA strategy and broader Intelligent Automation. However, organizations often lack a structured path to success.
Some organizations have looked at their RPA strategy from a task-based perspective rather than a process-centric and outcome-driven approach. In this scenario, automating a few mundane tasks may not impact the broader organization as such, and merely scratches the surface of what RPA has to offer. However, automating a process goes a long way in making top-line and bottom-line impact.
For instance, automating an insurance claims process can have a direct positive impact on customer experience, cost of processing, and accuracy. Similarly, automated clinical documentation at a healthcare facility or automated customer service management at a retail facility can help in cost reduction, increased speed and productivity, and also aid in scalability.
To understand why organizations are walking a tightrope instead of sailing smoothly through their RPA journeys, we sat down with Mohandoss Thulasidoss, Advisor, Zinnov, to get his perspectives and insights on why companies are lagging and how companies can resolve the issues that are roadblocks in realizing ROI in their RPA strategy.
There can be many reasons as to why automation initiatives fail, like selecting the wrong process to automate or the wrong tool to do it with, skill gaps in the organization to implement the solution, to name a few. However, the top challenges that are inhibiting the progress include –
1. Setting Management Expectations
For enterprises, defining success is crucial. The success measures have to be ambitious but not outlandish. If the management has unrealistic expectations from the RPA strategy, then even substantial success may be construed as a failure. Often such unachievable goals/expectations get foisted on the automation COE (Center of Excellence) team – a team dedicatedly focusing on automation initiatives. Hence, while setting up a CoE, it is important that the automation COE leader and the team calibrate the expectations with the management continually. There should be pre-defined KPIs that are measured and reported periodically.
2. Getting employee buy-in
Often, employees misconstrue RPA and automation as reasons for job losses. Employees could develop insecurities due to the enterprise’s automation efforts. However, with clear and premeditated communication, employees can be reassured and brought on board with the idea of change. Enterprise leaders must show the employees the bigger picture and emphasize on the fact that RPA and automation will replace the mundane work with more interesting, challenging, and strategic work. Employees need to be made to realize that automation is an ally in their quest to do ‘significantly more with the same.’ In today’s hyper-competitive world, the reality is that organizations often grow their number of customers with lower revenue realization per customer. Hence, to sustain organizational profitability, the employees have to buy into the notion that automation and RPA are essential tools.
3. Security and Governance
Regulations govern enterprises across industries, especially, enterprises in the financial services and healthcare industries. The automation team needs to understand the impact of these regulations as any non-compliance may push the automation efforts back by a few years. Identity and access to systems will have to be governed not just for team members but also for bots. Another dimension of governance that enterprises need to be cognizant of is that if the automation efforts are being led by the shadow IT team, they should comply with the approved IT processes for the build, release, run, and retire processes.
4. Identifying the right approach to automation and building skills
Some organizations do not take the right approach to automation and overall RPA strategy. For this, we have outlined two different approaches that enterprises can consider in making their automation initiatives successful. The first, classical approach or process-first approach and the second, opportunistic approach or tool-centric approach. In the classical approach, enterprises need to first, (DI)gitize, then (R)eengineer and lastly, (A)utomate – we call it DIRA.
The processes that need to be automated can have a structured methodology, which is pivoted to the process first, technique next, and vendor tool the last.
In the opportunistic approach, a tool is used to automate the processes, often without resorting to any reengineering effort. In this approach, enterprises can follow the TOPS thinking – TO: diligence in Tools Vendor Partnership, and PS: Process Selection to ensure that success can be achieved. Enterprises use the capabilities of a tool on selected processes and show tangible outcomes. Thus, the savings that are obtained are used in more substantial process reengineering efforts.
Both these approaches are viable, but it boils down to skills, an appropriate methodology, and proper program management, required for the teams to execute the projects. Any gaps in the areas mentioned above may result in sub-optimal delivery of value and thus inhibiting the efforts to scale.
So, to sum it up, not getting management and employee buy-in, weakly structured security and governance, not selecting the right process, and not having right skill sets are the top areas where organizations fail in their RPA strategy.
For companies that are starting to initiate their automation efforts with an RPA strategy, the critical challenge is to build the team with the right set of skills. Due to the dearth of talent and advanced tech skills, often, automation initiatives are nipped in the bud. Another challenge for companies that are just starting their automation journey is to ensure that they set the right expectations with the management and get their buy-in.
On the other hand, for companies that are already on their automation journey but want to scale, need to relook at their journey so far from a process and business outcome perspective. Such firms also struggle with democratizing their automation efforts, especially RPA bot development activities. For this, they must govern some key factors centrally, while handing over the responsibility of the project execution to the BU teams, so that automation efforts can be accelerated. Another factor holding back organizations that are already on their RPA adoption journey is that they do not push themselves to move into tougher processes and techniques that are challenging. They must have the ambition to scale and accelerate to achieve their objectives.
In my opinion, there are three key levers of success when it comes to automation initiatives, and this is irrespective of companies that have just begun their journey or companies that want to scale. The three key areas are People, Process, and Technology.
The People aspect, I believe, is perhaps one of the most critical elements that enterprises must look at to succeed. Having a business and social capital can make or break an enterprise’s RPA strategy. In addition to getting top management buy-in and setting the right expectations, getting the social capital, which is the employees’ buy-in, is crucial. Enterprises need to narrate the automation story and share their vision with the employees at a BU level so that they can enable the automation initiatives and ensure its success.
With Processes (methodology), enterprises need to accelerate process discovery with process mining tools. Process mining tools can perform Automated Business Process Discovery (ABPD), process policy and procedure adherence checks, and also identify bottlenecks. The organization needs to combine these tools with a multi-disciplinary team with design thinking specialists, Six Sigma specialists, and analysts with algorithmic skills to ensure proper process selection and solution design.
Technology is another critical lever, most of which comes down to the talent and tools aspect. Enterprises need to keep pushing the envelope by employing the right skills in the right place. They must build a cross-functional team with multi-disciplinary skills that are in-house to leverage the power of tools that they have. The team should have the skill set in advanced technologies such as RPA, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Natural Language Processing, Natural Language Generation, Natural Language Understanding, Business Process Management, Speech processing, etc.
So, focusing on PPT – People, Process, and Technology can help organizations to overcome the inherent challenges of automation and also scale their automation initiatives. Enterprises need to have a clear vision of what they aim to achieve with automation. To be able to traverse smoothly on their automation journey and to make their RPA strategy a success, several enterprises are partnering with digital specialists and program managers who can enable use case identification, tool selection, Service Provider selection, Governance, and change management. Partnering with such experts can help organizations not just find this RPA needle in the Digital haystack but also sew a plethora of digital opportunities with it.