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The benefits and the challenges of RPA implementation

When implementing any new technology, it’s important to consider its value proposition, but also a plan for a successful implementation. RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is no exception and provides both compelling benefits and implementation challenges to its users and leaders driving such change.

Based on findings from KPMG’s Global Sourcing Advisory Pulse Survey titled Robotic Revolutiontechnology experts believe that

The opportunities from robotic process automation (RPA) implementation are many — so are the adoption challenges […] For most organizations, taking advantage of higher-end RPA opportunities will be easier said than done.

Although the report has been compiled more than 2 years ago, its findings stay true to this day. Although we are aware, that the above certainly sounds a bit ominous and definitely raises series of questions: What are these difficulties? What value-added services can RPA provide? What are some of the roadblocks and success stories regarding implementation?

These are the questions companies must ask themselves when weighing the costs and benefits of RPA for their automation strategy. They’re also the questions we’ll tackle today in discussing the pros and cons of using robotic software to take on business process roles.

Advantages of RPA

Imagine an insurance provider considering automation in order to streamline numerous administrative tasks and optimise business processes. This provider is seeking an automation solution that will quickly deliver the transformation of back office processes to leverage greater agility and growth in its business services. By implementing RPA, such insurance company can expect a number of already recognised benefits such as increased efficiency of claims processing, faster response with based on data, personalised quotes, enhanced accuracy of manual data input, and quick scalability based on customer demand.

But these advantages of RPA implementation are relatively common and don’t speak to the scale and depth of automation capabilities RPA offers. Some of the less frequently discussed outcomes RPA can deliver include:

  • Non-invasive nature and compatibility with existing systems – Because RPA basically mimics human actions, the technology interacts with data within the presentation layer of platforms and applications. This means RPA acts at the user interface just like a human would, but error-free. As a result, this means companies do not need to make changes to existing legacy systems (but may want to consider optimising them) when implementing RPA. This is beneficial because it allows organisations to implement RPA in a non-interruptive way, which makes RPA unique among other types of automation. It also reduces the need for constant IT involvement and for employees to have coding abilities.
  • Increased compliance – RPA removes data gaps between disparate sources and logs all actions completed by the the software robots throughout automation. This allows employees to proactively recognise and manage any compliance issues and consistently run internal reviews. These features of RPA support companies across various industries, whether that be the insurance provider obligated to meet certain regulations, a healthcare company required to meet safety and privacy rules, or a financial service firm needing to be PCI compliant.
  • Better management capabilities – A centralised management platform provides organisations with the ability to remotely model, monitor, control, schedule, and execute the deployment of RPA software robots. Because certain requirements can be embedded in automation rules, RPA allows organisations to achieve enhanced governance in order to better manage business operations. It also allows auditing and analytics to happen in the same place. In addition, high levels of security can be maintained through remote server control of the software robots.
  • Improved customer experience – RPA is generally seen as a way for companies to alleviate employees from the burden of repetitive, high-volume tasks such as claims processing, scheduled reports generation or purchase order issuing. Even though the automation of back office tasks seemingly does not have an impact on the front office, RPA can significantly drive improvements for customers as well. Through its automation capabilities, RPA allows organisations to deliver higher quality services to their customers in a timely manner.

Now the challenges…

As you can see, RPA offers a handful of benefits that allows companies, such as our hypothetical insurance company, to optimise their most of their business operations and deliver exceptional, fast and accurate customer service. But as we also discussed at the beginning of this article, no solution exists without certain challenges in integrating a new technology into a company’s current architecture.

Here just some of the difficulties that could stand in the way of our example company – insurance provider’s successful use of RPA:

  • Ownership – This means who owns RPA solutions. Is it lead by IT or Business teams? Business needs to provide the requirement, approve the solution design for feasibility, help in UAT and then measure the success rate. IT teams has a limited role primarily restricted to providing support in infrastructure requirements and test data creation. Business doesn’t necessarily have skills to provide the detailed level technical requirement at the time of BRD or define the test scenarios as needed by QA teams. The need for good business analysts is a paramount, however they are limited talent available in the market, who has exposure to RPA design and solution and understands potential value.
  • Limited application this may involve handwritten documents. Partial automation based on cost and benefit analysis can be considered if full end to end automation is not available or reachable within reasonable timescale.
  • Limited application – involving image files – information included in images such as charts may not be easily extracted and processed, however, OCR software has substantially improved in the last years.
  • Change Management – Business and IT teams need to collaborate and proactively provide system and business updates to RPA support team to update scripts, once they are in the production. It may create additional challenges if multiple applications are used in the process. Any change in the front end UI will impact the RPA script hence, the outcome.
  • RPA is a short term/interim solution. It provides immediate relief and benefit, long term solution requires omni channel platforms and frequent workflow review and optimisation.
  • Current RPA tools available in the market has no or limited machine learning capability – the scope for automation will increase exponentially with AI and machine capability getting integrated with RPA tools, but we are not there yet (don’t believe if companies offering RPA are trying to convince you otherwise 🙂
  • Employee resistance and onboarding –  This is one of the biggest challenges and pertains to all companies due to a simple fact – people fear change by nature. Any changes that accompany implementation of a new technology can be stressful for employees as they might experience shifts in their responsibilities. Frequent communication from company leaders and executive sponsors to ensure employees are fully informed about what is expected of them throughout the implementation process is essential to successful adoption. Fostering a culture of innovation within the company will only further accelerate this adoption and remove behavioural resistance.
  • Choosing the right processes –  The automation capabilities provided by RPA are ideal for tasks that are repetitive, rules-based, high volume, and do not require human judgement. This can include activities such as data migration and copy-paste tasks. RPA implementation is especially difficult though with business processes that are non-standardised and require frequent human intervention in order to execute. Typically, more complex tasks include interacting with customers and developing human relationships. For such tasks an Attended RPA is implemented, which means that  during the process, the robot can be designed to return control to the person in front of the workstation, if necessary, so that the person can make a decision that requires their judgement or business experience. (Read more).
    While it is an upfront time investment, it’s important for companies to determine which of their processes are suitable for RPA so that automation runs smoothly.
  • Setting realistic expectations – This is arguably one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to implementing a new technology such as RPA. Instead of seeing RPA as the panacea for operational problems and broken processes, organizations need to recognize the limits of what RPA can and cannot do. Decisions regarding the technology need to be made on an individualized and company-specific basis, as RPA’s functionality, implementation timeline, and operational results will vary between different companies. Maintaining company-wide discussions about expected results will allow organizations to make the most of RPA and its benefits.

Overcoming the obstacles

While adopting RPA might initially seem daunting, proper planning and consideration allows companies to fully leverage all that RPA has to offer. In addition, the competitive advantages RPA offers far outweighs the potential pain points of implementation, many of which are merely ever present pains as companies adapt to the new technology. Despite obstacles that can occur during implementation, RPA is still one of the most straightforward technologies to establish – in fact, a couple of RPA’s greatest benefits are often overlooked, especially its ease of deployment.

As companies work to quickly overcome initial challenges such as choosing what processes to automate and overcoming employee resistance, once implemented, results are prominent and will drive further changes with less resistance encountered. Organisations will be able to recognise new applications for RPA among their business activities and eventually increase the scale of automation within their enterprise.

Cover image source: Wired

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