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Hype in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools

RPA tools currently reside at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Gartner Hype Cycle for AI, as organizations look for ways to cut costs, link legacy applications and achieve a high ROI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeremykemp at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

All technologies go through the Hype Cycle. It shows the maturity of emerging technologies.

RPA is at the peak of inflated expectations. Some people may be finding that it is not really meeting the Hype that was sold to them. For eg., it is sold as an easy way to make “bots” but in reality, it is not easy and many times need programming knowledge.

There are other reasons, an RPA initiative can go bad. It is mostly because people look to reinvent the wheel. All these though contribute to the disillusionment before the technology matures and reaches the Plateau of Productivity.

So in short, we are riding the wave. Enjoy the ride!

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RPA is a Business tool and not an IT solution

This is probably the most important mindset shift for successful RPA implementations.

Many of the initiatives on RPA either do not take off or ends up in failure when RPA is considered an IT tool and goes through the usual Tool evaluation and roll out cycles.

IT has to be involved from the beginning though. IT’s role in RPA implementations is to ensure proper technical governance (eg. Hosting, Security etc.). The organization should let Business lead the automation of processes.

It is not easy but worth the time to have discussions and align everyone with the notion that business would lead the process automation.

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Pilot Process Checklist

Start well on your RPA initiative with a great RPA Pilot (or POC).

Great results in Pilot provides more visibility to the senior executives. Equally, poor pilots could slow down or seven stop the Automation initiative. It all starts with selecting the right process.

My quick checklist for a Pilot process:

  • A low number of exception paths
  • Provides quick cost savings and benefits
  • Not much audit involvement
  • Not very critical for the organization
  • Visible in the organization so that that people take note of the results

Now, we also have a database of processes that are fit for RPA based on what others have done. It is advisable to choose an initial process from these set of processes.

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Getting started with Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Getting started with RPA is comparatively quick and easy. There is minimal disruption to your current environment. So, you can dive right in and find out if RPA helps your organization. Dive right in but do some prep work so that you can get all the benefits and can scale in future.

If you are new to RPA, read the beginners guide here.

If you have heard and understood about RPA, you are probably thinking how can I get started with RPA quickly? You may want to explore for yourself or like to take up an initiative in your organization.

The good news is that RPA is not a complicated technology or skill. RPA is comparatively easy to get started with. That is true whether you are evaluating RPA for yourself or your organization.

As an individual, there are many free learning resources and tools available online. I have provided a few resources to get started in the complete beginners guide to RPA. If you are looking for free or open source tools for RPA, the resources are here. Heck, there is even a guide to get started in 15 minutes! May take you a bit longer but it walks you through a step by step process with UiPath.

This post addresses how to get started with RPA in your organization. If you are driving this initiative, you may want to start with some groundwork.

Is RPA right for your Organization?

RPA is a technology that emulates the tasks humans perform using computers. It automates manual, rules-based, and repetitive activities. So, if your organization have a lot of manual work in certain areas, there may be opportunities to automate with RPA.

RPA is quick to implement at relatively low costs. It is also applied in a way there is minimal disruption to an existing technology. So, you can dive right in a find out if RPA helps. Many organizations start small and understand if RPA brings value to the organization before scaling.

Start with a workshop

Many vendors are eager to get a Pilot started. A better approach is to understand RPA and analyze usefulness to your organization before you Pilot. Dive right in but do some prep work so that you know what you are getting into. Position yourself to scale the automation program if this is indeed the technology that does wonders for you.

The best way to understand RPA better would be to have an RPA workshop with people who have implemented RPA before. This may be people from your industry who have done this before, RPA consultants or service providers. It would be better to remain tool and vendor neutral as you start out. Some providers and some consultants offer these initial consultations free of cost.

Have a well planned workshop. I would suggest having a Design thinking approach to the workshop. Come to the session with your problems especially the manually intensive process. Usually the person running the workshop would share a questionnaire so that you can be prepared for the session.

In the workshop, understand RPA better through demos from the past. Once people see how RPA works, they have multiple ideas. List all the ideas that come up – do not hold back.

Now along with an RPA consultant or provider, look for processes that are most amenable to RPA. Some of the pointers for processes that are automated best:

  • Labor intensive: Highly manual and repetitive processes
  • Standardized and StructuredWell defined processes, preferably with documentation
  • Functioning and StableProcesses that are not changing in the next few months

By the end of the workshop, you should have some sense of what RPA is and a list of possible processes to be automated.

