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Six tips to successfully implement a factory model for RPA

Erlend Vist Ekren

Robotic process automation (RPA) has become a “must have” innovation for most companies around the globe. If your company has not started their intelligent automation journey, then they should do it sooner rather than later. Implementing a standardized delivery model in markets where everyone wants to deliver is challenging which is why a “factory model” is critical to being competitive.

Instead of the traditional software automation replacing manual processes with large system implementations, RPA is programmed to mimic the case managers’ activities. This element of the new technology requires a close relationship between the technology and the business. On the technology side, it requires a good understanding of the business rules and on the business side, it requires a good understanding of the limitations and strengths of the technology. The business should be able to rule out certain aspects of a process that are not compatible with RPA technology and are not suitable for automation.

A factory is a delivery unit that chooses a process for automation and delivers an automation for that process. By implementing a delivery factory model, you will be able to provide automation across your company with better quality, reduced cost, fewer implications and at a faster rate. The delivery lifecycle is standardized, and the factory will continuously optimize the deliverables through RPA libraries and best practices. The factory will be a continuous delivery model which will pick up processes from a pipeline based on cost/benefit analysis. However, with RPA technology implementing a highly functioning model has proven to be difficult.

It is important to consider the challenges of technology when delivering RPA processes from a factory unit. Software development, particularly when delivered with such a model, faces common inherent challenges. In fact, even without a delivery factory the requirements for handover to development is challenging.

So how do you successfully work with the factory model?

1. Implement a structured assessment

Follow a structured process for assessing the processes that show potential for automation. Implementing tools for evaluation of the value and the complexity will also give you an instant picture of the costs and benefits related to the process.

2. Include the right people

RPA tools have strengths and limitations which a business analyst (BA) without experience with the technology will not be able to single out. Resources with a mixed profile with both technological and business experience are the best profiles to perform the assessments. If these resources are not available the best approach is to bring both types of profiles to the mix.

3. Ensure subject matter experts (SMEs) time during development

Processes automated by RPA technology are manually performed processes from the beginning. It is crucial that every detail of the process is included in the solution design. During the assessment, the SMEs will go through their process and describe every step from start to finish, but there is always some variation that is not captured. For example, a slightly different format to input sheets or a drop-down list with variable content. Uncovered variations will appear during development which requires contact between the delivery unit and the business.

By ensuring that SMEs have the freedom to be available to assist the delivery units during development, you ensure that occurring issues can be resolved rapidly. In addition, the SMEs need to understand how to collaborate with the robot once it is live and how to interpret the various exceptions and reports related to the process.

4. Implement a lifecycle process – a checklist to help you along the way

How do you track where the process is in the lifecycle? Implement an RPA checklist which details each step along the lifecycle of the process and ensure it is easily available to your stakeholders, business units and delivery units. This makes it easy for your key stakeholders to track where the process is in relation to the RPA lifecycle. Taking your stakeholder along the journey with you is key to building a strong collaborative environment.

In addition, the checklist highlights what steps are required to move on. The RPA lifecycle process should contain checkpoints such as actions required, meetings, and documentation requirements.

5. Ensure sufficient documentation and sign-offs

There is a lot of documentation required when automating a process using RPA technology, both for the development team and the business.

  • Process definition documents (PDDs) are used for defining the current scope of the process which needs to be signed off by the business to ensure the process has been defined correctly.
  • Solution design documents (SDDs) are used by the development team. To ensure that the process is correctly defined, the importance for a sign off is significant.
  • Business continuity document (BCD) is important as it will tell you what needs to be ready if the robot stops working and the next steps that are needed.

6. Start working agile

Step away from the long-lasting massive releases and focus on short sprints and continuous deliveries. By working agile and implementing sprints daily, problems can be solved efficiently. RPA implementation is perfect for agile development because it can simply be divided into user stories which is estimated into time required. These user stories are prioritized and put into sprints which provides transparency, a predictable delivery and allows for necessary changes.

The factory model is cost-efficient and enables an affordable turn-key solution for RPA technology. It is important to know that it is not a silver bullet. In smaller projects there are larger gains from having a more hands-on team but as the initiative grows it is natural to transition into a factory model. By setting up the infrastructure for the model you have also paved the way for monitoring and support. I have previously written about “How do you really succeed with Automation Technology?” which will provide an insight on how to generally succeed with emerging technologies.