Senior executives like what they hear about robotic process automation (RPA). The results are impressive, the margins attractive, the savings significant. It’s a silver bullet.
So they’re very keen to see it implemented in their own enterprises, rapidly and at scale. They push for it to be executed in the area of operations most likely to generate a return. Do they involve IT in the implementation? Not necessarily. They’re keen to progress, and they tend to think the IT team will be too slow, too fragmented, or tech-oriented, not sufficiently business-driven.
Their middle managers are less keen. They’re the ones who will have to make RPA happen. They foresee implementation problems; they think board-level expectations are unrealistic; and they are concerned about resistance from their employees, for whom RPA may seem a threat.
On the face of it, this seems to be a classic case of theory versus practice, of foolhardy optimism versus wise caution. I’d say, though, that there’s merit in both viewpoints. Robotic process automation really can deliver significant business benefits – but only if the change it brings about is anticipated and managed.
Planning is everything
What’s needed is a plan. It may take a little while, but the days spent surveying the territory and charting a course through it will save a great deal of time and money later on.
This plan needs to be comprehensive, with a target operating model as its starting point. It needs to be developed and taken forward by a team that brings together different skills, perhaps from both inside and outside the organization: for instance, some may have detailed knowledge of current processes, while others can offer previous experience of RPA implementation and managing a virtual workforce.
A team like this will be able to identify and accommodate the complexity the change program is likely to encounter. For example, an alteration to working practice that previously would have been unremarkable might now debilitate an important bot. And here’s another: the lapse by oversight of a software license that might once have caused only a local problem might now disrupt the whole virtual workforce. Identifying all such factors up front will obviate these issues. It’s better than finding out the hard way.
Strategic, tactical, and human
The plan also needs to address three key areas – the strategic, tactical and human outcomes the enterprise would like to achieve. These areas respectively meet the needs of the senior executives, middle managers and frontline staff involved:
- Strategic – what is the digital strategy? What is the broader intelligent automation agenda focusing on process execution, interaction, monitoring, knowledge management, and analysis? What are the business benefits we would most like to achieve? What will its effects be on the organization as a whole? What levels of cost efficiency and productivity improvements should be our target? And how should the introduction of RPA as part of the intelligent automation drive help us shape our overall business model to make us more competitive and more agile in facing future challenges?
- Tactical – shall we automate in stages, task by task, or do it all in one go, across the entire department or function? At what pace should it happen? (Fast execution tends to increase resistance.) How might it affect third parties, and how should we accommodate their needs? How will we measure success? And how might we be able to adjust our implementation once the program has begun, in order to fine-tune our processes?
- Human – how can we create a positive climate for the introduction of RPA? For example, how might RPA reduce dull, repetitive workloads and replace them with more fulfilling tasks of greater value? How might it lessen the need for overtime and hence improve work-life balance? And how can we best articulate these messages in an internal comms strategy to support our plan?
Let your aim be true
Everything needs a context, and RPA is no exception. If it is to be implemented successfully, it needs to be part of a broader change management process, built around a plan developed by a team with insight and experience.
It’s perhaps odd, then, that the “silver bullet” term is often used with no context at all. It’s used instead simply as a way of describing a magical instant fix. But extend the analogy, and let’s see its real point.
A bullet, silver or otherwise, needs to be fired. Which means the weapon that delivers it needs to be in full working order, and of the right caliber.
That bullet also needs to be aimed. Again, silver or otherwise, if it misses its target, it will achieve nothing.
Let your plan be your weapon. Let your aim be true, and your sharpshooters be smart and experienced. And then, perhaps, RPA really will be a silver bullet – not just for senior executives, but for middle managers and employees too.
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Dr. Adam Bujak is an expert in strategic management, business process automation and finance transformation. He heads Capgemini’s Business Services’ Technology Transformation team, helping multinational clients to optimize operational costs by deploying innovative technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA)