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How to avoid the most common pitfalls in RPA initiatives

Erlend Vist Ekren

Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the most exciting new technologies to have emerged in the past few years. The technology’s ability to generate quick ROI has made it an attractive investment for CTOs across the globe. At conferences, in social media, and in various publications, you can read countless examples of RPA implementations that have saved hundreds of FTEs and performed thousands of transactions. While these numbers are probably correct, most of these initiatives have met major roadblocks on their way. It seems pointless that most initiatives experience the same pitfalls.  Here are some steps you can take to avoid them.

  1. Spread the initiative across the organization

Get everyone on board with the new initiative. To do this, you need to provide an understanding of what the technology is and how it will affect them. People fear what they don’t understand, and more importantly, they fear change. It is the leadership’s responsibility to explain what the opportunity is and how RPA fits into the bigger strategic picture. By introducing the new technology and explaining how it can be used, not only do people get excited about robots working in the organization, but they might even suggest that you automate the mundane tasks they do on a daily basis.

  1. Plan for RPA at scale from the start

By working process by process, you will find that you start losing control. It is necessary to have a support system around the implementation. To automate single processes and expect them to run silently by themselves is not the reality. By looking at the bigger picture, you will be able to plan to scale and to align the initiative to the organization’s strategies. Scaling RPA initiatives is difficult if not initially planned for. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by implementing, monitoring, continuous optimization, and change management.

  1. Look at multiple dimensions when targeting benefits

Robots help us automate manual processes and that is where the ROI can be measured. But that is not the only benefit. By implementing RPA, you can harvest several other benefits that often outweigh the FTE savings. Robots can improve processing time, meet SLA requirements, and enhance customer experience. They can also increase processing quality by reducing errors and perform extra analytical tasks. Robots can increase process traceability and ensure compliance with policies and procedures, and thus increase productivity. These benefits not only save costs but also improve overall organizational efficiency.

  1. Awareness, ownership, and knowledge

RPA implementation demands ownership at all levels. The subject matter experts (SMEs) who translate their everyday processes into instructions for RPA developers need to understand the basics of RPA. This experience normally comes through introducing the technology through on-the-job-training. The criticality in RPA documentation is in the details, and every detail needs to be discovered. In addition, SMEs need to understand how to work with the robots once they are live, how the robot interacts with the systems, and how to read process reports and understand exceptions. On top level, the project sponsor needs to understand how to prioritize the processes and what benefits the technology provides. To report on the benefits and to align the initiative to the organization’s strategy, it is important to understand the strengths and limitations of RPA.

  1. Ensure a close relationship to IT

A strong relationship to IT is key in RPA. RPA technology mimics user tasks by accessing the same elements as a user would in the user interface of an application. Any changes to the application have a risk of affecting the robot and the smallest change can crash a process. To avoid such incidents, it is important to have an open communication with the application administrators. The robots will also need to operate inside the company network, and this demands significant effort to ensure a sufficient infrastructure to host the robotic operating environment (ROE). RPA technology can showcase how IT is truly a business partner. It can also bring forward breaches in communication and understanding.

  1. Determine if the process is well suited for RPA

It is easy to think that RPA is a silver bullet that will solve all problems. However, automating every process might not be the ideal approach. RPA technology is not fit for every process; it demands that the process be highly predictable. Anything outside the programmed rules will be considered as an exception. Bill Gates stated that automating an inefficient process will simply magnify the inefficiency. The processes should be assessed for automation potential before the technology is selected. The next steps for those processes that do not fit the technology include standardizing and optimizing the process before implementing the technology.

  1. Stop aiming for 100%

As mentioned in the previous point, not every process is fit for RPA. But not every part of a process is fit for RPA either. This means that a process itself can be a great target for RPA technology if you automate parts of it. Imagine 80% of a process can be performed by a robot but the last 20% is highly unpredictable. Hence, automating the last 20% will demand more effort. These assessments of the processes are paramount to harvest the true potential of the technology.

Having a clear strategy when implementing RPA technology is important in order to enjoy all the benefits that RPA offers. By following the steps above, you should be better prepared to tackle the challenges that come with your new digital colleagues.

Please use the comments section to let me know if there are other steps that we can take to avoid the common RPA initiative pitfalls.