The case for RPA and how to get started

Consumer technology experience in the last 20 years has changed significantly but in the corporate environment we still struggle with the use of legacy systems and the pain that poor integration causes.  Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a software solution to overcome these problems. In the article below we help you to understand if RPA is right for your business and what practical steps you can take to get started.

 

Part 1 – The case for Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

The gap between technology used in our personal and working lives

Over the past two decades our personal lives have been changed forever by the ubiquitous smartphone and the magic it can deliver.

At home we can use our smartphone to order a pizza and track when it is going to arrive. We can book our own airline tickets, rent a car or hotel room, all with relative ease. When we are on vacation we can share our photos with friends and family and, if so inclined, the rest of the world.

By way of contrast, the technology we use in our working lives has not changed at the same pace. Businesses still use systems and applications that often rely on old software and complex business processes.

So, what is holding businesses back?

A 2019 study of 800 global IT professionals by Mulesoft, suggests that one of the major reasons for the slow pace of change is the difficulty of integrating existing business applications. An important factor is the time and cost needed to replace these older systems.

With an average organisation (>1000 staff) running nearly 900 systems and with 69% of the IT team spending their time keeping the lights on, it is no wonder innovation in this area remains challenging.

The result of this is that the working day for many of us has become tedious, if not downright frustrating, as we cut and paste information from one place to another or repeatedly enter the same information to meet the increasing demand for compliance.

The RPA workaround!

RPA can perform all those tedious tasks/processes that slow us down, by basically copying what we do (keystrokes, mouse clicks, calculations etc) and then performing the same tasks/processes at lightning speed so that we can use our talents more productively elsewhere and in ways that will better help the business.

Some of the proven benefits of RPA include:

  • Increased capacity by freeing up time previously used in repetitive tasks
  • Increased capability by making tasks possible that would otherwise be too onerous (for example large volumes of data extraction done overnight that would take humans months to do, using intelligent OCR)
  • Greater accuracy – RPA repeats exactly what its taught to do
  • Interaction between existing systems becomes far more efficient
  • Minimal impact on IT – RPA is similar to on-boarding a new superuser that needs an account and systems access
  • Quick implementation times (average RPA project times take between 8 and 12 weeks)
  • It is cost effective, with 1st year ROI between 30-200%

 

 

 

Part 2 – 5 Steps to get you started

1. Increase your RPA Awareness

Many people hear the word “robot” and immediately start thinking about machines.  Put simply RPA is software that helps automate repeatable tasks. It’s all about improving an organisations productivity and effectiveness which will increase a business’s ability to become more financially successful and offer greater opportunities for jobs growth.

Before you start any steps towards buying software or engaging service providers, you need to increase your awareness of RPA.  Here are some useful tips and links:

 

 

Action

If all of the above suggests that RPA makes sense for your business, then prepare a simple document (one-page if possible) that summarises the key points and how RPA can benefit your organisation. It is important to stress that the goal is to make better use of your staff’s time and use their talents to help the business to grow.

 

2. Understand which processes are most suitable for RPA

Think through what areas of the business and which processes would benefit most from RPA. Below are examples of business areas and tasks where RPA has reduced the time and effort required to complete routine and repetitive tasks:

  • Accounts payable – invoice processing, bank reconciliation, compliance and reporting
  • Human Resources – vetting of candidates, on-boarding of new staff
  • Operations – data/records management, reporting, tracking, performance
  • Sales/Customer care – Sales pricing, improving customer service/response times
  • Procurement – contract management and tracking of supplier performance
  • Logistics/Supply Chain – shipment tracking, material tracking

Your organisation may have other activities that are unique to the products and services you deliver but where it still takes time to get the information or the output the business needs.

Action

Prepare a list of the top 5 processes (can be across the business or within a business unit) that are either bottlenecks or where the processes are considered cumbersome/bureaucratic or where the lack of resources slows things down. Well documented processes are a great place to start.

 

3. Identify a Pilot Project

For each of 5 processes you have shortlisted answer the questions below.

  • How many steps are in the process?
  • How many people are involved in the process?
  • How many systems does the process work across?
  • How complex are some of the steps in the process?
  • How regularly is the process performed?
  • What are the benefits of automating the process? (Time, accuracy, financial etc)
  • Is the process well mapped out and documented?

Action

Select a process for your pilot by ranking each of the 5 processes  based on:

    1. How easy/quick to implement
    2. Level of impact/value to the business

 Ensure  the process is well mapped and optimised before proceeding further.

 

4. Build a business case

Start to build a business case around the pilot project you’ve identified.

Action

Prepare a business case that looks at the following:

  • What the goal of the pilot is – e.g to reduce time/effort required to process an invoice
  • List the key stakeholders and likely interest – be sure to include IT* (see note below)
  • Map out the process and approximate timelines for each step – Ensure the process is optimised as you never want to automate an inefficient process!
  • Estimate the time taken and the effort required
  • Estimate the benefits – be realistic
  • Estimate the costs – typically RPA projects have a first year ROI of between 30-200%
  • Validate and refine the Business Case by talking to both your internal stakeholders and RPA providers

*Whilst RPA is not an IT investment it does interface with multiple IT systems so it’s important to engage IT early on to know what their requirements are. Data security is usually crucial.

 

5. Get Executive Endorsement

RPA can have a profound impact on your business, but it is not new.

Many of the world’s largest companies have already deployed robots to manage a range of business activities. RPA is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, according to Gartner Inc https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-06-24-gartner-says-worldwide-robotic-process-automation-sof with a growth rate of 63% pa, so it’s likely that some of your competitors are ahead of you.

Look for someone at a senior management level that is interested in what you are proposing and see if they would support funding for a pilot. Finance is one business area that has benefited considerably from RPA, so your CFO would be good person to talk to.

Action

Put together a short/concise presentation that explains RPA and how it can benefit your organisation. Explain the Pilot and supporting Business Case and then ask the Executive Team (or Board) for their endorsement.

 

We trust that this article is of interest and Aquiliti would be pleased to help you discover more about how RPA can make a difference to your business. Please call us on +61 2 9262 1995 or send an email to [email protected]

 



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