RPA is software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out tasks within a business process and thereby frees human capital to be utilized in other areas. The software bots are programmed to do manual tasks and are relatively lightweight in that they reside on top of existing systems and applications. Recent surveys indicate that anywhere from 30-50% of RPA projects fail. Ever wondered why there are so many instances of companies not making it past the initial stages of their RPA initiative? The lack of a consistent process to identify the right automation opportunities and prioritize them, inevitably results in organizations fumbling early in their RPA journey, and in some cases giving up on it altogether. Identifying and prioritizing candidates for automation are critical steps before one can pilot RPA and build the business case to move forward.
Figure 1 outlines the four-step approach we recommend to begin the RPA journey, each of which needs to involve engaging the right stakeholders who not only have the authority to take decisions, but also have sufficient insights regarding the process areas under consideration.
Figure 1 – Critical first steps in the RPA journey
Prior to identifying specific automation opportunities, there needs to be enough time and effort spent in clarifying the overall RPA goal for the enterprise and identifying the key stakeholders and the appropriate software platform that will be used. Strategic priorities, financial metrics and organizational capabilities should be used to inform the objectives of the RPA program. Inputs should be gathered from business and IT stakeholders, and a cross-functional team equipped with the right set of capabilities and authority should be established to drive the initiative.
2. Opportunity Identification
This is a step best performed in a workshop setting and orchestrated using an approach that makes it easy for participants to think about and describe automation use-cases in a simple and consistent manner. Based on our experience helping several clients get past the initial hiccups with their RPA initiatives, we have developed a way to categorize some of the commonly observed use-cases for automation. This is intended to provide a starting point to break down and classify process areas for discussion and analysis purposes.
Figure 2 lists a few key categories, type of tasks under each category, and factors that contribute to the complexity of automating such tasks. Categories are named, to make them easy to remember and, to be representative of the tasks. For example, “Swivel chair” involves manually moving data as-is, between systems, with limited or no steps in between. The repeated swiveling action from one side to the other can be thought to represent the routine movement of data from one system to another. While identifying and categorizing use-cases, it is beneficial to have an end-to-end view of the process under consideration. A process may potentially be broken down into several use-case categories and will need to be optimized prior to automating.
Figure 2 – Sample RPA Use-Case Categories
3. Use-Case Prioritization
Prioritizing the use-cases identified for automation is the next step. Prior to starting the workshop, stakeholders should think about criteria that can be used to rank the use-cases. These criteria should be relevant to the overall business objectives and goals of the RPA initiative. We have developed a framework made up of sample criteria that fall along three key dimensions – Impact, Complexity, and Governance and Adoption Effort – that are critical to the benefits and costs of any RPA initiative.
Impact represents the topline benefit associated with automating a specific use-case. Effort should be invested in quantifying the impact and linking it to broader metrics that are part of the organization’s objectives. Complexity represents the challenge associated with automating the process and can potentially be translated into cost. While it may not be possible to identify every factor that contributes to process complexity, defining key criteria that increase complexity will help build transparency early on and avoid surprises going forward. Governance and Adoption Effort is an often overlooked but critical dimension that represents the resistance that automation initiatives can run into. Left unaddressed, factors that fall into this category can torpedo an RPA program even when it makes financial sense.
These dimensions may have multiple criteria that vary depending on the organization or function. During the workshop, the criteria should be weighted, depending on their relative importance to the organization, and scored on a rating scale. Individual and group scores should be compared to arrive at a consensus on ranking. Once the use-cases are ranked, they need to be plotted on a matrix along the dimensions described above and may be automated in phases or waves. Figure 3 shows how use-cases are scored and prioritized using the above framework. The criteria, weights and ratings are illustrative.
Figure 3 – Use-Case Scoring and Prioritization Framework (illustrative)
Finally, it is necessary to put together a roadmap that includes among other things, an implementation plan, a change management plan and a training plan. Existing projects and associated timelines should be kept in mind when putting together the roadmap. It is also critical to let stakeholders (impacted teams, IT, HR and other support functions) weigh in on the implementation and release timeline. HR should be engaged early on to develop and coordinate a robust transition and change management plan that includes potentially retraining and retooling the impacted workforce.
As organizations begin to embark on the path toward RPA, they need to focus on getting these initial steps right before thinking about implementing a pilot or deploying bots across the business. It is always better to start small, and gain stakeholder support and momentum, before scaling up automation efforts across the organization. Random automation of ill-designed processes without using a thorough way to identify, evaluate and optimize use-cases is a road to “RPA doom”. So where are you on your RPA journey and how many use-cases have you identified and prioritized?
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