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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has transformative potential for organizations of all kinds. Organizations need to do the following to build tools for robotic process automation:
1. Establish a “Center of Excellence” (CoE) for robotic process automation (RPA) in your organization
Remember that different people in your organization might have a different understanding of RPA. They might implement RPA differently. Teams might use different standards, processes, methods, and tools. In the long run, you will find it hard to manage.
You need a unified set of standards, processes, methods, and tools for implementing RPA in your organization. Do the RPA projects in your organization succeed? Do they bring savings from task automation? You need to monitor them.
Do the RPA tools used in your organization handle sensitive data securely? Has your organization implemented appropriate processes to manage software robots? You need to monitor and mitigate these and other risks.
Implement a “Center of Excellent” (CoE) for RPA in your organization. It will implement an organization-wide governance model for RPA. A CoE will bring a unified approach to risk management and RPA project execution.
2. Plan to implement robotic process automation (RPA) in very small use cases and not large ones
You might have already decided to start with small projects when implementing RPA in your organization. After all, you do that for all new technologies. You need to change your approach in the case of RPA though.
Plan to start with very small RPA projects and not just small ones. Experts recommend you start with “micro” projects.
You might be toying with the idea of applying RPA to end-to-end business processes. However, robotics process automation tools can’t effectively achieve end-to-end business process automation.
RPA uses software robots. RPA bots can’t automate processes that require decision-making by human beings. Even the best RPA tools can only automate repetitive tasks that follow a predefined pattern.
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The RPA CoE you establish should explain this to all relevant stakeholders in your organization. Different departments in your organization should look for very small projects to automate small and repetitive tasks.
3. Identify opportunities for implementing robotic process automation
You now need to identify which manual processes you should automate. While it makes sense to build tools for robotic process automation to automate tasks in some cases, RPA doesn’t fit everywhere.
You might hear plenty of ideas in your organization about automating many business processes. However, you should discuss them with business teams before deciding to use the RPA technology.
Look for mundane tasks that follow predefined rules. Check whether require plenty of human resources without requiring decision-making.
Analyze frequently-performed back-office operations. Assess whether these are time-consuming tasks without the need for specialized skills.
Check which repetitive tasks produce many manual errors. Analyze if these tasks can be performed by following just a few rules.
To sum it up, look for tasks with the following characteristics:
- They are performed frequently.
- These tasks are repetitive.
- Your team can perform them by following a set of predefined rules;
- These tasks often result in manual errors.
You can use automation for tasks with the above characteristics. That will improve productivity in your organization. You will witness better employee engagement and fewer errors. E.g., tasks involving data entry or optical character recognition fit the bill for RPA.
On the other hand, some higher-value tasks might not be suitable for RPA. They require frequent human intervention in the form of decision-making or creativity. Such tasks require cognitive capabilities. RPA bots don’t have these capabilities, therefore, these tasks aren’t automation opportunities.
4. Analyze and record processes to automate at a granular level
Let’s assume that you identified several repetitive back-office processes that you want to automate using RPA. Now, assess whether you know enough about them.
Many organizations have many variations of a single process or task. Team members might have personal preferences, therefore, they make small changes to tasks locally. The organization might have documented only one variation of them.
Assess whether you have such scenarios. You will then need to first standardize your processes before using RPA solutions. Remember that RPA is for automation only, and it can’t fix the lack of standardized processes.
You now need to document the tasks at a granular level. Record keystrokes and clicks. You want your software bots to replicate these actions, therefore, you need to feed them this data.
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Robotic process automation software products offer rules-based automation. They can’t analyze your tasks at a granular level and automate them. RPA doesn’t use artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities like machine learning (ML) or natural language processing (NLP). Therefore, you must capture the tasks at the most granular level. The majority of your RPA implementation effort goes into this phase.
You need to have detailed conversations with team members that currently perform the manual tasks. Your team members can describe the pain points. This helps you to capture the process at a granular level. You can also validate whether the RPA opportunities that you identified are significant enough.
5. Decide how to assess the performance of RPA and define metrics
You need a plan to assess the success of robotic process automation in your organization. Identify the KPIs (key process indicators) or metrics to measure how well is RPA working in your organization.
You will likely implement RPA solutions in multiple departments for different tasks. Therefore, you might need to identify different metrics for certain RPA projects.
You should identify KPIs and metrics that help you to answer the following questions:
- Does your RPA project align with your organizational strategy?
- What is the impact of the RPA project on the team where you automate repetitive tasks?
- How is the operational performance of the above-mentioned team?
- How’s the financial result of the organization after RPA implementation?
The following are a few examples of common metrics to measure the success of RPA:
- Effort spent in a business operation;
- Overtime hours;
- Employee engagement scores;
- Gross profit of the line of business (LOB).
Remember that you need to measure them before and after implementing RPA.
6. Communicate your RPA implementation plans to your team members
RPA implementation will directly change the way your team members work. Successful implementation of RPA will result in automated tasks within key business operations. That will help your team members do their job more effectively. Effective communication of these aspects will help you to get employee buy-in, which will improve business efficiency.
On the other hand, some team members might think that automation will make them irrelevant. They might be wary of RPA.