Determine Potential and Readiness

Now that you have some ideas to automate, analyze if there is enough opportunity to automate in your organization. This can be done offline after the workshop. Some of the things to analyze for:

  • Benefits & Savings: Look at all benefits (cost, speed, compliance etc.) and the ROI considering the costs and savings.
  • Organization readiness– How ready is the organization to change? Are the stakeholders aligned? Are there any major projects coming up that could change the environment and/or the applications?
  • Automation potential– You like to have enough manual processes that can be automated with the available technology.

The analysis should help you decide if RPA right for you now. If you see good potential and readiness in your organization, it’s time to take the next step.

Prepare for Pilot

As a next step, we would like to do a quick automation with RPA- a pilot. The idea of a pilot is to prove to the organization that real savings are possible.

Before you do the pilot, it is important to set up the right foundations so that you can scale and realize the complete potential of automation. Many organizations do not go past the pilot use case as they did not analyze or lay the right foundations before they started out.

The first step is to further whittle down the list of processes and identify the use case(s) you like to focus on for the Pilot.

Use case selection

For the Pilot, you would like to identify one or a couple of processes that are not complicated and provides proof that the technology, and approach you are taking is providing real value to the organization. Some of the pointers to select the Pilot use case include:

  • A low number of exception paths
  • Not much audit involvement
  • Not very critical for the organization
  • Provides good cost savings and benefits
  • Visible in the organization so that that people take note of the results

Tool selection

Once the Use case is selected, select a tool for the selected Pilot process. Walk through the processes that you have so far and ensure the tool addresses most of the use cases identified by your team so far. That should help choose a tool that is also good for the long run.

Choose tools that have low barrier of entry. There are tools that want you to get locked down in their ecosystem by charging high upfront fees. Even if people are ready to do the pilot for free, look for the longer term costs and benefits.

Also look for the level of expertise that would be required. Are you gong to use business people to configure or tech or combination? Choose tools that your people can configure.

Governance

RPA is digital labor – a new form of talent for the organization. Treat it as such with the new capability / talent being under the management of business. All the stakeholders support the business in bringing this capability on board.

Having said that, It is important to identify the key stakeholders and involve them early. Even though it’s a pilot, it would need all key players like Business, IT, Procurement to be aligned. Everyone’s role in the pilot and beyond if the organization chooses to proceed further should be clear.

Success Criteria

As with any project, it is prudent to have well defined success criteria for the Pilot. You may want to have an agreement with the business and IT stakeholders on the metrics and how it would be measured. Measure the baseline performance metrics and have a targeted metric after the automaton.

After this groundwork phase, you should have a list of processes to Pilot, a suggested tool for the shortlisted use cases and the initial foundation to scale.

Pilot Implementation

Once we have done the groundwork, it is time to implement the pilot. It is always best to follow Agile development for RPA. With the agile model, you can measure impact for each incremental development or even enhancement in future.

Even as you do the pilot, lay the foundations for future by following a systematic methodology. The steps usually followed include:

Process discovery: This is opportunity for implementation team to study the process in depth and ensure they is in alignment with the Business team.
Design: Insist that the team design and incorporate best practices. These can be the initial standards that you want all the automations in your organization to follow.
Develop & test: This is standard workflow creation and configuration followed by testing as per the Agile methodology. Some complex developments may need coding as well.
User testing: The developed automation is tested with the user and the feedback incorporated. It is useful to give users early look in as the team iterates to reduce rework.

All these steps can usually be completed within 2 to 4 weeks of time depending on the complexity of the use case. As any project be ready for surprises and delays.

Next Steps

Once the Pilot is complete, it is time to take stock and evaluate.

Did the Pilot hit the savings goals and benefits that was anticipated? What was the real savings and benefits for the organization?

How did the Pilot go in terms of implementation? What were the learnings and what changes do you need to make for the next implementation?

How did the organization receive the new capability and changes? How can you tailor the Change management program if you are looking to scale?

Make a report on the achievements and learnings from the Pilot. Get with the teams and understand your next steps.

Need help evaluating RPA? Get in touch.

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The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

What is RPA? Why is RPA taking off? What are the top tools? How does it work? How can I build one?

These are some of the questions I am going to answer for you here.

If you know all about RPA and ready to start, click here for the top considerations before you start.

What is RPA?

Robotic Process Automation or RPA is a capability that allows you to carry out tasks on a computer just like a human would. The best way to visualize would be to think of a person working on his computer and doing his daily job by clicking through computer screens, sending emails etc. Now, what if the computer clicks through, enters required data and performs the same work automagically? That is what RPA enables.

If you haven’t wrapped your head around it yet, don’t worry. Here’s an example to help you visualize Robotic Process Automation.

Example:

Let us say that Bob is responsible for processing invoices in SAP. He would log in into SAP, go to the specific transaction and enter the invoice details one by one. Now if RPA were to carry out the same task, it would log in automatically and carry out the tasks without Bob having to do this repetitive work.

