How to Hold Bots Used in Robotic Process Automation Accountable for their Work– September 27, 2019

Posted by Andrew Davis

The Robotics Process Automation (RPA) market, though currently small at $850 million, is expected to grow at 31% compound annual growth rate over the next six years to $4 billion, according to Grand View Research.
 
The explosive growth in the RPA industry is in large part due to the massive impact an RPA implementation can have on a business. According to McKinsey estimates, RPA implementation projects could provide a return on investment between 30% and 200% within the first year. Furthermore, by automating repetitive tasks, companies are able to cut costs and increase margins by reducing head count or freeing up employees to perform higher value work.
 
>> Read “Digital Workforce 101: Myths, Mysteries and Expectations”
 
With all these benefits, one might expect to find executives rushing to automate as many tasks as possible within their businesses. While most are curious, they often still have concerns, revolving around issues such as loss of data or giving access to sensitive files. While these are very real concerns, the use of bots to carry out tasks may actually reduce the risks associated with these issues. 

What is the Difference Between Bots and Humans When Used for Back-Office Functions?

Many companies have a tech-forward culture, implementing workflow technology to manage processes or chat bots to help customers find answers more quickly. However, when it comes to deciding if and where to have a bot perform back-office functions, they hit pause.
 
Even for a tech-forward organization, this kind of work may still seem too “human” for a bot to perform and may raise questions for leadership such as: 

  • In an accounting automation, what if the wrong amount is entered for an accounts receivable transaction?
  • If our software doesn’t produce an audit trail, how do I figure out what changes the bot made?
  • What if the bot deletes or moves a file it wasn’t supposed to?

These are important questions that must be addressed. Often, what a business fails to recognize is that these risks are already present within the business and are actually solvable with RPA.
 
It may be counterintuitive to think that human workers can pose a larger risk than bots. After all, companies spend large sums to find and train the best candidates for the job. However, despite the investment, if the work of an employee is repetitive and unstimulating, the worker may become bored or disengaged from work. In fact, a 2016 Udemy study found that about 43% of U.S. office workers are bored or disengaged at work. This may lead to lower production rates as well as increased errors. Employees may erroneously enter data, make the wrong changes to an important document, delete a file when trying to copy it, or become distracted by other work and forget to complete an important task. This is not to say the employee is incompetent or acting with malice, merely that the employee is human.
 
To complete a repetitive task quickly and without fail, you automate it. This really isn’t anything new; automation is everywhere — from automated bill pay to ordering groceries. Automation has crept into our personal lives and provided many benefits, removing costly errors and giving us time for more important activities. 

How Can RPA Improve Efficiencies and Track Errors?

Not only can RPA produce similar benefits inside the workplace, it can improve auditing and error tracking capabilities as well. During the bot design process developers can: 

  • Map the current state of a company’s process with employees or subject matter experts to identify the key points, data inputs or screens that need to be recorded during process execution;
  • Design an error-resolution process for the bot to restart a process or notify an employee if the bot is unable to successfully complete a task due to software not responding, a slow computer or an unexpected window opening;
  • Assemble report templates for the bot to record its activities and error logs, and save or email to employees for review;
  • Design and build bot dashboards for employees to see how the bot is performing, how fast is it completing tasks or provide summary details on any errors it has encountered.

With these added capabilities, business leaders can be confident errors will be caught, as the bot will be programmed to check itself at every step of the process.
 
With a range of benefits and appropriate checks and balances to employ, business leaders should be asking themselves: “What’s really holding us back?” RPA provides solutions to the human error inherent in manual processes, provides process auditing and reporting capabilities not currently available in many processes, and frees employees of repetitive tasks leaving them with time to perform more engaging work.
 
Business leaders still may find their organizations are resistant to change. Managing and aiding in cultural change may be an important first step. Once the company is ready to begin discussing RPA, start small and bring in an experienced team that can help address any of their concerns.
 
Contact John Cavalier at jcavalier@cohenconsulting.com or a member of your service team to discuss this topic further.
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Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Information contained in this post is considered accurate as of the date of publishing. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts, circumstances and current law.