6 mistakes businesses make when automating their systems and processes

I, Robot. Photo: IMDb

Major Australian organisations are increasingly turning to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to improve operational efficiency, productivity, quality and customer satisfaction.

ANZ, for instance, is experimenting with RPA offshore in India, the Philippines and China to manage routine tasks and allow human workers to refocus on new areas.

Similarly, Westpac is trialling artificial intelligence in its digital banking services to allow its customers to have basic questions about their finances answered by machines. According to the Accenture Technology Vision 2016, 54 per cent of Australian organisations have reported cost savings of 15 per cent or more from automating systems and processes over the past two years.

Though more and more organisations are turning to RPA, few have experience in adopting large scale, organisation-wide RPA capabilities. Because of this lack of understanding, Australian organisations attempting to implement large scale RPA transformation are vulnerable to costly mistakes.

There are six major mistakes that organisations can make when trying their hand at large scale automation programs. Organisations need to be wary of these mistakes and prepared with the right strategies to overcome them.

1. Thinking that robots are the whole solution

Few processes can be automated using only an RPA tool alone. Organisations often need to consider multiple tools and techniques, such as ‘mini bots’, natural language processing, data analytics, process re-engineering, mashups and more.

One of the most important and complex areas of implementing an automation program is solution design, which involves figuring out which combination of capabilities to apply to processes in order to create optimal efficiency.

Software robots should be introduced as part of a strategy of incremental investment in automation, analytics and artificial intelligence that will underpin transformation, modernisation and innovation in operations for the next decade and beyond. Focusing only on short-term cost reductions will not result in the full benefits of automation.

2. Introducing RPA without the support of IT

Because RPA tools require no integration to legacy applications and can be installed on any desktop, there is a tendency to perceive RPA does not need significant involvement from an organisation’s IT team. However, it is essential to ensure RPA systems are part of IT’s overall strategy in terms of security, reliability, scalability, continuity and fault tolerance. A lack of collaboration with IT can lead to costly and time consuming internal wrangling, as there is a risk that RPA pilots might not integrate with existing business process management systems developed in house.

Organisations should create an Automation Centre of Excellence, which is responsible for automation governance, idea generation, skill development, process assessment and organisation wide support, in order to ensure the changes fit within the overall IT structure and strategy and achieve best practice.

3. Running before learning to walk

Getting started in RPA is actually relatively simple for organisations. By testing and learning about RPA with one robot in a sandbox (or testing) environment, organisations are able to gain experience and insights without the risk of negative, organisation-wide impacts. While results from pilot programs, tests and reviews demonstrate the effectiveness of RPA for organisations, they need to be mindful of assuming they can run before they walk. While implementing one robot is relatively easy, implementing hundreds of robots across diverse processes – and integrating automation across the organisation – is much more difficult.

To make the process as seamless as possible, organisations should first consider consulting the wider business to allow different areas across the business to present ideas to be built into the program. A strong infrastructure support network is needed, complete with a virtual environment, server hosting and management, product installation and service capabilities to support large-scale rollout.

4. Letting everyone do their own

Because RPA is relatively inexpensive, easy to use and applicable across various contexts, larger organisations often let various departments organise their own RPA capabilities. However, when this happens, solutions can overlap and a random mix of tools and techniques that hamper future scaling can develop. This can also lead key risk practices to be inconsistently applied – or missed entirely – including business continuity planning, formal maintenance schedules, system documentation, IT security protocols, robot inventories and measures to preserve human process knowledge.

RPA at scale is best achieved within a common environment using common security, risk and quality standards under centralised control and governance procedures.

5. Thinking robots are ‘set and forget’

Robots should be thought of as true virtual workers that require continuous management and maintenance. When rules and procedures are updated, a change strategy should be applied to ensure virtual workers are kept up to date.

Leading organisations are implementing comprehensive governance frameworks to manage organisational change, update processes and manage service demand fluctuations.

6. Putting people strategy later

RPA has a range of positive implications for employees. Because the kinds of tasks being automated with RPA are mundane and repetitive, teams are able to focus more of their time on tasks of higher value that offer greater satisfaction. All RPA plans need to ensure their technology and people strategies are on the same page.

Failing to do this will at best cause delays in training, redeployments and team development – and at worst, lead to unrest in employees that feel uncertain about their future.

Jordan Griffiths is the Operations Lead for Accenture in Australia and New Zealand.

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