Robotic Process Automation: Human Touch Still Required | Automation.com

Robotic Process Automation: Human Touch Still Required

Robotic Process Automation: Human Touch Still Required

By Jack Wilson, Process Engineer, Optimum Consultancy Services

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a niche under the greater Business Process Automation (BPA) concept, and closely related to autonomous entities that are forecasted to eventually take the place of humans in those work areas (such as autonomous warfare, warehousing, transportation, and customer service)[1]. RPA allows a robot to observe human-initiated actions between multiple data sources and technologies on a User Interface, memorize the actions and corresponding sequences, and replicate.

Widely used across multiple verticals[2], RPA adoption is predicted to occur on an inter-department, enterprise-wide scale, resulting in greater collaboration between the business side and IT, and a focus on cognitive-based elements rather than the simpler workflow automation[3]. Cognitive Robotic Process Automation (CRPA), which blends RPA and cognitive elements such as AI and machine learning, has been implemented globally in the areas of customer service and solution construct[4].

However, despite the building excitement, successful case studies, and cost reduction observed through RPA implementation, there are key points that you, as a human, should consider prior to introducing RPA to you work environment.

 

Keep Your ROI at the Forefront of the Decision

Though RPA may be significantly associated with decreased Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) capacity and/or headcount, a recent survey found that a variety of other benefits were realized that met or exceeded users’ expectations after RPA implementation. These benefits included improved compliance (30% exceeds expectations and 60% met expectations), improved quality/accuracy (29% exceeds expectations and 57% met expectations), and timelines/ability to work 24/7 (24% exceeds expectations and 66% met expectations)[5]. However, it is certainly worth noting that those survey respondents from large companies that had achieved scaled RPA implementation expect an ROI of 52% FTE capacity for digital workforce[6].

These survey results indicate the importance of clearly defining your desired ROI. And you should expect challenges with socializing and seeking approval for those ROIs that are not or indirectly related to cost reduction. For example, showing the benefits of increased compliance may have very little perceived dollar value if your company has not experienced large compliance-related fines or reduction in perceived community integrity. Likewise, improved quality/accuracy may only gain perceived value when associated with the manhours expended in data correction or rework.

A well-defined ROI should be tied to a major enterprise-wide pain point that most people in the company can relate to or have at least heard of at townhall meetings. If possible, it could also be tied to a major enterprise-wide campaign or initiative that would allow for easy value-add depiction to required RPA champions, and would potentially increase the user adoption of those personnel directly impacted by RPA implementation.

 

Thou Shalt Know Thy Processes

Process Engineers can eyeball a workflow and almost immediately home in on process-related inefficiencies and bottlenecks. However, if you already know that your process exceptions outweigh your process rules, not only will you be unable to effectively implement RPA, but your processes may need to be reengineered. Remember that unless major cognitive elements are integrated into your RPA implementation, process variance that goes beyond standard iterative workflow variance will cause workflow breaks and pauses, requiring developers and admins to intervene and rebuild. In fact, RPA implementation efficacy is suggested to be at its maximum in static workflow environments where data is transferred between functional legacy systems through which an API would not create a substantially more effective solution[7],[8].

This challenge gets exponentially more complex if your desired ROI encompasses scaled-up, or enterprise-wide RPA implementation. In this situation, you may have to fine-tune or reengineer and document the processes for multiple departments, as well as their corresponding integration points. The personnel required in this endeavor could be extraordinary, including Subject Matter Experts, Process Engineers, Business Analysts, Project Managers, and Technical Writers, not to mention the needed C-suite champions. 

A large benefit in undertaking a project of this size is the value-add it brings to the company regardless of RPA implementation. This scale of visibility into major enterprise-wide processes would allow for the identification of candidates for both non-automation process enhancement (i.e. workload redistribution, more precise expectation management, well-defined roles and responsibilities documentation, etc.), and BPA tools (workflow automation, document generation, automated approval and execution, etc.). Once these candidates are listed, you can prioritize those candidates that will receive the optimization efforts (assuming you have a well-defined desired ROI).

