RPA: The maturity trap

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Robotic process automation is coming to a cubicle near you. But even where it is well established, there are a few challenges to fully realizing the value.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is not a new concept but, like AI, it has finally arrived. Many organizations are in various stages of establishing key components of the operating model, including governance, process selection, prioritization framework, ongoing support, and maintenance.

A few of them already have a high-level of adoption and are churning out process automations with metronomic regularity.

However, even companies with a degree of maturity in RPA implementation struggle with basic governance and infrastructure issues. For companies looking to advance their own RPA agenda, addressing the below challenges upfront could yield significant gains.

Program ownership: As the RPA program starts scaling across organizational silos, new stakeholders will come into the picture. There is no guarantee that they will have the same goals as the early adopters in the company. But if RPA is to maintain momentum, you need to quickly onboard these stakeholders onto a common platform with standard processes and governance. This is where the overall program ownership plays a pivotal role. While business sponsorship is a prerequisite for program success, a corporate IT-led initiative often has a better chance at ensuring consistent standards – both in terms of technology and processes.

Infrastructure governance: Organizations may initially struggle with basic governance issues surrounding coding standards, security authorizations, and technical change management. But the real blind spot is environment issues and synchronization across development, production, and QA. A simple example: a bot cannot close a new pop-up or deal with the updates from a patch in production – this requires advance modification or human intervention. With bots in the picture, environment health checks need to be more rigorous, as does coordination with the infrastructure team. Setting up a separate environment is not necessarily a long-term solution either, since it is likely to be out of compliance soon. Focus on establishing documented standards and continuous alignment with infra instead.

Benefits tracking and realization: No implementation should be considered complete without end-to-end accountability for benefits realization. Before you can track and measure results effectively, you need to first identify real total cost of deployment and ongoing support. Second, look at the gains holistically. Saving 0.5 FTE hours every month for a routine process is a good start – but if that FTE time is now redirected to another operation instead of using a contractor (usually costlier) or new hire (which comes with attendant recruitment and onboarding costs), then capturing the cost avoidance should be part of the business value. A baselining exercise becomes especially important for process automations where the ROI is not a straightforward measurement – for example, increase in customer satisfaction. If the initial baseline is not set properly, issues with tracking any improvements over it will only encourage the nay-sayers. The final step in the process is to validate the results frequently till you get formal sign-off on the benefits delivered.

None of this is meant to be a knock against moving aggressively forward with RPA. Some companies, for instance the engineering, procurement, consulting, and construction company Black & Veatch, are seeing the advantage of addressing these challenges upfront as they move forward with business automations. Other companies also need to pay closer attention to the above challenges, as that will ultimately wring out significantly more value from RPA programs.

With contributions from Praveen Sunkari, managing delivery architect in Capgemini’s Intelligent Automation practice.

 Navjit Gill is a Strategy and Transformation expert and works at the confluence of business and technology for some of our biggest clients in North America. You can contact him at navjit.gill@capgemini.com.

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