Dos and Don’ts for Robotic Process Automation

Stephen DeAngelis

July 30, 2020

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has received a lot of press; much of it concerning its impact on jobs. For example, a few years ago Randy Geoghagan and Craig Nelson, partners at Information Services Group, reported, “Research from ISG Insights finds that more than two-thirds of business operations leaders plan to deploy software bots by 2020. And the potential for impact on employees is huge.”[1] What happened? RPA didn’t have an enormous effect on jobs; however, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the value of having RPA in place as workers were locked down in their homes. Although RPA can benefit companies, Journalist Tess Hanna (@SRDataProtect) insists business leaders shouldn’t overestimate what RPA can do. She writes, “Robotic Process Automation can benefit organizations by automating repetitive, tedious tasks, enabling employees to accomplish more critical goals. However, some enterprises believe that RPA will automate extremely complicated Business Process Management (BPM) activities, which is an unrealistic expectation.”[2] Below you will find some subject matter experts’ dos and don’ts for implementing RPA in your business.

The Dos

Identify processes ripe for automation. The single most important thing a company can do is identify which processes are ripe for automation. Mai Tao provides eight criteria that can be used to select the right process for robotic process automation.[3] They are:

1. Tasks that experience high error rates, such as paper-based data entry.
2. Tasks that are to be executed out-of-hours, such as round-the-clock simple complaint resolution or order processing.
3. Tasks that validate data moving from one system to another.
4. Compliance tasks that are critical audit candidates.
5. Processes that start or end automatically but require manual intervention.
6. Serial calculation tasks experiencing a high error rate or churn massive amounts of data.
7. Electronically triggered processes.
8. Repetitive and rule-based tasks.

Tao adds, “Not all processes are suitable for RPA. Enterprises find it difficult to differentiate between automation candidates. If a process wrongly automated, it might lead to resource wastage. Too many of these processes in an RPA implementation may even render the whole exercise a failure.”

Prepare your employees for RPA implementation. Geoghagan and Nelson note, “The prospect of automation doesn’t need to be met with panic. The fact is, when properly explained and launched with employee involvement, automation can greatly benefit both employees and the companies they work for.” They suggest several things business leaders can do to prepare their employees for RPA implementation. First, they explain, you need to demystify RPA. They write, “People are terrified that robots will take over their jobs — and take over the world. … RPA software is configured to eliminate mundane tasks associated with many business processes — the tasks most employees would gladly relinquish.” Hanna adds, “RPA alone cannot process unstructured data because it does not have the required intelligence. Though software is gaining intelligence, it doesn’t mean it will replace employees. In fact, intelligent automation allows employees to spend time on more complex activities after being relieved of more tedious tasks.” Geoghagan and Nelson believe employers can actually gain buy-in from employees if employees are involved in pre-implementation planning. They write, “Business leaders can create enthusiasm and support for RPA by engaging employees in developing the RPA strategy and including them in evaluating opportunities for automation. Employees know precisely where bottlenecks or redundancies occur. Their imagination and vision can be a means to rekindling the creative capacities that may have been stifled while performing recurring processes.”

Make sure you take care of the bots. During RPA implementation, Leslie Joseph, a Principal Analyst at Forrester, insists companies often go astray because they don’t pay enough attention to the bots they are going to put to work. He explains, “The temptation to cut corners early in your RPA program is easy to succumb to, but poor choices demand payback later. RPA demands the same levels of attention as any other enterprise platform, including a focus on coding and testing standards, security, and resiliency.”

The Don’ts

Don’t underestimate the scope of the RPA project. Hiren Panchani (@hpanchani), founder and CEO of Feat Systems, writes, “RPA projects are not menial projects. Before and during implementation, various considerations and analysis must be included: Which tools are selected? What about infrastructure, governance and security, business collaboration and change management?”[5] That means you can’t ignore change management. If you do, projects are likely to fail when the first obstacle is met.

Don’t automate inefficient processes. Roberto Torres (@TorresLuzard) writes, “Automation for automation’s sake means sinking resources into making inefficient processes run faster.”[6] Bill Gates (@BillGates) once noted, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Don’t try and automate too many decisions in one process. Craig LeClair, a Forrester analyst, suggests companies adopt the “rule of five.” He explains, “If you get beyond five decisions or applications you probably need another technology like business process management or decision management which are used to streamline and automate complex processes.”[7]

Concluding thoughts

According to the staff at CIO Review, “RPA simplifies workflows by automating existing workflows [for] a wide array of processes so that they can be made efficient and handled well.”[8] The staff goes on to discuss four good reasons for companies to consider implementing RPA solutions. First, RPA can help simplify compliance. The staff notes, “The potential to maintain a constant watchful eye on processes and information is one of the benefits of RPA.” Second, RPA can help with data extraction. According the CIO Review staff, “RPA tools have emerged as a way to automate numerous system data entry or extraction tasks easily and cost effectively.” Third, improved customer service. The staff writes, “Robotic process automation systems address [multiple customer service] problems by going past rigidly described workflows and perception.” Finally, the staff insists RPA advances the state of the business. The staff explains, “RPA is capable of extensively advancing the condition of business approaches via improving them with intelligence, by enabling organizations to go beyond automation and create genuinely clever systems that can adapt to continuous business transformations autonomously.” The last two benefits go beyond basic RPA capabilities by incorporating cognitive technologies into the mix. At Enterra Solutions®, we call this Cognitive Process Automation™. Not every RPA system needs to be “smart,” but CPA does represent the future of process automation.

Footnotes
[1] Randy Geoghagan and Craig Nelson, “4 steps to prepare employees for robotic process automation,” Information Management, 28 August 2017 (out of print).
[2] Tess Hanna, “Four Common Robotic Process Automation Myths Debunked,” Solutions Review, 29 June 2020.
[3] Mai Tao, “Dos and Don’ts of Robotic Process Automation in Your Business Enterprise,” Robotics & Automation News, 8 September 2019.
[4] Leslie Joseph, “Use these first principles to succeed with robotic process automation In 2020,” Forrester Blog, 1 June 2020.
[5] Hiren Panchani, “Do’s and Don’ts of RPA Journey in your organisation,” LinkedIn, 11 February 2019.
[6] Roberto Torres, “RPA projects fail because of complexity and misunderstanding,” CIO Dive, 14 May 2020.
[7] Paul Gillin, “Hot bots: The payoffs and pitfalls of robotic process automation,” SiliconAngle, 13 October 2019.
[8] Staff, “4 Benefits of RPA for Business Processes,” CIO Review, 20 October 2019.