Robotic Process Automation – How to and why?

Robotic Process Automation – How to and why?

Robotic process automation, or RPA is a hot topic in the business community these days. Why is it so? What is RPA? What are the benefits and pitfalls? How is it used? I try to answer these questions in a three part blog series. In the first part, I covered the basics of RPA. In the second part, I went through a real world use case. And in this third part I will talk about implementations.

 

“Where are we at with RPA?”

The American sociologist doctor Everett M. Rogers has developed the diffusion theory of innovation. According to the theory, knowledge of an innovation spreads into a social system through certain channels and during certain time. In Rogers’ theory, adopters of innovations are classified to five categories: innovators (2-3% of population), early adopters (10-15%), early majority (30-35%), late majority (30-35%) and laggards (10-20%).

During 2016 RPA has moved from the early adopters phase to the early majority phase. As the amount of users increases, so does the number of suppliers of RPA technology. Forrester research has studied the supplier field in RPA and brought forth 12 suppliers in their Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation study. Three suppliers were in the best leaders class: Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath. From the latter I used the case study in the previous part in this blog series. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, I foresee these three suppliers ruling the market for the foreseeable future.

 

”How can I get the best out of RPA?”

The real benefits and synergies of RPA will be seen during the next 2 years, when the amount of users increases. As I have mentioned earlier, RPA is an excellent tactical tool for a specific business process problem, such as using several legacy systems simultaneously in a single process. RPA is a surface level solution that brings new life to existing business processes. But it does not solve any big problems that lie beneath the surface. Badly working business processes are usually a symptom of these big problems lying beneath the surface.

RPA is a tactical choice. Remember to also choose the carriage, proper passengers and cargo.

In order for automation of business processes to be taken to the next level, the combination of business process management (BPM) and RPA tools will be inevitable. BPM is a methodology aimed at process improvement that should be used before RPA is implemented. Why?

Because in the end RPA is about automating processes and workflows. And if a process or a workflow is faulty, there is no sense in automating it. Things might even get worse. So, analyse the current situation first, using BPM methodology. Think what improvements can be made and only after that continue to automate.

If one only wants to automate certain manual tasks that require using UI’s of desktop applications, RPA is the right choice. If one wants to automate complete end to end business processes, RPA is not the right choice. It just cannot handle the whole process.

If and when the whole process will be automated, it is better to use a more complete business process automation platform that can integrate with other systems, orchestrate the whole process and one that is flexible in situations of change. Complete business process automation platforms and RPA are in no sense mutually exclusive solutions. I can see that both can be used in the same process when automating business processes.

 

”Where’s the beef?”

Companies like Deloitte and KPMG predict that Artificial Intelligence (AI) shall be used in RPA in the future. Oxford University and London School of Economics say that RPA and other automation, and AI technologies will automate 35% of all work by 2035. At the moment a Western office worker is about 90% more expensive than a RPA robot.

From a view point of an European business, when used correctly, as a tactical asset, RPA will free up personnel from repetitive, manual and error prone work. These resources can, and should be used in tasks that have more value and productivity. There is huge business potential in RPA as a part of business process automation.

So the beef is that you need to get your processes automated. Otherwise your competition will run circles around you and get past you. And that is what you want to avoid of course!

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Veli-Pekka Mustonen

BPM Consultant, Business Analyst You-Get Finland Oy