How To Get Started With RPA

The days of talking about automation as the future of business are over. For proof that it has well and truly established itself as today’s reality, look no further than McKinsey’s 2020 global survey that revealed 30% of companies have fully automated at least one function of their business and two-thirds are piloting solutions to automate at least one process. Coupled with Gartner’s finding that 85% of large and very large organisations will deploy some form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) by the end of 2022 and it’s clear it has never been more important for businesses to explore and embrace the automation revolution.

Once the stuff of fantasy, RPA sees software robots complete repetitive and time-consuming aspects of digital work and, in turn, allow employees to focus on more productive, higher value and creative tasks. From reading screens and extracting data to filling in forms, RPA robots mimic human interactions for certain tasks and, in cases when they need specific expertise, are even able to ask for human input or assistance. Highly valued by sectors such as financial services, health care, retail and human resources, RPA is a valuable way to ensure a more cost-effective and efficient business.

Getting Started

While RPA can create growth opportunities and reduce operational costs, it is essential to remember that one size does not fit all. Successful automation takes time, extensive research and strategic assessment, not to mention an awareness that applying RPA to the wrong processes can create new headaches. When preparing for your own RPA journey, consider the following.

  • Think Small: it is common when implementing a new technology to start small and prove its value before scaling up. This is especially crucial when it comes to RPA. Too many businesses rush to automate complicated processes that only unfold a couple of times a month, failing to appreciate the extensive work required for a low return on investment. It is much better to start by automating specific ‘micro’ actions that happen regularly (eg: submitting and processing expenses or claims) as they will be more robust and lay the foundation for future RPA projects. It is all about identifying processes that can quickly demonstrate the full worth of RPA.
  • Identify Value Candidates: it is one thing to answer ‘yes’ when asked: “Can we automate this process?” It is another to do the same when asked: “Should we?” Not being able to definitively answer that question – and articulate it to colleagues – should be immediate cause for concern. It is essential to identify tasks that will deliver tangible business outcomes via RPA. One tip is to consider those that involve highly repetitive steps in a larger process that are causing pain and focus on the weak points and bottlenecks from start to finish. Techniques such as process mining or business process analysis can help identify quality RPA candidates and predict the effect automation will have.
  • Get Colleagues Onboard: never underestimate the importance of having an RPA champion at executive level. This is the person who can sell the automation cause, inspire colleagues to join the ride and, of great importance, secure the budget needed for a wider RPA rollout. No automation project moves forward without an appropriate level of investment and an executive sponsor will ensure the right people are receiving the right messages about the benefits of such innovation.
  • Establish Measurables: it is far easier for executives to dismiss new initiatives if there is no way to show them the tangible benefits they are delivering. Putting a system in place to measure an RPA program’s performance should be an early step in the process rather than one that is determined months after it rolls out. Capturing and communicating data that showcases the benefits being achieved by RPA will not only help secure executive buy-in but ease concerns felt by the wider workforce. Creating KPIs – and meeting them – is another key to maintaining support and growing budgets for an RPA program.
  • Choose a Quality Partner: RPA is too important to risk doing it on your own. The right partner will boast an intimate knowledge of RPA technologies, have extensive experience of implementing them and bring solutions to the table that help deliver a positive return on investment. They can also provide guidance on developing a Centre of Excellence, the governance body that ensures team members can manage the technology effectively and ensure consistent, effective, secure and cost-effective implementation. With well-rounded consultants, industry-specific experts and innovative thinkers, the right partner can be the difference between an RPA success and an automation failure.

There are endless examples of how RPA is helping businesses reduce the amount of time their staff are spending on repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Learn how one such organisation turned to automation to deal with a surge and backlog of customer service emails during COVID-19 lockdowns.