Robotics....a transformation opportunity or just an extra layer of complexity?
12 January 2017
I seem to be involved in conversations every day about how Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can improve efficiency and reduce the risk of processing and reporting errors. The whole of the financial services sector regardless of the size, complexity, underlying business or geographical footprint is interested in the topic.
Many organisations have undertaken pilots to understand what may be possible and to identify processes which are candidates for automation. However, most struggle to work out how to scale the implementations once they have completed the pilot. The majority of pilot exercises manage fairly easily to identify processes which are candidates for RPA and define a business case – after all, implementations can be speedy (a matter of weeks rather than months) and can deliver tangible results in this timeframe so programmes can attain the sought after status of being “self-financing”…..at least in theory.
How you scale the work can be the difference between really transforming how you operate and the other end of the spectrum – adding piecemeal complexity and operational fragility.
So what do you need to focus on in order to achieve success? In my experience to me that there are three key things:
Adopt an enterprise wide view
Lots of organisations are looking to align functional silos, especially given emerging reporting requirements across finance, risk, compliance, tax and other functional domains and the key dependency on data. With that backdrop it makes no sense to continue the past practises of each function pursuing its own strategy as has often been the case with technology, shared services and process improvement initiatives. If this silo based approach is adopted for RPA I can see a situation in the future where robots are like the spreadsheets of today – everyone has them, they’re largely outside the organisation’s control framework and they can lead to greater costs and operational difficulties.
Be clear upon your partnering approach
RPA programmes will require you to partner with technology firms, your outsourcing providers and potentially business consultants. It is critical that you focus on gaining clarity around this landscape and the roles and responsibilities of everyone within it. Select your partners such that you can bring together your own corporate knowledge, the knowledge and skills of the RPA technology provider and, potentially, other catalyst resources to make sure the programme delivers.
Many people seem to be approaching these programmes without anyone playing the role of “Business Integrator”. This is a vital role in terms of ensuring the maximum benefits are achieved for the organisation rather than each individual silo achieving benefits which are collectively suboptimal and creating unneeded complexity.
The Business Integrator can also ensure that your RPA initiative factors in the necessary process modifications and behavioural change aspects to achieve the maximum benefit. Without this, you run the danger of automating processes which are outdated or suboptimal and which ought to be re-engineered. You also run the risk of ending up with a workforce who once they have robots, still continue to work in the same way and won’t move onto undertaking desired tasks around analysis, strategy and performance management.
Don’t ignore the opportunity to fundamentally transform what you do
Don’t be too hasty in trying to unlock immediate benefits. This requires strong leadership across the organisation and good communication of your direction. Many people begin looking at RPA in order to automate existing processes. I think this is missing a real opportunity. Many of the actual processes we operate within organisations can at the very least benefit from the standardisation of their multiple different instances and the elimination of “tweaks and fixes” that creep in over time. More importantly, RPA offers you the opportunity to fundamentally rethink how things are done and to redesign the ideal process end to end. One of the organisations I’ve worked with highlighted one of the main benefits of RPA not in terms of the activities they automated, but the re-engineering of upstream processes which eliminated errors at source, and enabled not only more effective automation of downstream activities but the elimination of these activities all together. This is almost impossible to achieve if you don’t set out with broad objectives around rethinking what you do.
Finally,RPA presents us with a rare opportunity to rethink the roles people play in our organisations, and how we use technology to deliver greater benefit within the organisation and to customers. Shared services gave us a similar opportunity and many organisations missed it - they merely moved existing broken, fragmented or illogical processes to silo-based centres. Admittedly this yielded cost savings but it missed the bigger transformational opportunity. If we miss the opportunity again now it will be much harder to turn the clock back and unlock it later.