By Jonathan Plaskow, Chief Operating Officer
8th June, 2021
You may have heard of robotic process automation, or RPA, which uses bots to automate repetitive tasks. In the past, the idea of robots at work might have been considered something of a “technology play” by the IT department, but many organisations also thought of it as just too hard, requiring significant investment, time and resources to implement effectively. That isn’t the case any longer. In this article, we explore the business benefits of RPA and how you can successfully roll it out in your organisation.
Times have certainly changed. During my time in the industry, I have seen a fundamental shift in the market when it comes to how robotic process automation, or RPA, is viewed. It is much more common now to see proactive and successful adoption of chatbots, allowing companies to focus on addressing real business problems such as productivity and inefficiency. While this is a step in the right direction, I believe there is more potential just waiting to be tapped, if we prioritise RPA in the overall digital journey.
The “robotic” in RPA refers to software bots (not physical robots) mimicking the way humans carry out certain processes on the computer. Bots can learn and execute repetitive, rule-based actions without human intervention, freeing up the human to focus on other tasks.
RPA can be applied to tedious tasks such as collating data from past records, copying and pasting data, moving files from one place to another — and can do it faster than humans, without human error. This saves time for the employee, and can lead to improved modern workplace satisfaction and productivity, and enhanced customer service. Happy, productive employees can in turn increase business productivity. And a better customer experience benefits both the customer and the business.
Even better, RPA is not just for technology and IT communities, nor is it restricted to any one business area or industry. From HR and finance to sales and distribution, from healthcare and telecommunications to retail and banking, every industry has tasks that can be automated. For instance, according to one Gartner article, finance leaders consider 89% of accounting activities highly automatable.
The truth is that RPA is a necessary part of the digitalisation journey and can be applied across the entire enterprise.
The TAS story
To put the power of RPAs to the test, TAS has rolled out our own robust and comprehensive RPA strategy over the last few years — with resounding success. Here’s an example of how much of a difference RPA can make: we previously had a team working on end-of-month processing activities for a range of clients, and by implementing RPA, we managed to reduce a process that would typically take six hours of man effort to maybe five minutes per client
For us, it is important to walk the talk, and more importantly, walk the digitalisation journey as a company. This way, our internal learnings can be shared with our clients in the form of best practices.
Perceived challenges when implementing RPA — and how to overcome these
When it comes to RPA uptake, one of the common challenges is a resistance to organisational change. We saw a little of this ourselves. Initially, there was a sense of nervousness when we implemented our strategy. Staff were concerned about how this would affect them — would bots take over their jobs? — and worried about job security. Fortunately, the anxiety soon eased when people began to realise that with a bot helping with the administrative tasks, they could turn their attention to other things that required human intelligence or the human touch, like management, problem-solving or ideation.
One key requirement for the plan’s success was that staff and management needed to be open-minded, and open to change. As in all change management projects, for the implementation to work, the management team had to first buy into the proposed strategy, then drive communication to the rest of the company and be good role models in terms of having the right mindset and attitude.
Another issue is a perceived lack of tech talent — organisations may say they don’t have an engineer or tech expert who is skilled at RPA. The good news is that off-the-shelf RPA tools are available on the market. What the organisation really needs is someone who understands the business and can bring together business logic and the RPA tool, a technical business analyst who can look at a process and put that into pseudo-code that a bot can understand. And, better yet, this person may be within the organisation already.
So now the question is, where do you start when it comes to RPA?
4 questions to ask when considering RPA implementation
A critical part of an RPA strategy is the selection of the process to automate. It may not make sense to automate every step, and every process. How do you pick which one, or which parts to automate?
The short answer is, stay focused on efficiency and productivity. Ask yourself:
1. How can the effect be maximised? Among the top goals of implementing RPA is to improve output quality and efficiency. This means reducing errors, and the severity of errors, but also reducing waste and the time taken to carry out the process(es). That, in turn, means that if we can automate a process where human error is common and can have major repercussions, the quality of output can potentially be improved a great deal — and have a greater impact on the business.
2. How can a process be made more efficient? This goes beyond just speeding things up. Improving cycle times means the overall end-to-end time taken for a process, whether crunching numbers for a report or checking items against a list, can be reduced. But analysing this aspect of the situation also highlights whether parts of the process may no longer be necessary — which helps to cut down on wasted time and resources.
3. Where are the costs? How can these be reduced? Defining and analysing your process(es) can be very powerful. When analysing if a process is suitable for automation, you — whether as an individual, a team or an organisation as a whole — must examine every step. This scrutiny helps provide visibility of costs, highlights inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and enables your organisation to calculate and measure return on investment.
4. How will streamlining this process (or these processes) benefit your people and your organisation? As TAS experienced personally, when bots handle the tedious, repetitive tasks, humans can turn to more cognitive, more meaningful tasks. This can improve job satisfaction and help with hiring and retention. In certain roles, this can contribute to improved customer service and greater customer satisfaction, too. And of course, this is all to the company’s benefit
What does the future look like?
The digital future is exciting with RPA in the picture. Companies can work towards becoming value creators accelerating business outcomes by shifting focus off the tedious day-to-day tasks, to reskilling and training staff to becoming Chief Value Creators!
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