Watch this video from Uipath (an RPA tool) which shows exactly how RPA performs that operation.

Watch the speed by which it carries out the task. Also, note that RPA carries out the task impeccably removing any human errors.

Examples of RPA:

RPA can not only automate SAP transactions. It can be used to automate many business and IT processes. Here are a few more examples:

Customer Onboarding. Creating new customer accounts as well updating them

Finance & Accounting. Automation of accounts payable and accounts receivable

Human Resources. Automation of Employee onboarding activities, payroll

Access Management. Unlocking accounts, resetting password credentials

System Administration. Automate repetitive tasks like daily checks

Do you see the wide array of tasks RPA can do? Most of the tasks that a human does at a computer and is well defined, can be automated with RPA. The processes that can be automated are only limited by your imagination.

Ok, I can see that but is this not the same as screen scraping and macros we have seen before? Why is this different? What is the big deal about RPA?

Why is RPA taking off?

RPA is the first step to using new or advancing AI technologies and paradigms to automate labor-intensive tasks.  Therefore, RPA brings a level of automation that is much more than disparate automation with scripts, macros etc. RPA brings these advancing technologies together to enable end to end process automation. This helps free up lots of hours which is returned to the business. This enables savings for the business and fast Return on Investment (ROI).

Robotic Process Automation excels at automating very manual, repetitive and mundane work. Therefore, RPA is an opportunity to automate all the unexciting work you have been doing and go do some exciting work! You can now gain more time to spend on uniquely human activities of connecting and delighting your team, boss and customers.

6pp1

As RPA has proven to provide real value, it has taken off in the last couple of years. RPA has seen a lot of investment in AI space. Money is flowing across the AI sector with RPA capturing the second spot in terms of investment dollars.

Ok, this does seem to help. What does RPA look like and how do I build one?

How does RPA work?

Any talk about Robots conjures up images of bots like C-3PO. The word Robotic has got a bit of baggage. People start imagining a robot that would come do their job. They are surprised to find that this is just a software that sits on your computer or a server and performs the tasks.

There are mainly two kinds of RPA automation based on how the software helps you automate. One of them is like an assistant that you call upon to help you complete the tasks and the other kind of automation is mostly for back office work. What does that mean?

Attended automation

These are the assistants that run on your computer and help you complete a part of the tasks that you are performing. For eg., if you usually search and copy paste data from one application to multiple applications, you can invoke an attended RPA to take over just these set of activities. The control is then returned to you by RPA to carry out the next set of tasks. This type of automation usually helps agents at call centers.

Unattended Automation 

In this type of automation, workflows are self-triggered and run on servers. They run to pre-determined schedules or real time. and are available 24 x 7.  In the case of unattended automation, all you would see of an automated task would be the outputs. For eg. For invoice processing, all you would see is a report indicating the invoices that could not be processed automatically. You can review the report and only work on the invoices that need your intervention.

kevin-ku-364843-unsplash

In both cases, do you see the change in the way you would perform the work? Most of the tedious work is now done by the machine. You would mostly be free from manual work unless there are any exception cases.  Now that the manual work is decreased, you have time to take care of the real business needs.

Alright, now that we have seen what RPA is and their types, let us look at the tools available to build one.

What is the best tool to build RPA?

As with any tool, there is no one size fits all. There are different tools and each have got it’s merits. You would need to evaluate which works best for your use cases.

Having said that, multiple studies rank a few tools always in the top. They may be a good place to start evaluating. Once you get a hang of RPA, it would also be worthwhile to evaluate the niche players too for your specific needs.

Based on recent studies, these are the top tools (as of Nov 2018)

  • UiPath
  • Blueprism
  • Automation Anywhere

As I said, each tool have its merits and does have downsides as well. Here is a quick comparison of the top 3 tools in the market right now. 

The studies that I am referring to, have been done by HFS Research, Everest Group, and Forrester. To give you a quick view, below are snapshots from each study. As you can see, the top 3 are consistent across studies. The reports I have linked to has the unique advantages of the niche players beyond these three.  

Forrester RPA wave 2018

Now that you have got a sense of RPA, how do you build one quick?

How to build your first RPA

Now, building RPA automation can sound to be challenging but the tools are built so that even non-technical people can build the workflows. You can create your first RPA with the free tools available on the internet. There are tutorials from most of the tool providers that can guide you to build simple to complex RPA automation.

Here are some resources to get you started. I am linking to the resources that are freely available for you to get started.

