7 pitfalls to avoid in your Robotic Process Automation journey
Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) the magic wand that can fix all your business problems? It’s a bit more complex than that.
From the runway to the kitchen, from the hospital to the bank, and from the warehouse to your doorstep, automation has revolutionized every industry. And as with everything that is new and shiny, expectations are high. Here’s a reality check: While businesses continue to adopt automation to transform, many of them are slow to realize the benefits of RPA. A recent study found that 70% of companies struggle with performance and scalability when it comes to RPA technology, and 69% have difficulties in managing the rules that guide bot behavior due to a shortage of skills and expertise.
So is RPA the problem? Not really. By streamlining operations, eliminating errors, and increasing efficiency, RPA continues to deliver on its promise. The issue lies with companies that treat RPA as an experiment and jump headfirst into implementation without truly understanding the nature of automation. These organizations often tend to face barriers like IT issues, process complexity and unrealistic expectations. The good news is that with the right prep, businesses can avoid these pitfalls. In this blog post, we explore some of the common mistakes that organizations make when automating processes, and how to avoid them.
1. Sense and strategy
Automation is a formidable force in the domains of technology and business. Automation, in its simplicity, offers a starting point for optimizing processes, and AI can help enhance its capabilities further down the road. It’s clear that when it comes to AI and automation, they are indeed ‘better together’. This potent combination offers organizations the flexibility to choose the right tool for their specific needs, ultimately empowering them to achieve greater efficiency and productivity. But before jumping into implementing RPA, companies must lay out a clear strategic RPA roadmap that is aligned with the overall business goals.
Attempting to roll out RPA without a well-thought-out plan could result in failure because of pitfalls such as misaligned expectations, skill gaps, poor technology fit, and other issues. For example, some processes will benefit more from a new approach to an old workflow, as opposed to a patchwork of RPA robots automating the outdated, redundant process.
As you put in place a multi-faceted RPA approach, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- First, your company needs to clearly outline the expected outcomes of your RPA efforts with well-defined goals; be it cost reduction, increased efficiency or an improved customer experience.
- Next, processes for RPA need to be targeted strategically. A suitable team of both tech and business representatives should oversee operations, and it is vital that a center of excellence (CoE) be created to ensure a holistic approach.
- Changes should be effectively communicated to your personnel as they adapt to the automation process. It is also important to implement change management programs to adjust job roles and upskill employees as needed.
2. Wrong vs. broken
High-volume tasks that require around-the-clock operations are ideal for RPA automation, along with those that are well-defined and rule-based. Tasks that involve complex thinking, decision-making and ethical decisions are beyond the capabilities of RPA – at least for now. However, RPA enhanced with AI, which is termed Intelligent Automation, can help you go beyond these rules-based limitations of RPA.
When you select RPA candidates, keep in mind that ‘broken’ processes should not be automated, but instead, redesigned. When selecting a process candidate:
- Ensure that the process is already optimized before automating.
- Make sure to map the end-to-end value stream of the process in a holistic way and focus on long-term gains rather than quick wins.
To sum up, automation is not a magical, fix-it-all solution, and processes need to be optimized before they can be automated.
3. Clarity in communication
Automation can leave a sour taste in the mouth of many employees, and it is clear to see why with headlines consistently warning us of the loss of many a job to come. Nonetheless, a clear and carefully balanced approach to communicating the RPA process to employees would prove to be of immense benefit.
This would start with a deployment approach consisting of a well-defined communication and advocacy plan involving senior leadership support. Next, employee engagement should be driven forward with the advocacy plan. This involves communicating RPA benefits to all employee levels to dispel any misconceptions.
Some elements of an effective advocacy and communication plan could include the following:
- A dedicated platform for employees to engage with the RPA implementation.
- Stakeholder meetings to address concerns and track progress.
- Training programs and e-learning modules for employee education.
- Milestone celebrations to engage employees and foster support for RPA.
4. Issues with IT
The IT team of your organization is essential for a successful RPA implementation as they bring technical expertise, knowledge of infrastructure and collaboration to the table. RPA may seem non-invasive and easy to deploy, but the involvement of IT is crucial, and successful implementation of the process requires a delicate balance between tech and business.
Disconnects between IT and business are often due to differences in will and skill. To bridge these gaps, enterprises should leverage differences by bringing IT and business together with a shared purpose. The formal inclusion of IT in the business-led initiative will take time but it will set conditions for success.
5. Expectation and returns
Some enterprises are disappointed when they do not see immediate results in terms of ROI with RPA. This is usually due to a couple of shortcomings as laid out earlier. RPA automates tasks, not entire processes. It doesn’t always provide process efficiency if the process itself is unclear. It further relies on digitized data and can’t handle unstructured data well.
To address this, a Proof of Concept (PoC) needs to be implemented along with your automation program. The PoC will validate technical details, assess compatibility with existing systems, identify risks and refine the automation approach before scaling up the project.
The following steps are essential for conducting a successful RPA PoC:
- Identifying and defining a problem statement.
- Selecting an appropriate process for evaluation.
- Designing and developing the PoC for the RPA Solution.
- Testing and validating the PoC results and performance.
- Evaluating the results.
In conclusion, an RPA PoC helps organizations assess the potential of automation, engage stakeholders, and make informed decisions about scaling RPA initiatives.
6. Roles and responsibilities
RPA initiatives often remain isolated which can hinder cross-organizational process automation. RPA governance is essential to manage individual RPA projects and achieve organization-wide automation goals. Governance ensures efficient collaboration between processes, people and bots in line with the automation strategy.
The levels of RPA governance are as follows:
- At the strategic level, RPA needs to be planned.
- At the management level, RPA needs to be guided.
- At the operational level, RPA needs to be implemented.
The final level involves recording, documenting and evaluating RPA use cases. Bot development and testing processes are streamlined with operations and incident management being monitored. Finally, changes in applications and processes affecting RPA are managed.
7. Test and test more
When it comes to the implementation of a successful RPA strategy, the importance of testing it out beforehand cannot be overemphasized.
First, your testing strategy needs to be planned. This involves testing objectives, scope, criteria and methods. Make sure to align testing activities with business requirements and risks, and to allocate resources efficiently by establishing KPIs. Compliance with standards and specifications need to be ensured as well, and finally, test case design, execution and automation can round up the whole process.
Conducting different types of testing is also important. This can include unit testing that’s conducted by the developers, followed by end-to-end functioning testing done by the quality engineers, and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) handled by Business Analysts. Finally, best practices and industry standards must be followed.
As businesses across a myriad of industries opt for automation, it is important to keep some issues in mind.
Automation should not be rushed; as not every process is suitable for it. RPA includes planning and technological support beyond simple tasks. Strong governance and ROI models can enhance real savings and business values. A Center of Excellence (CoE) can help avoid processing errors. Processes should involve the participation and integration of IT and related personnel, and there must be realistic expectations amongst stakeholders about the capabilities of the technology. Finally, change management and governance are equally vital for ROI and scalable automation.
Fortude has helped an Australian food and beverage manufacturer fast-track its trade spend process with RPA. This end-to-end manual process which previously took approximately 72 man-days per annum has now been fully automated, resulting in significant manpower savings.
Ready to start your automation journey? Take a look at our RPA readiness checklist to ask yourself 6 important questions before you embark on your RPA journey: https://fortude.co/rpa-readiness-checklist-6-questions-to-ask-before-you-embark-on-your-rpa-journey/