By Ian Barkin
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?