UiPath:

Download Uipath tool

Uipath tutorials

Automation Anywhere (AA):

AA tool download (Fill out the form to get download link)

AA Tutorials

Workfusion:

Free tool download

Workfusion courses

Kryon Systems:

Tool & Tutorials

Kofax:

Kofax 12 month trial tool download

Course from Kofax (RPA intro only)

Need help or have questions on RPA? Leave a comment or drop me a line.

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7 important considerations for those wishing to adopt RPA

6 important considerations for those wishing to adopt RPA

We now have enough data to summarize what you should consider before adopting RPA. This is thanks to the early adopters and the trials and tribulations they have gone through. If you are one of the organizations coming onboard, you can take advantage of the learnings so far.

It looks like RPA will reach near universal adoption in the next few years. More than half of the respondents(53%) have already started their RPA journey as per a Deloitte study. About 75% of the Organizations would have some form of RPA implemented in the next 2 years.

Implementing RPA brings significant benefits. RPA continues to meet and exceed expectations across various key areas. This includes improvement in Quality, Speed, Compliance, Productivity, and cost.

While there is a lot of success around RPA, only 3% of the Organizations scale up as per the study! As per one Mc Kinsey study, “it is clear that the first act in the ‘robotics evolution’ has not been a slam dunk for many, especially when companies try to scale”.

How do we scale our future implementations? What are our learnings so far? It turns out most of the failings can be traced back to a few things we could have considered as we started on the journey. Here are 6 top considerations.

7 important considerations for those wishing to adopt RPA

1. Strategic priority

It is important to have sponsorship and executive buy-in on the RPA journey and Roadmap. All the stakeholders should jointly own the results. This is easier if this is a strategic direction and everyone is rowing in the same direction.

This is easier said than done though with the competing objectives of different stakeholders. It is a balancing act at the end of the day but is a very tough act if automation is not a priority for the organization.

I like to say that there should be a “Pull” from each of the business groups involved rather than being a “Push”. It’s much easier that way.

2. Business Lead

Intelligent Automation(IA) or RPA is a Business tool and not an IT solution. So, RPA projects should not be considered as another technology implementation. IT has to be involved from the beginning but in a slightly different way. IT has to ensure proper technical governance (eg. Hosting, Security etc.) and let Business lead the automation of processes.

This is a major mindset shift and probably the most important one for successful RPA implementations. Most of the initiatives on RPA either do not take off or ends up in failure when RPA is considered an IT tool and goes through the usual Tool evaluation and implementation process. It is not easy but worth the time to have discussions and align everyone with the notion that business would lead the process automation.

3. Manage change

There is a lot of hysteria around job losses due to Automation. So, it becomes especially important to plan and manage the communications. I would start by defining the roles of the stakeholders clearly. Have a plan that involves supporting teams like IT, Audit/Compliance and Procurement as early as possible.

As with any initiative, there would be resistance from various levels and groups. It is important to understand the concern and address at each level and early. We have seen resistance from mid-level managers mostly as well as people working on the tasks. It is important to educate and communicate to raise awareness of automation and its benefits. This can help improve buy-in on automation.

4. Right Process

It is important to select the right processes especially at the beginning and show a quick return on investment. People have found it best to start with simple processes that are visible but not very critical to the working of the group. It is better to select processes with a few exceptions paths as possible to start with.  Studies also suggest that you keep away from processes that have a lot of Audit involvement in the beginning lest we end up with questions you are not ready to answer yet.

Selecting the wrong initial processes could slow down or seven stop the Automation initiative. Choosing the wrong pilot process has been one of the major reasons for failed Automation initiatives. Now that we have a database of processes that are fit for RPA, It is advisable to choose the initial processes with a strong fit.

RPA Use Cases

5. Systematic

A planned approach to implementation ensures that you have the right foundations to scale the automation initiative. So, choose the right tool and ecosystem for the specific use case(s). Take care of your security considerations right from the beginning.

In terms of implementations, choose the methodology that works best for you. Agile methodologies are usually better for quick wins. Finally, establish Governance for managing Intelligent Automation throughout the life cycle.

A well thought out launch with detailed IT controls, Using the right tools and Business Processes is a hallmark of successful implementations.

6. Track metrics

It is helpful to identify the relevant metrics and track them on a dashboard. Agree with the business teams on the success criteria by identifying the post-automation performance metric and how it would be measured. It is useful to measure and track the cumulative Savings and ROI of the automation. Successful initiatives have the right level of reporting and leaders that understand the ROI & TCO of the automation projects.

In conclusion, while the above points summarize the common considerations, each organization, team, and implementation is unique. You learn a lot by doing and starting out. It will take a few cycles before you discover your unique challenges but these considerations based on past data is a good start.

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