Since the Industrial Revolution, companies have used process efficiency to gain a competitive advantage. There’s a relentless drive by companies in every industry toward improvements that will sustain their operating models — the benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) being a shining example of this trend.
Involving the programming of software “bots,” RPA reduces manual effort by enabling these bots to conduct basic tasks across applications.
But with RPA, and any automation strategy, solutions are only tools in a larger strategy to unlock next-level efficiency, scale and product opportunities. It’s important for companies to avoid the “hammer looking for a nail” approach, which can be done by:
- Developing deliberate goals
- Creating a long-term roadmap
- Embracing organizational readiness
Here are five steps to ensure your company can create an automation strategy that captures the benefits of Robotic Process Automation while achieving efficiency, scale and speed to up new product and service opportunities.
1. Set your robotic process automation goals
The single most important step in the RPA process is to clearly articulate the program objectives. Is the goal to save money, reduce compliance errors, speed cycle times or increase revenue with new products?
The more specific you are in the planning, the better you can prioritize opportunities and deliver solutions. In the short term, focusing on one or two measurements (e.g., cost and quality) is ideal, since the project needs to show a return on investment while building proficiency. Over time, however, companies are encouraged to take a portfolio view of the entire suite of benefits including speed, customer satisfaction and new products or services.
2. Go slow (to go fast)
After the headlines and sales pitches, many executives have high expectations from automation software and are tempted to apply it to their most challenging problems out of the gate. But these moonshot projects often struggle to build the required competency and momentum to sustain success.
With a recent Mod Op Strategic Consulting client, we established a six-month pilot focused on efficiency targets within a single business unit. We scoped more than 25 opportunities to identify a robust pipeline, separating them into immediate, medium and longer-term horizons based on the complexity and process risk.
For our proof of concept, we chose a smaller program with a limited audience. The team was able to deliver a working project in just a few weeks and slowly expanded into more complicated and high-volume opportunities. One key learning from that experience is managing project timelines to enable fine-tuning and time for the human team to adjust to the new process.
3. Standardize before you automate
Unlike a regimented factory with processes designed to fit standards, many office activities are a swarming mess of variations and exceptions supported by a human who understands the end objective and how to jump through hurdles to achieve it.
These variations severely limit the benefits of Robotic Process Automation from a volume and percent solution perspective. Companies must therefore be willing to re-engineer and standardize current “ad hoc” human processes in order to maximize the total automation opportunity. Skipping this step is the single easiest way to have your RPA program go off the rails.
4. Select the right automation tools
Yes, robotic process automation comes with a bevy of benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for every job. Things like application program interfaces (APIs), databases, macros and good old-fashioned process re-engineering can address some challenges more easily or cheaply than RPA. Make sure your technology team is integrating a full suite of tools into their solutioning, allowing your company to address a variety of situations to increase flexibility and long-term outcomes. These include:
- APIs – Where possible, collect data from reliable sources, such as your customer relations management (CRM) system or web analytics, using APIs. Building a bot to scrape data should be a last resort.
- Databases and macros – A recent Mod Op Strategic Consulting client cut their RPA solution development time in half by deploying a simple database within the solution. This database delivered the additional benefit of improving the manual process for exceptions, further enhancing the solution.
- RPA – Solutions like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and WorkFusion provide a robust set of RPA tools and access to open-source libraries of existing “bots.” Remember to approach development with the intent to reuse automated bot elements to accelerate impact and minimize future development time.
- Machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), chat bots and crowd sourcing – Some processes are too complex or ambiguous for RPA. In these scenarios, as well as customer-facing situations, ML, AI and chat bots increase the automation potential.
5. Prepare for the impacts of speed
Accelerating one part of your RPA process is likely to impact other elements, often creating new bottlenecks or breakpoints. Enabling an internal culture for speed is required to effectively manage these impacts and drive future enhancements to the process.
There is no silver bullet to achieve modern productivity gains. Rather than blindly following the latest automation technology and RPA trends, executives should pursue an outcome-driven strategy backed by a strategic roadmap. By carefully selecting the initial opportunity and applying a wide range of automation tools, you’ll be able to more efficiently solve larger and increasingly complex challenges.
Can Mod Op Strategic Consulting help you to automate routine business workflows? Let’s chat.