Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, has gained popularity for its ability to automate complex and time-consuming tasks. But introducing RPA into your organization can itself be time-consuming, expensive, and outright confusing if not approached correctly. Before you buy into the promises of automation, make sure you can answer these 10 questions that will prepare you for the rewarding journey ahead.
- Is automation already being considered in your organization?
While the concept of RPA may be new to you, it may not be new to your organization. It is surprising how many large organizations have several different RPA pilots running simultaneously across different departments and with different software providers. While there may be some benefit to seeing how different vendor’s technologies perform in different environments, this disconnected approach (whether accidental or by design) makes expanding automation across the organization more difficult and more expensive. Why pay for 4 different RPA licenses from 4 different vendors when you could have automated all of them with the same license? How do we account for a knowledge transfer in case of employee turnover? Make sure the organization approaches RPA with a unified vision so the initiative starts off right and scales effectively.
- What is your organization’s appetite for automation?
Once you are sure RPA hasn’t already been introduced and adopted by your organization, you need to confirm if there is an appetite for automation in general. Sometimes a seemingly obvious improvement is absent because someone higher up previously considered and rejected it. For RPA to be initiated and adopted, key stakeholders need to see the benefits and be willing to invest in change when it matters. While it is easy to digest the benefits of RPA, many automation projects are halted at the executive level due to a lack of knowledge, interest, funding, priority, or some combination thereof.
- Is the team prepared for change?
Ironically, it takes more than just robots for an automation initiative to succeed; it takes people. Sure, people design and implement the bots, but more importantly the team whose processes get automated need to be informed and on board. Many believe the myth that if RPA comes to your company, it will outright replace people. In reality, RPA automates the repetitive and rule-based activities that people do which enables them to focus their time on more productive and thought-provoking activities. While a few positions may be at risk of downsizing, most people will merely be relieved of the tasks computers should have been handling all along.
But even if the impact is not as severe as people make it out to be, introducing a new technology that alters the routines of team members requires a company culture that is flexible and receptive to change.
- What is your vision for automation?
What are you looking to accomplish with RPA? Perhaps you are personally frustrated with a single task that you think could be automated quickly and cheaply, such as sending notifications or manipulating excel files. Or maybe you are an IT professional who knows about RPA and you are trying to fit it into a long-term digital transformation strategy. Clearly defining the project’s scope will significantly impact how you proceed. If there is something simple you want to automate and you have no intention of scaling beyond that single process then you may want to hire a (relatively) cheap freelancer who can automate it in about a week. If the plan is to introduce RPA into a department (or several departments) with multiple process stages that affects dozens of people and millions of dollars, it would be in your best interest to consider an implementation partner.
A common mistake is starting somewhere in-between these two scenarios with a quasi-complex process that doesn’t require a leading RPA vendor, but inevitably causes issues when trying to scale. Depending on your organization’s size, interest, and budget, sometimes it is better to invest early to prepare for growth – as opposed to stumbling through upgrades, improvements, and new vendors and licenses down the road. Correctly defining your RPA goals early will enable you to select the ideal RPA vendor as well as scale the initiative at the appropriate pace.
- What is RPA capable of?
While it is important to have goals for what you hope to accomplish with RPA, do not get your head lost in the clouds. People tend to either overestimate RPA’s capabilities (perhaps because they have seen too many movies) or underestimate it (likely from a lack of understanding of how it works as well as the complexity it is capable of). So, what is science fiction and which of your dreams can really come true?
RPA software automates repetitive and predictable rule-based tasks that are currently performed by employees. RPA can read databases, log into applications & interfaces, copy & extract data from different sources, move and send files, fill out forms, and much more. The first statement lists the restrictions and rules RPA must abide by while the second lists its vast (but far from comprehensive) capabilities. If you consider only it’s restrictions you may not be very impressed, as science fiction movies have told us to expect humanoid robots capable of complex decision making (though often at our demise). Likewise, if you only consider the capabilities of RPA without its limitations, you may expect it to automate tasks that require more human decision-making skills than you give yourself credit for. Understanding the limitations and capabilities of RPA will help you set realistic expectations and prepare you for identifying which processes are ideal candidates for automation.
- Have you identified the right opportunities?
Once you know what RPA is capable of, you must identify which processes are capable of being automated. In fact, selecting the wrong automation candidate is among the leading reasons RPA initiatives fail, so choose wisely. A tedious and monotonous process may seem like a nice task to hand to a bot, but if the steps performed are not consistent or do not follow a fixed set of business rules the bot will frequently fail. Another process may check all the boxes and even be completed daily, but if it only takes 30 minutes for an associate-level employee to complete then cost savings would never provide a return on investment. Several variables need to be considered when determining which processes are capable and worthy of automation and identifying these beforehand will save you and your organization time, money, and headaches.
- Which vendor is best for you?
Selecting the best RPA vendor for your organization is a difficult task that requires reflection from many of the questions already answered. When selecting a vendor you must consider the project’s scope, if the vendor’s functionalities satisfy your process requirements, what applications it will interact with, and the budget you are confined to. Most organizations simplify their search by only considering the market leaders in RPA while others settle for the first solution that approaches and hustles them into buying software. Navigating the sea of software vendors can be a daunting task, so utilizing a software selection tool or having an implementation partner guide you can make all the difference.
- Are you in this alone or do you need a hand?
If you find yourself on the market for help selecting the right vendor, it may also be wise to use a consulting firm that can assist with implementing RPA as well. Does your IT department have the capacity, skillset, and interest to carry an RPA initiative through planning, development, deployment, and maintenance? Will you need to hire a new person to manage these responsibilities or is someone already with your organization capable of managing the project? Consultants make excellent partners to assist with these initiatives, especially if they are as knowledgeable about your processes as they are the RPA. Just keep in mind that you never want to be completely reliant on consultants – a competent consultant would assess your organization’s needs, identify automation opportunities, suggest ideal vendors, implement the automation with you, and would ultimately prepare your staff to be self-sufficient by ensuring they can maintain and expand the RPA solutions independently.
If you are looking for an implementation partner for your RPA initiative, click here to learn more about our RPA services.
- What else do you have going on?
It’s easy to get excited about the benefits of RPA, and if you are like me you may enjoy jumping from one shiny project to the next. Make sure you take any current projects, initiatives, migrations, and other obligations into consideration before commencing your RPA journey. Waiting for the organization to prioritize automation will make implementing the technology faster and the associated changes will be adopted more easily with your team’s focus less scattered. However, it may sometimes be more efficient to introduce RPA concurrently with other projects since your organization is already going through changes, adopting new technologies, and transitioning employees into modified routines. Regardless of your approach, it is important to be aware of other obligations and determine if RPA fits within your priorities.
- What is your game plan?
At this point you know what RPA is, why it is important, its capabilities, and how to approach it. Now where should you start? It is important to clearly define your goals and expectations, reach out to key stakeholders to gauge interest and see if there is an appetite for RPA. If there is, then it’s time to take these questions seriously and determine if you have the bandwidth to complete this internally or if you need an implementation partner. Either way, answering these 10 questions will empower you to start your RPA initiative and will prepare you for the rewarding journey ahead.
Need Help Getting Started?
If you have trouble answering these questions or are looking for an implementation partner, feel free to reach out to us and learn about our Free 2-Day Automation Vision Workshop. RPI Consultants leverages dedicated RPA consultants and implementation experts that ensure your RPA initiative will realize its fullest potential. Our services include process discoveries, software selection, strategy engagements, RPA implementations, and much more! Visit our RPA service page to learn more about RPI Consultants and how we bring digital transformation solutions to our clients.