 

Start Your Change Management (and Education) Early

While recent studies suggest Americans are not overly worried that automation will replace their jobs[9], bringing up the topic of RPA implementation in the next Team Meeting could result in more than a little employee angst. Throw in other phrases like ‘machine learning’ and ‘cognitive elements’ and these employees may be updating their resume during lunch.

While RPA is a specific part of the overall BPA concept, it could be easily confused with other types of machine automation, or just generally misunderstood by those who do not know much about it. Educating your employees or colleagues (particularly those whose jobs will be affected by the RPA) about what RPA is and is not is crucial for user adoption and overall realization of your desired ROI.

Another key complement to your change management plan is transparency. If implemented appropriately, RPA will change the work environment. Less time spent on repetitive tasks leads to more time spent on abandoned tasks or completely new tasks. While some personnel may be elated about RPA freeing up so much of their time, others will not be. Employee attrition is to be expected, some occurring immediately after the personnel is assigned the new tasks, while others may initially like the new duties, but struggle to perform them, resulting in their termination or resignation. Know well those who will be impacted by RPA implementation, and have appropriate options available for them if possible.

Finally, if one of your primary reasons for RPA implementation is to drastically reduce FTE and/or headcount, be sure you have the appropriate departments involved (i.e. HR, Legal, etc.) when the desired ROI is eventually realized.

RPA is growing on a global scale and bringing with it a wave of work-related efficiency. There is certainly reason to be excited, but at this stage of RPA, a human should occupy the driver’s seat.

About the Author

Jack Wilson is a Process Engineer with Optimum Consultancy Services leading their business and data analysis efforts.  Aside from his undergraduate degree, Jack also has two certificates in Critical Infrastructure Protection from Texas A&M Engineering Extension (TEEX). With both domestic and international experience in multi-industry business and data analytics, Jack also serves on three Board of Directors, utilizing his skills in these leadership positions.



[1]Nieger, C. (2018). 9 Jobs That Are Being Taken Over By Robots. The Motley Fool. https://www.fool.com/slideshow/9-jobs-are-being-taken-over-robots/

[2]Kumar, S. (2018). Robotic Process Automation Across Industries. D!gitalist Magazine, https://www.digitalistmag.com/digital-economy/2018/03/08/robotic-process-automation-across-industries-05955888

[3]Zafra-Davis, P. (2019). The Top Robotic Automation Trends to Watch Out for in 2019. Data Capture Solutions. https://www.dcs.co.uk/information/blog/post/robotic-process-automation-rpa-adoption-trends-2019/2019/01/25/top-rpa-adoption-trends-2019

[4]Papney, R. & Bharadwaj, R. (Ed.) (2019). Cognitive Robotic Process Automation – Current Applications and Future Possibilities. Emerj. https://emerj.com/partner-content/cognitive-robotic-process-automation-current-applications-and-future-possibilities/

[5]The stated percentages are approximations.

[6]Gordeeva, M., Witherick, D., & Wright D. (2018). The robots are ready. Are you? Untapped advantage in your digital workforce. Deloitte. file:///C:/Users/jstev/Documents/Office%20and%20Strategy/2019%20Sales%20and%20Marketing%20Strategy/Industry%20Report/us-cons-global-rpa-survey.pdf

[7]Bloomberg, J. (2018). Why You Should Think Twice About Robotic Process Automation. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2018/11/06/why-you-should-think-twice-about-robotic-process-automation/#190750d45fe1

[8]CiGen, (2018). 10 RPA Application Areas that You Can Implement in Your Company. https://www.cigen.com.au/cigenblog/10-rpa-application-areas-you-can-implement-your-company

[9]Kline, D. (2018). Most American Workers Don’t Fear Losing Their Jobs To Automation. The Motley Fool. https://www.fool.com/careers/2018/09/11/most-american-workers-dont-fear-losing-their-job-t.aspx

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