RPA robots are capable of mimicking many–if not all–human user actions. They log into applications, move files and folders, copy and paste data, fill in forms, extract structured and semi-structured data from documents, scrape browsers, and more.
What are the business benefits of RPA?
Robots are here to stay. The faster you harvest their potential, the faster you create a competitive edge for your business. Robotic Process Automation delivers direct profitability while improving accuracy across organizations and industries. Enabling RPA to handle any processes will not only transform and streamline your organization’s workflow. It will allow for superior scalability and flexibility within the enterprise, doubled by fast, tailored response to specific needs. Software robots are easy to train and they integrate seamlessly into any system. Multiply them, and instantly deploy more as you go. They constantly report on their progress so you can go even bigger and better by using operational and business predictability, while improving strategically.
Robotic Process Automation software robots are programmed to follow rules. They never get tired and never make mistakes. They are compliant and consistent.
Once instructed, RPA robots execute reliably, reducing risk. Everything they do is monitored. You have the full control to operate in accordance with existing regulations and standards.
Fast cost savings
RPA can reduce processing costs by up to 80%. In less than 12 months, most enterprises already have a positive return on investment, and potential further accumulative cost reductions can reach 20% in time.
Across business units and geographies, RPA performs a massive amount of operations in parallel, from desktop to cloud environments. Additional robots can be deployed quickly with minimal costs, according to work flux and seasonality.
RPA? A revolution in business process automation
More CIOS are turning to robotic process automation to eliminate tedious tasks, freeing corporate workers to focus on higher value work. But RPA requires proper design, planning and governance if it’s to bolster the business.
Turning to an emerging technology practice called robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline enterprise operations and reduce costs. With RPA, businesses can automate mundane rules-based business processes, enabling business users to devote more time to serving customers or other higher-value work. Others see RPA as a stopgap en route to intelligent automation (IA) via machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools, which can be trained to make judgments about future outputs.
Here CIO.com takes a look at what robotic process automation really is, and how CIOs can make the most of RPA in alignment with business goals.
What is Robotic Process automation?
RPA is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a “robot,” to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. RPA scenarios range from something as simple as generating an automatic response to an email to deploying thousands of bots, each programmed to automate jobs in an ERP system.
COOs working for financial services firms were at the vanguard of RPA adoption, figuring out ways to use software to facilitate business processes without increasing headcount or costs.
What are the benefits of RPA?
RPA provides organizations with the ability to reduce staffing costs and human error. I point to a former project for a bank, the experience with implementing RPA, in which the bank redesigned its claims process by deploying 85 bots to run 13 processes, handling 1.5 million requests per year. The bank added capacity equivalent to more than 200 full-time employees at approximately 30 percent of the cost of recruiting more staff.
Bots are typically low-cost and easy to implement, requiring no custom software or deep systems integration. Characteristics are crucial as organizations pursue growth without adding significant expenditures or friction among workers. “Companies are trying to get some breathing room so they can serve their business better by automating the low-value tasks.
Enterprises can also supercharge their automation efforts by injecting RPA with cognitive technologies such as ML, speech recognition, and natural language processing, automating higher-order tasks that in the past required the perceptual and judgment capabilities of humans.
Such RPA implementations, in which upwards of 15 to 20 steps may be automated, are part of a value chain known as intelligent automation (IA). “If we were to segment all of the major enterprises and ask them what’s on their agenda for 2021, close to 100 percent would say intelligent automation”.
By 2020, automation and artificial intelligence will reduce employee requirements in business shared-service centers by 65 percent, according to Gartner, which says the RPA market will top $1 billion by 2021. By that time, 43 percent of large enterprises will have adopted an RPA software tool, up from less than 10 percent today.
What are the pitfalls of RPA?
RPA isn’t for every enterprise. As with any automation technology, RPA has the potential to eliminate jobs, which presents CIOs with challenges managing talent. While enterprises embracing RPA are attempting to transition many workers to new jobs, Forrester Research estimates that RPA software will threaten the livelihood of 230 million or more knowledge workers, or approximately 9 percent of the global workforce.
Even if CIOs navigate the human capital conundrum, RPA implementations fail more often than not. “Several robotics programs have been put on hold, or CIOs have flatly refused to install new bots”.
Installing thousands of bots has taken a lot longer and is more complex and costly than most organizations have hoped it would be. The platforms on which bots interact often change, and the necessary flexibility isn’t always configured into the bot. Moreover, a new regulation requiring minor changes to an application form could throw off months of work in the back office on a bot that’s nearing completion.
A recent Deloitte UK study came to a similar conclusion. “Only three percent of organizations have managed to scale RPA to a level of 50 or more robots,” say Deloitte UK authors Justin Watson, David Wright and Marina Gordeeva.
Moreover, the economic outcomes of RPA implementations are far from assured. While it may be possible to automate 30 percent of tasks for the majority of occupations, it doesn’t neatly translate into a 30 percent cost reduction.
