Best practices when adopting RPA – the business perspective

Whichever option or mix of options you choose, I’ve compiled some RPA adoption best practices, from my studies and my personal experiences as an RPA consultant, for you to keep in mind when starting down this transformative road:

Best practices when adopting RPA – the business perspective

Though completely automated business processes, with absolutely no human interaction, are quite few, one thing is certain: a software robot’s operations will always be 100% accurate.

But adopting RPA (as well as getting to that 100% accuracy momentum) is by no means a one-size-fits-all operation. The reason behind this is the technology itself, the systems a company is built upon, and the soon-to-be-automated processes, which vary greatly from one company to the next, and from one project to another.

The people involved in an RPA project are very important. As pointed out in our previous article on improving a company’s value through RPA, one cannot substitute RPA for human judgement. RPA has rather the potential of unleashing human creativity through digital evolution.

As Bobby Patrick, CMO of UiPath, highlighted at the UiPathTogether conference in Munich1, RPA increases employee satisfaction, since robots ‘do the work we all hate’. Eventually, happier employees will boost your company’s social capital.

Besides choosing the best fitting RPA technology, successful RPA adoption always requires a mix of the most suitable processes, the right people with the right skills, as well as a business model and environment to not only permit, but also encourage successful adoption.

For a company looking to adopt RPA, the following three options becomes available:

  1. Training existing staff (a long-term goal)

  2. Recruiting new RPA experienced staff (a scarce resource)

  3. Finding a third-party partner to work with (and gain know-how from).

Whichever option or mix of options you choose, I’ve compiled some RPA adoption best practices, from my studies and my personal experiences as an RPA consultant, for you to keep in mind when starting down this transformative road:

RPA adoption best practices

Build a Center of Excellence (CoE) structure inside the company - the ‘brains’ behind the automation project meant to coordinate, standardize and ensure consistency across the entire company. Personally, I’ve seen that the most obvious benefit of creating a CoE is ensuring a framework for adopting change (an important point to start your automation journey). This CoE team should be composed of: CIO/ CDO2 and the right: consultants/ business analysts, subject matter experts/ process owners, automation developers, change management personnel, testers and trainers – as these people will be held accountable for the overall project implementation.

Think big and start small. Following the “80/20”3 rule, select the processes that are easiest to automate, but still have the potential to bring in substantial benefits to everyday automation. It is mandatory to actively involve employees in the creation and training of software bots; while designing their future co-workers, the best ideas for automation always come from those actually doing the job.

Don’t automate processes in their initial, AS-IS state; it’s the biggest mistake one can do when implementing RPA. Apply lean six sigma principles (e.g. remove from a process any non-value adding activities) to build, deploy and operationalize automation. Unleash your creativity to find new ways of increasing quality, customer or employee satisfaction, and reduce time and errors where possible.

Adopting RPA for the sake of reducing headcount is a superficial reason to start with. Instead, try focusing on increasing productivity and business volume, as this will be a double win, both for your company and your employees, as they will be freed up from the whole boring, repetitive and tedious part of their daily tasks, allowing them to focus on more creative and value-adding tasks.

Keep in mind that the final outcome of RPA is not to raise the unemployment rate, but to create more value, increase productivity and accelerate therapidity of time-cycle management for flows inside companies of all sizes. I advise you to take care of your employees and ensure that the people who want a path in your company for the future will have one (e.g. train employees into becoming automation process controllers).

Adopting RPA is also about momentum. The key is to move quickly and handle the racing speed through laborious planning. Failing to maintain momentum could cause inefficacy, under-expected results and financial losses. Accelerating your automation journey involves people commitment, structure (based on the right automation decisions), (perpetual) discipline and the (unanimous) adoption of an organizational culture embracing change.

And I will say this: I strongly recommend you start out on your RPA journey with an expert partner by your side. They will ensure a correct RPA implementation, while you can concentrate on understanding and shaping the impact RPA can have on your company. Personally, I’ve seen cases where handling both activities of implementing RPA and re-designing the organization’s flows, departments and functions simultaneously can become overwhelming for the enterprise, leading to poor results. As an example, in some cases, when my team and I are contacted to support an RPA implementation project something went wrong (in the PoC5 phase or later). I think the reason for this is a lack of correctly understanding the correlation between the business need and the technical and/ or functional part of the implementation.

Common RPA adoption challenges and how to best overcome them

Creating proper and accurate awareness around RPA within your company early on is a very important step. In order to do so, you have to understand the challenges you’ll inevitably face during RPA implementation:

  1. Process standardization: Always consider re-designing, re-engineering, and re-rationalizing a process before automating it

  2. Scalability: Carefully plan around existing capabilities in the context of expanding the use of RPA, one successful automation at a time

  3. IT buy-in and support: Set up a secure and scalable infrastructure, ensure IT department engagement from the very beginning

  4. RPA solution integration and flexibility: Create a flexible IT and business environment to ensure a smooth integration of RPA within your company. Successful implementations will need working alongside a dedicated partner, as special skills, experience and capacity are required

  5. Stakeholder buy-in and expectations: If resistance toward RPA adoption is encountered, lower it by getting C-level commitment and engaging the company’s CFO/CTO/CIO6 in discussions early on, as their holistic view can point out inherent risks associated with the project

  6. Employee impact: Manage the psychological impact of adopting RPA right from the beginning by using a human-centric change management process (e.g. continuous and transparent communication with your employees), so that people will feel safe and valued. Get as many key stakeholders, influencers or decision makers as you can on board, to remove the phobia and misconception.

Selecting the RPA type that best fits you

Last, but not least, you need to decide what type of automation you are going to implement. A simplified approach to automation looks like the following classification.

Some final food for thought

I do strongly believe in balance within a human-robot workforce, which needs to be molded as a collaboration and never as a competition between the two.

I also believe, that cognitive automation (artificial intelligence, machine learning) is the next level of RPA (desktop, robotic automation), and should be used to complement robotic process automation, not as a competing technology. While RPA is well suited for structured data and processes, AI is applied for unstructured data and processes. Put differently: “While RPA represents the hands and feet of automation, AI is the head of it”.

P.S. Now that we’ve fully analyzed all aspects surrounding RPA adoption, we are ready to dive into how to implement it – see all about it in my next article.

An article written by our colleague, Marius Ungur