Robotics Process Automation: A Panacea? Business Landscape
Robotics Process Automation (RPA) continues to be the flavour of the year. Pundits are extolling its virtue as a cure-all for process transformation - one that yields eye-watering ROI, step-change efficiency gains and 100% accuracy - by getting rid of all human foibles and flaws. Today, a plethora of RFPs float around as our customers (CIOs, CFOs, COOs and Shared Services Heads) are desperate to clutch on to this next-gen vehicle to 'best-practice nirvana'. Transformation professionals of every hue, from service providers to RPA software companies to consulting firms, are strutting around with beguiling case studies and compelling approach papers.
But is it the panacea of all ills? Will your processes, be it in finance, HR, procurement or order management, suddenly be world class with RPA? Evidence suggests otherwise.
Case 1: With the best intent, an extractive industry giant has been able to automate less than 10% of its finance processes (AP and AR - touted as great place to start RPA) with negligible efficiency benefits and huge implementation challenges. Case 2: On the other hand, with the same team and the same software, a telecom manufacturer has yielded +40% productivity in Year 1 itself (reducing its outsourced order processing team size from 100 to 60) by RPA. Examples showing such variance in RPA success are aplenty. Why?
In Case 1, RPA was tried on a fragmented, complex set of processes that had not been improved and shaped for years. A robot, mimicking human actions, recreated the same inefficiencies that existed - only doing it faster (huh!). In Case 2, the journey had started 3 years back with consolidation, harmonisation and simplification of the processes - following which automation produced astonishing results.
Let's be clear - RPA is not a fad, is here to stay, and generates great returns if used correctly. But it has its time and place.
So the guiding principles which I have for my customers are:
- Understand the state of your processes first. Ask the fundamental questions: Is my process fit for purpose? How does it compare to the best in my industry and globally?
- Avoid thinking tactical: unleash the full potential of change. Use a proven transformation framework to ascertain the maturity across the axes of Simplification, Automation, Experience and Analytics. I use Wipro's Marvel which I find comprehensive but you can use whatever you think best.
- Create and follow a tailored roadmap of design and implementation. It is worthwhile investing in upfront process re-imagination through expert Design Thinking.
- Treat RPA, AI or any other platform / BPaaS as what they are - a means to the end.
Needless to say, the end goal is about the outcomes that will matter to your business: Efficiency, Insights and User Experience.