Getting Started With Robotic Process Automation: Essential Guidance

RPA robot playing piano possessed-photography-U3sOwViXhkY-unsplashWhile robotic process automation (RPA) offers numerous benefits, to be successful it's important to have a strategic plan to implement the technology. In this guide we present the essentials you need to known when considering starting an RPA program for your enterprise.

RPA tools automate tasks in business processes. They mimic and replace manual steps that workers employ as they interact with application software. In this guide, Doculabs outlines how you can employ RPA—and what it takes to make an RPA program succeed.

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When You Can Use RPA

RPA can be applied whenever there are text-based inputs or outputs (or both) and when there are repeatable manual steps to execute a particular business application.

But there is an important pre-requisite to consider before you plan and implement RPA or automation in the enterprise. The processes that you’re considering for RPA must be digital, for example involving electronic document images or e-forms at the beginning of the business process.

Organizations often turn to RPA tools to allow workers to spend more time on higher-value activities by minimizing lower-value manual tasks. In general, RPA works well for processes that:

  • Are rules-based
  • Are simple to moderately complex
  • Are stable
  • Are mature
  • Are documented
  • Use structured or semi-structured documents or data

Build Your RPA Program to Focus on Benefits

When setting up your RPA program area, be sure you are clear on the types of benefits you’re expecting. In our experience, there are four primary factors to consider when it comes to improving business processes with RPA or automation: 1) Cost, 2) Quality, 3) The risk of not doing anything, and 4) Productivity.

In each case there’s a specific challenge — and a unique set of benefits — when employing RPA.

1. Eliminate high-cost processes

Existing, complex legacy environments are brittle and expensive. Workflow and business process management (BPM) solutions also are costly.

Benefits of RPA: RPA requires neither system development nor integration. RPA operates in fast, low-cost development environments. And RPA replaces expensive labor with lower-cost robots.

2. Improve quality of business processes

Because some processes and most repetitive manual steps are subject to error, the financial or reputational damage to an organization can be high. In addition, QA costs for such processes are high.

Benefits of RPA: RPA provides repeatability to ensure quality, eliminates human errors and reduces or eliminates the need for QA.

3. Reduce risk

Often legacy systems and processes fail to meet compliance requirements. These systems and processes may be imprecise, are not repeatable, and access to them is insufficiently restricted.

Benefits of RPA: Automated steps driven by RPA are defined, repeatable, and auditable. Information access is adequately restricted, and compliance is incorporated into the process.

4. Increase productivity

Older systems usually cannot scale or provide the flexibility needed if demands change or grow.

Benefits of RPA: Re-useable components mean fast implementation times. RPA allows the organization to flexibly match your organization’s resources to variable workload demands.

The Five Stages of an RPA Process

Now that we’ve explored the benefits and use-cases for RPA, let’s examine the five stages of a typical RPA process:

  1. Input of information
  2. Enriching the data
  3. Decision points
  4. Post-decision actions
  5. Production of output

Input can include work that’s discoverable and in a “work queue,” information gleaned from email or other collaborative platforms, and data that’s embedded in a structured document or a formatted file.

Enriching the data involves obtaining the necessary information to help make a decision or take action.

Decision involves the application of business rules to determine the correct course of action.

Action taken after a decision may include completing a request/action or updating the system of record (SOR) with customer or transaction information.

Output provides a record of the action that was taken, or work product that may become an input into another process.

Obstacles to RPA Project Success

Because the technology is relatively new and many organizations haven’t developed a large body of experience, it’s not uncommon for RPA projects to fail. Common reasons for failure include:

  • Too few robots in production
  • Insufficient or incomplete business case
  • Relatively high cost of building RPA systems
  • RPAs often still require human intervention
  • Lack of planning for “Day Two” support
  • Potentially displaced people don’t want to help develop the RPA program or discipline
  • Most RPA software tools are not enterprise class
  • The challenge of setting up a sustainable RPA “factory”

How to Ensure RPA Success

With proper preparation you can position your RPA program for success. Here are some good practices to follow:

  1. Plan and manage. Be realistic about the costs and benefits of RPA. You need to take into account robot licenses, the training of staff, migration, exiting a process when you need to, and overall support. You also have to reallocate your resources and their freed-up time, as well as measure both productivity gains (hopefully) and the quality of the output.
  2. Match approaches to opportunities. With a clear understanding of different RPA and automation application types and usage models, you can appropriately match RPA approaches and capabilities to the problems you’re tackling. Make sure you’re mapping the right RPA product and service to each application or model.
  3. Employ the right tools and methods. Use and maintain a comprehensive set of reusable tools and methods. That means discovering and employing solution packages, reference robots, and utilities.
  4. Create the appropriate structure. Over time, evolve your initial approach to a centralized, then federated center of excellence – a strong centralized matrix organization with business area franchises for RPA.
  5. Address risk. Remember to plan for and implement comprehensive risk management and business continuity programs. Address, ahead of time, any potential exits from your RPA program—and even potential automation failures.

RPA_5 success tips

Components of an RPA Program Framework

Your RPA program will be more effective if planned and implemented according to an overarching enterprise process automation program framework. This involves seven key areas:

  1. Overall Strategy: Be sure you know why you’re embarking on this journey. You need a vision and a strategy to implement RPA and automation in the enterprise.
  2. Capabilities: Determine the breadth and depth of RPA and automation capabilities that should be used throughout the organization.
  3. Technology: Understand which technologies you need to deploy, and to integrate with, to effectively support enterprise RPA and automation.
  4. Financial Management: Be sure you have financial metrics and analysis tools in place to both plan for and manage your RPA and automation deployment.
  5. Development and Deployment: Map out the processes and resources that will be needed to design, develop, and implement RPA and automation applications.
  6. Organizational Readiness and Sustainability: You’ll need a communications and training plan for your RPA and automation project. This is critical both for employees who are affected and to garner overall corporate acceptance and support.
  7. Governance, Resources, and Operating Model: Finally, you’ll need the organizational structure and a defined set of processes to manage the RPA and automation program across the enterprise.

Conclusion

RPA offers numerous benefits if applied in the appropriate situations. Be realistic about what RPA can do for your business processes, develop your program strategically, and watch out for common pitfalls to position your program for success.

Rich Medina
Doculabs Vision Team
Our blogs are a group effort, from writing to editing to brainstorming topics. We collaborate to provide you with our best thinking that will help you use technology to improve how your organization operates. The Doculabs blogging team is Richard Medina, James Watson, Marty Pavlik, and Tom Roberts.