What companies are using RPA?
Walmart, Deutsche Bank, AT&T, Vanguard, Ernst & Young, Walgreens, Anthem and American Express Global Business Travel are among the many enterprises adopting RPA.
Walmart CIO Clay Johnson says the retail giant has deployed about 500 bots to automate anything from answering employee questions to retrieving useful information from audit documents. “A lot of those came from people who are tired of the work,” Johnson says.
David Thompson, CIO of American Express Global Business Travel, uses RPA to automate the process for canceling an airline ticket and issuing refunds. Thompson is also looking to use RPA to facilitate automatic rebook recommendations in the event of an airport shutdown, and to automate certain expense management tasks.
“We’ve taken RPA and trained it on how employees do those tasks,” says Thompson, who implemented a similar solution in his prior role as CIO at Western Union. “The list of things we could automate is getting longer and longer.”
But with many more CIOs mulling RPA, CIO.com asked some consultants for advice on how IT leaders can tackle the technology.
10 tips for effective robotic process automation
1. Set and manage expectations
Quick wins are possible with RPA, but propelling RPA to run at scale is a different animal. Many RPA hiccups stem from poor expectations management. Bold claims about RPA from vendors and implementation consultants haven’t helped. That’s why it’s crucial for CIOs to go in with a cautiously optimistic mindset. If you go in with open eyes, you’ll be a lot happier with the result.
2. Consider business impact
RPA is often propped up as a mechanism to bolster return on investment or reduce costs. More CIOs should use it to improve customer experience.
For example, enterprises such as airlines employ thousands of customer service agents, yet customers are still waiting in the queue to have their call fielded. A chatbot, could help alleviate some of that wait. You put that virtual agent in there and there is no downtime, no out sick and no bad attitude. “The client experience is the flag to hit.”
3. Involve IT early and often
COOs initially bought RPA and hit a wall during implementation, prompting them to ask IT to help (and forgiveness. Now “citizen developers” without technical expertise are using cloud software to implement RPA right in their business units. Often, the CIO tends to step in and block them. Business heads must involve IT from the outset to ensure they get the resources they require.
4. Poor design, change management can wreak havoc
Many implementations fail because design and change are poorly managed. In the rush to get something deployed, some companies overlook communication exchanges, between the various bots, which can break a business process. “Before you implement, you must think about the operating model design. “You need to map out how you expect the various bots to work together.” Alternatively, some CIOs will neglect to negotiate the changes new operations will have on an organization’s business processes. CIOs must plan for this well in advance to avoid business disruption.
5. Don’t fall down the data rabbit hole
A bank deploying thousands of bots to automate manual data entry or to monitor software operations generates a ton of data. This can lure CIOs and their business peers into an unfortunate scenario where they are looking to leverage the data. It’s not uncommon for companies to run ML on the data their bots generate, then throw a chatbot on the front to enable users to more easily query the data. Suddenly, the RPA project has become an ML project that hasn’t been properly scoped as an ML project. “The puck keeps moving,” and CIOs struggle to catch up to it. I recommend CIOs consider RPA as a long-term arc, rather than as piecemeal projects that evolve into something unwieldy.
6. Project governance is paramount
Another problem that pops up in RPA is the failure to plan for certain roadblocks. An employee at a client changed the company’s password policy but no one programmed the bots to adjust, resulting in lost data. CIOs must constantly check for chokepoints where their RPA solution can bog down, or at least, install a monitoring and alert system to watch for hiccups impacting performance. You can’t just set them free and let them run around; you need command and control.
7. Control maintains compliance
There are lot of governance challenges related to instantiating a single bot in environment let alone thousands. A funny story, one Deloitte client spent several meetings trying to determine whether their bot was male or female, a valid gender question but one that must take into account human resources, ethics and other areas of compliance for the business.
8. Build an RPA center of excellence
The most successful RPA implementations include a center of excellence staffed by people who are responsible for making efficiency programs a success within the organization. Not every enterprise, however, has the budget for this. The RPA center of excellence develops business cases, calculating potential cost optimization and ROI, and measures progress against those goals. That group is typically fairly small and nimble and it scales with the technology staff that are focused on the actual implementation of automation. I’d encourage all IT leaders across different industries to look for opportunities and understand whether RPA will be transformative for their businesses.
9. Don’t forget the impact on people
Wooed by shiny new solutions, some organizations are so focused on implementation that they neglect to loop in HR, which can create some nightmare scenarios for employees who find their daily processes and workflows disrupted. We forget that it’s people first.
10. Put RPA into your whole development lifecycle
CIOs must automate the entire development lifecycle or they may kill their bots during a big launch. “It sounds easy to remember but people don’t make it a part of their process.”
Ultimately, there is no magic bullet for implementing RPA, but that it requires an intelligent automation ethos that must be part of the long-term journey for enterprises. Automation needs to get to an answer — all of the ifs, thens and whats — to complete business processes faster, with better quality and at scale.