Honest, caring, and detailed communication is the key to gaining their buy-in. RPA doesn’t replace human beings. It can only automate rules-based tasks. Human beings will still need to make day-to-day decisions at their job. RPA will help employees to focus on higher-value work.
7. Choose between RPA software and development from scratch
You now need to decide whether to use one of the numerous RPA tools or develop an RPA solution from scratch. There are many RPA companies like Pega, Automation Anywhere, Automation Edge, Etc. You can get plenty of advantages by using them, e.g.:
- Many of them are available both on-premises and in cloud environments.
- Leading RPA tools offer an intuitive user interface. Business users can act as citizen developers and set up RPA solutions using these tools.
- Top RPA tools offer a feature-rich analytics suite.
- In addition to advanced analytics, leading RPA tools offer “intelligent automation”. They can work with various artificial intelligence capabilities like computer vision, image recognition, and natural language processing.
- You can use RPA tools along with machine learning to gather insights from unstructured data.
- Top RPA tools enable you to create multiple bots quickly.
- You can implement a centralized governance system easily when using a top RPA tool.
- Leading RPA tools offer robust security solutions.
Alternatively, you could develop an RPA solution from scratch. This takes considerable effort and time, however, you can incorporate highly advanced functionalities of your choice. You need smart developers with skills in programming languages like Java or Python. RPA development from scratch using custom code requires extensive planning.
8. Plan the small RPA projects
As we recommended, you should start with sufficiently small RPA implementation projects. You might have more than one such project at hand.
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You need to plan for them individually. Furthermore, the planning exercise will vary significantly if you use an RPA tool vs developing RPA from scratch.
A. Project planning when you use an RPA tool
A few aspects of the project planning are about the RPA tool you choose. These are organization-wise aspects and not project-wise. These are as follows:
- Deploying the RPA tool on cloud or on-premise;
- Training your team members about using the RPA tool;
- Managing all updates and patches of the RPA tool by working with the vendor;
- Ensuring up-to-date documentation.
After planning these aspects, you need to plan each small RPA project. The planning process should cover the following aspects:
- Obtaining stakeholder approvals for the RPA project;
- Identifying team members with deep knowledge of the tasks to be automated;
- Identifying “citizen developers” that will use the RPA tool to set up the automation workflow;
- Risk identification and mitigation;
- Automating the manual task;
- Deploying the automated solution;
- Managing metrics and measurements both before and after RPA implementation;
- Reporting the outcomes to the relevant stakeholders;
- Undertaking course-correction activities if needed;
- Documenting and sharing the “lessons learned” from the RPA project.
B. Project planning when you develop RPA solutions from scratch
When developing RPA from scratch, you need to plan for a few organization-wide aspects. These are as follows:
- Planning for the IT infrastructural requirements, e.g., cloud computing platforms;
- Identifying the technology stack;
- Hiring developers;
- Developing RPA development standards and processes as parts of the RPA CoE;
- Establishing the RPA CoE governance to monitor small RPA projects.
Planning for individual small RPA projects will cover the following:
- Understanding and documenting the automation requirements;
- Building technical specifications for the RPA project;
- Identifying the appropriate information security solutions;
- Obtaining stakeholder approval for the technical solutions;
- Developing and deploying the RPA solution;
- Tracking the relevant KPIs and metrics both before and after RPA implementation;
- Risk management;
- Communications including project status reporting;
- Implementing corrective actions if required;
- Learning the relevant lessons from the RPA project.
9. Execute and monitor the small robotic process automation projects
RPA project execution and monitoring will vary based on the project approach. You will execute and monitor a set of tasks if you use an RPA tool. The tasks are different when you undertake RPA development from scratch.
Keep the following critical success factors in mind when executing RPA projects:
- You need proactive leadership both at the COE and at the level of a small project.
- RPA might involve a significant investment, therefore, you need early buy-in from the leadership team in the organization.
- You ought to communicate your RPA implementation objectives early to your organization. Subsequently, you need to communicate regularly.
- Mitigate risks and issues promptly.
- Involve your team members fully. They should have a stake in the success of RPA projects.
10. Sustain the gains from RPA in your organization
One RPA project might automate a task. Team members might use the automation solution for a while. Subsequently, they might revert to the old way of working. This can happen due to many reasons, e.g., lack of training.
This wipes out the gain made from the RPA project. You need to involve the senior leadership team and the RPA CoE to ensure that the newly-implemented RPA solutions are used. You need to remove any roadblocks. This helps to sustain the gains from RPA, and this is key before you plan more RPA projects.
At the time of writing, the best RPA tools are ZAPTEST, HelpSystems, JAMS, KOFAX, Power Automate, Creator, Agenty, Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism, Pega, OpenConnect, G1ANT, WorkFusion, Contextor, Kryon, NICE Systems, OnviSource, and RedWood Software.
Robotic process automation isn’t the same as artificial intelligence. However, you can use RPA together with AI and machine learning (ML).
If organizations don’t use any robotic process automation tools, then they need to implement robotic process automation from scratch. They need competent developers in any one of Java, C#, .Net, and Python. They need to execute end-to-end RPA system development projects.