There are many misconceptions about robotic process automation (RPA) and business needs to address these with internal stakeholders to ensure successful automation deployment.
Andries Pretorius, Senior Manager: Information Technology at Altron Managed Solutions, says: “Any process that’s standardised, highly repetitive, performed at scale, high in value, prone to human error, requires human data entry, with low exceptions is a good candidate for RPA. If there are fixed rules and stable processes that don’t change often, that’s where the real advantages of RPA come in. RPA can take exactly what a human is doing and replicate that task at the presentation layer.
“For instance, if we look at the processes in a call centre, where the staff are manually capturing call details coming in from customers, it’s a fairly standardised format. RPA can mimic what the user does by taking that structured data and allowing a bot to do the click work, in that it opens the call management system and runs through the process of manually logging the call.”
Deciding where to deploy RPA
When deciding where to deploy RPA in a business, Pretorius advises that the business focuses on known pain points. “If you look at where the business is struggling the most and apply RPA in those areas, that’s a good recipe for success. You shouldn’t automate processes for the sake of automating them. If you align RPA with your strategic initiatives you’ll get a far better return on investment and more business benefits. There are good automation opportunities in call centres, operations, supply chain and finance departments.”
To choose which processes to automate, the business should embark on a formal process to create a well-structured business process design document. This allows the business to document the processes that are currently performed, including the business flows, rules, and diagrams, providing a high-level view of all the interdependencies throughout the process and which of these activities can be automated.
Creating a business process design document enables the business to compare the length of time it takes to manually perform a process and compare it to the time it would take if automated, giving it the ability to track key metrics. “This means the business can look at the amount of activities that can be automated and work out the savings in man-hours that can be affected through automation. The resulting data will give you an idea of whether it’s a good process to automate or not
“High-volume transactions are ideally suited to RPA. The higher the volumes are, the greater the benefits of RPA, with the additional advantage of having error-free transactions. The minute you have a high volume of transactions combined with human intervention, there’s the potential for errors to creep in, whereas a bot assures an error-free transaction.”
If multiple systems need to share the same data, using traditional integration methods can be expensive to deploy and complex to maintain. As RPA operates at the presentation layer, no integration is required between systems, the bot logs onto each system and captures the relevant data. An example would be if the business hires a new employee, the bot can capture relevant data with HR, finance, CRM and IT, instead of having one person doing all of that manually.
Is RPA for SMEs too?
Historically, this wasn’t the case. Initially, there were only a handful of RPA players in the market; it was very much considered a niche technology that was too expensive for smaller businesses. However, the picture has changed in recent years, there are a lot more RPA players, some of whom cater specifically for the financial and operational requirements of SMEs.
“The best return on investment is seen in bigger organisations where there are multiple integrated processes with large volumes of activities over multiple systems. In this type of environment, RPA deployment results in optimal time- and cost-savings while reducing errors and furthering the standardisation of processes. Yet one shouldn’t overlook the value of RPA in the small business environment, as one person often fills many roles and RPA can free that person from mundane tasks to focus on higher value activities such as growing the business.”
RPA’s business benefits
Overcoming the challenges
Initially, one of biggest challenges around implementing RPA was resistance from employees. “People believe robots will take over their jobs. It’s important to assure staff that bots aren’t there to take their jobs, but rather to increase their productivity and provide a better career path for them. Employees should be given a roadmap on how they will be upskilled so that they realise that by automating their current tasks, they can focus on acquiring new skills, ensuring a future career.”
“RPA can’t be viewed as a technology-driven solution. It’s a business initiative – the business needs to identify the challenges that it faces around certain processes, what the process currently looks like and what it should look like, then automation can make that happen.” If RPA is owned by IT, it may fail, he cautions.
Then there’s the ongoing support challenge. After bots have been deployed, they need to be monitored, maintained and updated if processes change. Any change in process or the format of structured data will require redevelopment to ensure the smooth running of the bot.
Educate employees on the benefits
In closing, Pretorius clarifies the benefits of RPA to employees. “We need to try to move away from people performing tasks that robots can perform. People need to collaborate and work with other people instead of performing as robots. We need to free up employees and give them more time to focus on value-generating activities and generally have more time in terms of not having to do work after hours, giving them a better work-life balance. It also provides companies with the opportunity to challenge employees by allowing them to focus on activities in other areas of the business, allowing them to upskill and cross-skill, thereby expanding the career opportunities.
Altron Managed Solutions
+27 (11) 373 4000