For years, companies have been looking for ways to reduce the cost and burden of routine and repetitive tasks. Many turned to outsourcing and offshoring as a way to accomplish this goal, but outsourcing comes with a whole new set of issues: political, economic and cultural.
Luckily, robotic process automation (RPA) has emerged as a new technology to help free up people for more strategic and fulfilling tasks while RPA handles the routine. However, many people don’t understand or feel comfortable with the use of robots outside of manufacturing, so executives looking to adopt this technology should approach the changeover with care. Here is a checklist to help executives prepare the organization for the use of robots to automate tasks.
A Checklist for RPA
Getting an organization ready for RPA includes:
1. Educating Leadership and Stakeholders
The first step is to ensure that the entire team understands the benefits of RPA and how it can help to streamline processes and control costs. Rather than spend their days doing the same repetitive tasks, stakeholders will now be free to spend their time handling exceptions or engaged in tasks that require more judgment and independent thinking. People think of robotic arms on the shop floor, or androids such as C3PO or Rosie from the Jetsons when they think of robots. RPA is not about physical robots who jump to obey every command. Instead, the focus is on simplifying business processes by developing and automating rules so that most process steps are completed without human intervention.
2. Setting a Future of Work Vision
Just as the use of automation on the shop floor freed workers from much of the drudgery of the assembly line so they could have more autonomy to learn additional skills or take steps to improve product quality, RPA will do the same for office workers and other people involved in repetitive or routine tasks. Instead of spending their days performing the same endless tasks, people will now spend their time handling exceptions or working to provide better customer service, higher quality or new product ideas. The work will be more engaging and interesting for the people, because robots will automatically process the bulk of transactions and procedural steps that fit the norm and alert the worker of exceptions that must be handled manually. Take the time to ensure that the organization buys into the vision, because it is crucial to the success of the project.
3. Process Documentation
Once the organization has bought in to the benefits of RPA, it is time to document existing process steps. Flow charts or other process improvement techniques can help make it clear where the process can be simplified. If processes are not stable, take the time to stabilize before you start to automate.
4. Preparing IT
IT’s role will change greatly with RPA, since many RPA tools are simple enough for skilled end users to use. Rather than relying on the technology skills of the past, IT will find that their role also becomes more strategic, helping to identify processes ripe for automation. In addition, they will work with IT at customers and suppliers to enable collaboration and communication for processes that cross organizational boundaries.
5. Bring in Outside Expertise
Since RPA is an emerging technology, it is imperative to work with people who have the skills and knowledge to help guide you through the process.
6. Identify High Priority Targets
After reviewing your process documentation, you will see some high volume or extremely repetitive procedures that are good targets for the initial foray into RPA. Avoid starting with a critical business process until you have more experience with RPA.
7. Build a Business Case
If you are outsourcing the process currently, you already have a handle on a big piece of the cost, but don’t forget to add in the soft costs of delays in response, management time, contract negotiations, PO processing, travel and other business expenses.
8. Develop an Implementation Project
- One of the first steps should be to define the rules for the selected process. Don’t be surprised if the organization disagrees on the process steps and what the rules are. Be patient and continue working as a team until you have consensus.
- Once the team agrees on the steps and the process rules, work with the users and IT to develop the rules. Make sure you include how to recognize an exception and what the workflow should look like for exceptions.
- Run a batch of transactions or events through the new process and measure the results. Verify that the robot handled each item as expected and that it processed exceptions processed correctly, validate that the right user received the exception notice. Keep running through tests until you are certain that the RPA solution is set up correctly before you cut over.
Using people is too expensive for routine work, and people are happier when they have a variety of engaging tasks to perform. Your business transformation to RPA is the start of the future of work. What are you waiting for?