A co-authored article by OEE Consulting, ActiveOps, and Symphony.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a powerful tool which will undoubtedly play a key role in the future of the service industry. So what is stopping organisations from maximising the benefits of this so-called digital workforce?
Accelerating the future of work
There is no doubt that RPA (robotic process automation) has a significant part to play in the future of the global service industry, alongside machine learning, natural language processing (conversational AI), and smart workflow.
Many Enterprise organisations are working hard to deploy the technology and derive the promised benefits, so why does it sometimes feel like we’re stuck in pilot phase? A recent HfS survey on RPA deployments revealed that only 3% of respondents found that their expectations were fully achieved.
The current challenge is not really the technology or the providers, but more to do with the fact that many businesses do not have the data, the control, or the holistic understanding of their own structures and processes to deploy the right technology in the right place at the right time.
In order to turn the idea of digital operations into a reality, we need to start our thinking from a different point.
The root cause of these issues is that new technologies are being misapprehended as panaceas, a means to solve or side-step problems which businesses have never been able to fix, or never bothered to address.
Mark Palmer, Managing Director of OEE Consulting explains: “Large organisations are starting to realise that any technology can only be part of the solution. You have to think about design first. That might just be the design of the processes themselves, the route or channel that customers choose to use, the organisation of work - but it also might be that the whole customer journey needs to be reimagined”
An RPA implementation in a poorly designed process will only create more challenges, as the hidden problems will be brought to the surface by inflexible automation. Similarly, this reduced flexibility requires strict management governance to maintain robot optimisation.
Taking control of your operations
It is important to be conscious of the level of variability in operations that the human workforce naturally accommodates.
There are many examples of organisations who have successfully reduced task cycle times by the anticipated level via RPA, but have still failed to deliver the business case due to faulty assumptions about frequency and volume.
Automating back office processes properly requires you to know exactly what is happening in your operation. “You need to be transparent about work and time” says Richard Jeffery, CEO of ActiveOps. "All too often, deployments are designed based on assumptions or partial data rather than a robust and validated understanding of work characteristics and how people spend their time”. This simply isn’t good enough information to base decisions on as you start to remove human capacity”
Once RPA is implemented, capturing the opportunity to redirect what can often be multiple pockets of valuable human capacity can also be challenging. Many organisations are discovering that immature capacity management disciplines mean the full benefits cannot be accessed.
These may seem small issues but as enterprise or large-scale deployment is targeted, the lack of a complete, quantified picture of work and time, combined with an agile approach to capacity management, becomes a major barrier to success. Many organisations recognise difficulties in scaling their RPA deployments.
Taking the robot out of the human
For years, companies have been looking for ways to reduce the cost and burden of routine and repetitive tasks. RPA seems to be perfectly positioned to respond to this challenge.
However, not everything can be automated.
You are not deploying technology into a perfect world, or a vacuum. It will have to interact with legacy systems, deal with manual processes, or cope with a changing regulatory environment. You may also need to use people for high discretion tasks or dealing with customers, and you will certainly need people to design and manage the robots.
Similarly, not every tool can automate every process.
“One of the issues we frequently see is that organisations jump straight into choosing a provider”, says David Poole, CEO of Symphony “If you think technology first, use-case second, you will never achieve what you set out to. By assessing the appropriate place for, and type of, automation for your business, you can start to build a picture of who the right technology partner might be for you”
Automation by design
Ultimately, there is no shortcut to success. The winners will not be the businesses who can deploy the fastest, but those who can prepare their teams, redesign their operations and recognise that making it easy for the customer is the true goal. A Shared Services and Outsourcing Network survey in 2016 found that 64% of respondents believed that people were central to RPA implementation. In short – the technology deployed can only be as powerful as the people managing it.
By really understanding how your business is currently operating, and connecting this with the future delivery of your customer proposition, you can start to identify opportunities for the right use of automation.
There are six key steps to success:
1. Ensure the operation’s design is fit for purpose
Review how your operations currently work. What are the current bottlenecks in the system? Where are your customers’ pain points? What do your customers expect from you.
2. Understand the process details
Document your current processes and develop data sets behind them. By enabling complete and timely data capture (including work that is done “off system” ), your business can understand which operations will benefit most from RPA and track their future improvements.
3. Choose the right technology for you.
One solution to ensure this is to partner with a company who are technology agnostic and can offer your business the right solutions for the problems at hand, and not just the product of the moment.
4. Enable management governance
There must be an effective governance structure around an RPA roll out and ongoing management to ensure that it does not focus solely on the tactical or the technical, but brings in wider operations management techniques
5. Skills and engagement
Engage your people from the outset to make sure they understand what is happening, how it is going to happen – but critically, why it is happening and what it means for them. Upskill your teams to understand how new technology can benefit your customers and how their roles can evolve to further focus on customer value rather than repetitive administration.
6. IT needs to be part of the change.
Whilst it’s true that many new technologies can be deployed outside of the existing IT governance and control, it doesn’t mean they should be. There are often unanticipated challenges with issues as complex as legacy systems, or seemingly innocuous software updates. If IT are only involved at this stage, you may face an intransigent stakeholder as well as a technology challenge.
Achieve this, and you will have the ability to create exceptional customer value as well as lower costs: A real competitive advantage.
OEE Consulting, Symphony and ActiveOps are working together to deliver better RPA implementation. By automating painful back office work, we enable your people to spend more time with the customer, adding value where it’s needed.