The RPA market has been growing rapidly in recent years, doubling in volume roughly every six months. During that time we have seen RPA go from being a niche technology to something every business wants to talk about.
Often the demand comes from the Finance or HR functions, but other parts of the organization have interest as well. Occasionally a forward-thinking IT department might drive an RPA project. Each company’s needs vary so wherever the demand comes from, the first step is to identify the challenges, individual demands and opportunities.
Where are the pain points in your systems? Where do your human workers have large backlogs? At what stage in your processes do you see significant error rates? All of these are example areas where it makes sense to apply RPA.
Any process that has a stream of structured data is an opportunity for RPA to increase efficiency. The efficiency gains can be significant, and it is often worth changing the process so that it outputs structured data so that RPA can be applied.
If that data can be read in a simple, non-invasive way, then automating a process can be done very quickly.
The first phase of applying automation is to identify a process that outputs structured data. As Bill Gates warned some years ago: “Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Therefore, it is also vital that your processes are optimized before you begin to automate them.
It is a common misconception that RPA is unpopular with staff because they fear losing their jobs to robots. However, in our experience the opposite is usually true. Staff often welcome the assistance of robots. It frees them up from tiring and repetitive tasks and allows them to work on higher-value jobs.
At the moment RPA still relies on robots being given a task to perform. Modern robots are remarkably smart when it comes to dealing with complex processes and even handling exceptions but they still have to be “taught”.
In the future we can expect robots that will observe a human worker carrying out a process and devise ways to help without the need to be programmed.
To effectively apply automation to your business processes, I suggest you start by:
Identifying pain points, areas with high error rates or other areas of backlog.
Finding processes within those areas that output a structured data stream or convert the process so that it outputs structured data.
Optimizing your processes first to ensure that you get the most out of RPA.