By now, the benefits of Robotic Process Automation should be clear: robots are cheaper to run, don’t make mistakes and don’t take sick days or paid holidays. But knowing that doesn’t tell you where to get started with automating repetitive, rules-based tasks in your own organisation. It turns out that the key to successfully implementing robots is a better understanding of your people.
Getting started with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) throws up a lot of questions. Who should be involved? Should it be driven by the business or IT? Should we know what we want to automate before looking for help, or start with a blank sheet of paper?
Because automation means different things to different organisations, there is no single starting place from which to begin. Rather, your journey to successful RPA implementation should flow from an understanding of the human element in your business, and how the introduction of technology will affect the people who work there.
Given the importance of the human factor, at Human+ we believe that these three principles of RPA should reign supreme:
- Put people at the centre of automation;
- Remove the mundane to make way for the creative;
- Teach new skills to take advantage of new technologies.
RPA has tremendous potential to improve the working lives of those it touches, freeing them up from the more mundane aspects of their jobs to concentrate on activities which add more value. But misapprehension and fear of new technology which looks like it’s replacing humans is natural, and can be difficult to overcome.
Smoothing the path to RPA success
Implementing modern digital technologies in established legacy environments almost always means teaching new skills to established teams. Some of these teams will be more resistant to change than others, especially in organisations which are used to working in silos. We’ve found that the level of buy-in within those established teams prior to kick-off largely determines whether the RPA project succeeds or fails.
Far and away the most important factor is clear communication of the project’s purpose
To help gain that buy-in, a cross-departmental stakeholder is needed to help emphasise the business benefits of RPA; chief among which are error reduction and the ability to provide 24/7 service. The issue of security often tends to be perceived as a key, given the prevalent, but misguided view, that the bots will somehow be beyond control. But standard IT governance is almost always enough to ensure full compliance.
Far and away the most important factor is clear communication of the project’s purpose: businesses need to realise and get across to team members that the role of RPA is to automate tasks, not jobs.
This is why we at Human+ recommend a three-stage programme of RPA implementation.
The first stage: education
A proof-of-value, or proof-of-concept phase can help you understand the power of RPA. This is where you check that the technology works, build the business case and delivery plan which spells out the potential benefits and savings to be made.
Front-line staff have to be involved in this process
It’s also your opportunity to engage with leadership teams to explain the benefits they can expect to achieve and the timescales. This message then needs to be taken to the organisation as a whole – everyone should understand what RPA is and how it can benefit them. Front-line staff have to be involved in this process, it’s essential that they know that working with robotics can automate the mundane elements of their job and help them get back to focusing on the customer.
Supporting departments like HR and IT security also need to be involved to ensure that there is collaboration right throughout the organisation. This stage is all about laying foundations for the long-term success of RPA.
The second stage: evaluation
This is the bit where the rubber hits the road – you get a specific business case live by automating a certain number of processes. While this stage is focused on the technology, you need a robust communication and change management program to keep the relevant people on board and updated as the project becomes visible to the organisation.
Working with a small team of 3-4 people, it’s reasonable to expect that you can design, build, test and implement the automation of one process within 40 days. The selection of this process is crucial. Processes that are suitable for a Proof of Value are usually ones that are large and complex enough that they can prove a return on investment within 40 days, but also small enough that it avoids the challenges which come with scaling an RPA solution.
The end result of this second stage is three fold: you should have a working, automated process; you should have a clear plan for how to take RPA forward; and, most importantly, you should have a workforce that has been educated about how RPA works and what is involved.
Key here is to prove the benefits of delivery, test, and be able to hand the robots over to the business if self-sufficiency is the objective.
The third stage: facilitation
The final stage of overcoming resistance to RPA is building an operational business plan for implementing automation throughout the organisation. This should include a pipeline of automation, detailing which processes and resources are likely to be involved.
The ultimate goal should be to become a centre of excellence for automation. This involves an organisational structure that can be provided in-house or by a 3rd party. It should include business process support, software technical support, and/or infrastructure support for all automation activities. Think of this as RPA-as-a-service.
From the outset of your automation journey, you should be thinking about what this structure will look post-project. Is it best to have your centre of excellence run in house or in conjunction with a third party? This is a big resourcing consideration, which might change throughout the Proof of Value stage.
At root, it’s about building and reinforcing the understanding that RPA is about automating tasks, not roles.
In conclusion, the success of RPA projects rests on gaining buy-in from the established teams which will be impacted. This is best tackled in a three-stage process: first, use a proof-of-concept phase to educate everyone in the business about what RPA is and how it will benefit them; second, show people how it works by getting a single business case live; third, build an operational business plan for automating further processes, which aims towards creating an automation centre of excellence.
At root, it’s about building and reinforcing the understanding that RPA is about automating tasks, not roles. Once people start experiencing the benefits through this phased process, there’ll be no going back.
To discuss your approach to RPA in your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a modified version of an article originally published in Information Age.