So, you have piloted a robotic process automation (RPA) program and like what you’ve seen so far. Now what? Beyond simply deploying additional automations (the selection and management of which could be a discussion all its own), how can the RPA platform be extended to enhance value? As powerful as RPA platforms are, their usefulness may be compounded in a number of quick and easy ways.
A 2017 Deloitte study found that 53% of organizations surveyed had embarked on an RPA journey, with 72% of respondents reporting their intention to begin RPA initiatives by 2020. Whether your organization has an RPA program in place or plans to kick one off in the near future, chances are investments in RPA will only deepen as the automation trend continues to sweep through middle market and enterprise-scale companies.
However, the same Deloitte study reports that not all RPA endeavors meet expectations: 43% of respondents found RPA had not provided the planned improvements. If your organization is among those working with or implementing RPA, the following opportunities may help your RPA initiatives better meet expectations. Best of all, many of these changes can be achieved without significant investment of time or resources.
Often, RPA deployments focus on the manual, low value-added tasks that involve extracting data from a source and moving it into a transactional system. Once there, data can be pushed to appropriate parties for updates and approvals, or can be sliced and diced in any number of ways to create meaningful insights. Take cash receipts as an example. Information is extracted from bank data for payments received. Payments are matched against outstanding receivables and the receipt is posted. In cases where one payment covers multiple invoices, or if the invoice amount doesn’t match exactly due to an error or credit note, perhaps some additional judgement may be needed to ensure the cash is correctly applied. From there, month-end processes consolidate the day-by-day transactional data to support reporting on cash, revenues, outstanding A/R, days sales outstanding, collections, etc.
RPA is well suited to handle much of this core transactional work, but it may not be as nimble when it comes to the nuances of processes like these. As processes become less and less standardized and consistent, RPA alone will not be enough. However, by combining RPA with other tools many businesses already have in place today, the functionality of RPA can be extended. Returning to our cash receipts example, intelligent character recognition (ICR) software can be used in combination with RPA to monitor an email inbox for correspondence from customers indicating payment instructions for combined invoices or credits taken.
Beyond ICR, perhaps the business has rules defined for approval of credits taken or accepting other short pays. An automation can be configured to allow for conditional logic in transaction processing, but what if additional approval is needed? While RPA tools can easily send an email seeking approval for exception cases like these, many companies already leverage workflow solutions to seek and maintain approvals in a more sophisticated fashion. The flexibility of RPA tools allows the robot to also interact with these workflows with ease. As such, extending the automation to submit tasks in the workflow suite and monitor for approvals allows for more robust automations. Similarly, RPA can support reporting needs by integrating with business intelligence (BI) suites to provide data or collect report outputs for distribution or other purposes.
Leverage Data in RPA Logs to Enhance Existing Solutions
If your organization is already using BI tools in other applications, consider how it can further enhance the effectiveness of RPA. Business intelligence software can be employed in powerful ways to extract and analyze the hidden data in RPA solutions. Within the automation sequence, robots can be instructed to extract their logs and upload to a data portal that feeds to a BI environment.
With simple dashboards, an analyst can get quick and easy access to meaningful insights about the robot. Is it encountering errors, and if so, what common issues lead to these errors? Are there peak processing times when transactions move more slowly? If system settings could be adjusted, this may not only help the robot but other users as well. Do the dashboards reveal an increasing trend in exceptions that may warrant a review of the underlying transactional process? These are just a few examples of how BI tools can be combined with RPA to achieve greater success — the possibilities are endless.
Focus on Small Deployments and Citizen Development
Another way to gain deeper traction in RPA without a significant investment in resources is to focus not on automating one process but rather one task. A process involves a number of steps to fully transact, touching multiple systems and routing to different individuals. Meanwhile, a task is a much more limited scope involving just a few steps a user takes, likely in no more than one to two systems. Ultimately, automating these small tasks will prove much simpler to develop, deploy, and maintain compared to more complex processes.
The trick to small automations though is to identify those tasks that many people in the organization have to do frequently, take too much time and yield little value back to the business. Perhaps this is meeting scheduling, filing expense reports or submitting an IT ticket. The opportunities will vary by organization. By automating these little tasks and equipping personnel with attended robots (which are controlled by the employee), the friction in day-to-day work can be alleviated to unlock valuable time savings without a large project footprint.
Why stop there? With attended robots deployed, workers can take matters a step further to develop their own automations to handle small tasks. With a little bit of governance and quality control, the output of this style of “citizen development” within the business provides small improvements that add up to significant savings — and this is possible without the spend associated with longer-term technology deployments.
Empower Change Makers
Finally, a subtle but significant aspect to enhancing the value of RPA is to ensure adoption of the deployed solutions and an eagerness to move the program forward beyond an early pilot. This can be achieved through good change management, one key aspect of which is to empower the change makers in the organization. Too often, good technology solutions never make it farther than a small program in a single department, or worse, are blacklisted because they were rolled out without the right support, becoming another “shadow IT” boondoggle.
Don’t let this happen to your RPA initiative. Identify the key stakeholders early and know who will be the solution champions, both in management and in IT. Furthermore, keep these change makers involved in the implementation and deployment of RPA. What are their objectives and measures of success? What concerns need to be addressed? When early pilot programs meet or exceed expectations, these centers of influence can serve as the chief evangelists for RPA across the organization.
There are many ways to boost the value of your RPA program, but they don’t all require steep investments in time or resources. Small enhancements, like combining RPA with other efficiency-related tools, serve to compound the value of these technologies. Tapping into the hidden data in RPA logs can also reveal meaningful trends that, once addressed, provide for more efficient automations. Meanwhile, focusing on small task-based deployments and citizen development may accelerate RPA savings. Finally, don’t keep your RPA program in the shadows – empower change makers across management and IT to push for wider adoption and success.
Where is your organization on its RPA journey? Have you successfully deployed a pilot and are looking to move forward? Are you trying to get an RPA program started? Already have many automations deployed, but are struggling to build a more sophisticated center of expertise around intelligent automation? No matter where you are on this journey, we can help. Learn more by contacting Mary Washburn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.