Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is gaining traction globally across various industries, with a multitude of vendors and solutions now available to all and sundry. Paul Nielsen, an advisor at FiSer Consulting, reflects on the growing trend and provides four considerations for RPA trade-offs.
The early adopters of RPA are now starting to see the benefits materialise and those who lag behind are realising that its best to get back on track. The benefits are amongst others; improving operational efficiencies, reducing human error risk and increasing the proportion of time that staff are now able to focus on value add activities. Configuration of software robots comes in at a fraction of the cost of employees and the underlying legacy systems need not be impacted. RPA is certainly for most organisations an attractive proposition, however it’s not simply a quick-fire decision on which processes can be automated. Careful consideration needs to be exercised in ensuring that’s it’s not a one size fits all approach. Often the ever present risk of over-engineering a basic process can rear its ugly head.
A best practice approach would be to automate simple tasks as a first step, while more complex processes or activities can be automated at a later stage. The crux is to expand the reach of RPA only once the organisation is more familiar with its functionality. Rules based, repetitive activities are always a first win as they are much easier to automate. Naturally a solid business case, coupled with a phased implementation plan, a dedicated centre of excellence (in large scale organisations) and a level of sensitivity to culture change, will support the overall decision. Without exception business and IT need to be jointly aligned on the approach and clear on ownership and responsibilities.
Four considerations that should be taken into account when deliberating on the roll-out of Robotics Process Automation:
The level of human involvement
The most suitable activities/tasks for automation follow a pattern of being extremely time consuming and hence error prone, fluctuate with transactional and reporting demand and often have a high level of attention. What is not often considered is the wealth of knowledge management, especially around a specific process manually performed, that is contained by individuals performing these tasks. One way that RPA can assist is by maintaining an audit trail of such process steps as well as relieving key man dependency risk.
Typical examples of these activities include client onboarding with KYC/AML requirements embedded in the process, data reconciliation between systems and claim forms.
Process automation enables tasks to be executed more quickly and accurately and it also allows previously task-burdened employees to be freed up to use their time on building stronger relationships with both external and internal customers. More insight on data and more valuable reporting is often a key benefit.
Most organisations are no longer bound by set opening and closing times and work across global jurisdictions with differing time zones, as well as unique timeframes e.g. in the case of pricing data for end-of-day reporting to the market. Individuals, and by that us mere humans, are limited by for example normal business hours, susceptibility to fatigue from long hours, are entitled to sick and holiday leave. The knock-on impact is that work will most likely end up in a back-log and the mundanity of it all often leads to material errors, which is not efficient in today’s climate. RPA solutions deliver stand out value as the most efficient technology for high volume activities. This is due to software robots being able to work 24/7 and for 365 days of the day.
The predictability of the activity
The best tasks to automate using RPA are those which are data driven, and can be standardised and controlled by rules which are consistent for the most part. The majority of such tasks originate from the back office of most organisations. Where use of judgement and sound decision making is required, the normal RPA solution will not be as effective.
Service providers in industries that are highly regulated, such as those in financial services, need to be compliant to the relevant codes of practice. Outsourcing of activities is often associated with less scrutiny than compliance is being maintained, as the organisation has much less direct control and involvement over the processes being executed on their behalf. RPA gives control back to organisations so that it can conduct its own business processes internally, while developing their own secure and robust compliance procedures.
As mentioned previously, the audit tracking of the RPA solution is a key strength over having such tasks covered by an outsourcing arrangement.
Ultimately the strategic objectives of an organisation will drive how wide scale RPA is implemented. It also depends on how mature the business is with RPA adoption as this will drive decisions. Regardless, the basic premise of how to decide what processes need to be automated follow consistent principles.