7 success factors for implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

By Esen Orhan and Marc Geleijn, Protiviti

Robotic Process Automation is touted as a digital disruptor in the operations realm. In the constant race to outperform competition, companies are looking for ways to streamline processes, reduce costs and focus on value-add activities. RPA is a promising solution for these problems, and so it is no wonder that large and mid-sized organisations across industries are currently piloting or implementing Robotic Process Automation.

As with all new technologies that enter the stage, adopting and embracing Robotic Process Automation is a daunting task, with reaping the benefits posing an even larger challenge. Several analyses of early use cases have meanwhile shown that rushing into RPA without a well-thought out approach can lead to costly mistakes. If RPA implementation projects are not managed properly, they will either fail, produce undesirable results, or cost much more than planned.

RPA strategy - Before starting any RPA implementation, it is imperative to have the basics in place – the right plan. A company’s RPA strategy should be directly linked to the IT strategic roadmap and business function operational plans. This ensures the RPA Programme’s goals and objectives are aligned to the organisation’s goals and objectives.

People - Common to any change transition, people hold the key, as people are ultimately responsible for driving, and accepting, the change throughout the organisation. This ranges from leadership having to be change leaders, committed and aligned in their views, to managers and professionals on the floor having to be open to change and new ways of working. Once the RPA strategy and core implementation team have been identified, five subsequent factors become crucial for successful RPA implementation:

RPA Implementation Partner - Most organisations do not currently have a team of RPA professionals on staff to help deliver a RPA Programme, and as such companies are looking to RPA Implementation Partners to deliver the RPA Programme. The key to selecting the right RPA Implementation Partner is to analyse the fit with the organisation.

The partner should understand your industry and process areas being considered for RPA. It sounds straightforward, but most implementation partners will state they can implement RPA across a spectrum of industries and processes – which is not necessarily the case. Organisations should challenge potential implementation partners and ask for RPA specific client references similar to your organisation. Ideally the partner has already worked with your organisation and understands your business, processes and information systems.

Depending on the size of the RPA implementation programme, it is also important for clients to select a partner who can meet staffing needs. RPA is growing at a rapid pace and implementation partners are struggling to keep up with demand. Organisations should ensure that potential implementation partners can truly meet staffing requirements within the required timeline. The expectations and final deliverables should be clear before selecting a RPA Implementation Partner.

Protiviti has seen clients select and rely upon implementation partners that were inexperienced or understaffed, resulting in a range of problems including poorly selected processes for RPA implementation, undefined return on investment (ROI) targets, project delays, budget blowouts, and RPA technology that was not optimal for the client’s needs. The RPA Implementation Partners either did not perform a proper RPA readiness assessment, did not have appropriate project governance, or did not manage organisational change appropriately.

Process Maturity - Not all processes are suitable for RPA. RPA generates the best ROI when implemented on processes that are labour-intensive, repetitive, rule based, use structured data, and have a limited number of process exceptions. Essentially, RPA is suitable for mature, defined, repetitive, data heavy processes. In order to assess if processes are potential candidates for RPA, a process maturity and RPA readiness assessment needs to be completed prior to RPA execution.

Ensure the RPA business case and target ROIs have been set before performing the process maturity and RPA readiness assessment, to ensure only high ROI candidates are selected. From our experience, the processes which are the best candidates to complete a proof of concept that generates good ROI are accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger reconciliations, employee onboarding and customer onboarding.

The results of the process maturity and RPA readiness assessment will create a shortlist of RPA process candidates. The assessment can also identify a second tier of potential RPA candidates, where minor process redesign or standardisation is required prior to being automated. This allows organisations to remove as many redundancies as possible before implementing RPA, and ensures greater efficiency of implemented robots and reduces the number of exceptions and potential errors.

If a large RPA programme is being implemented, start automating the easiest processes first. The acquired knowledge and experience from implementing the easy processes can then be used to automate the more complex processes. This may sound simple, but remember, RPA is new to your organisation and potentially the people implementing the programme.

Project Management - RPA implementation can be a large scale programme or a much smaller project, either way, project governance and project management practices need to be applied for successful implementation. The first step is to build a project management team and define the governance structure for RPA. Ensure the team consists of key personnel from the relevant business unit(s), IT and project management professionals. The next step is to secure executive and process owner buy-in. Together the project management team, executives and process owners will determine the goals of the RPA programme, such as reduction of man hours, errors, costs, or improving the efficiency or quality of work performed. The goals of the RPA programme will help define the RPA business case, ROI and establish rating criteria to be used in the process maturity and RPA readiness assessment.

Once the project management team and RPA programme goals are established, an RPA implementation plan can be developed, including key items such as change and communication management, and the establishment of an RPA Center of Excellence (COE).

Change and communication management is crucial for all departments and employees impacted by the introduction of RPA technology. Employees are nervous when they hear their job may be replaced by a robot, however this may not be the case (depending on the organisation’s RPA goals). Some roles may be replaced by robots, and therefore change management should include retraining or redeploying of personnel, and the restructuring of departments. For other employees, RPA is a new business tool which eliminates monotonous tasks so they can focus on value add activities, which is exciting.

RPA Technology - When selecting an RPA Technology Provider it is important for organisations to check the software’s compatibility with your organisations systems. Just last year, one of the leading RPA technology providers was having trouble with utilising Google Chrome, rather than Microsoft Internet Explorer for Web-based processes. So, it is imperative your procurement process includes a comprehensive IT requirements review. The IT requirements review should consider items such as technical support, maintenance, security and data standards, hardware and software requirements, licensing fees and implementation costs.

RPA software is fairly intuitive and easy to use, however organisations considering RPA should still review the RPA process design and configuration interface. In general, non-IT professionals should be able to configure and monitor the robots. All advanced RPA technology providers have a control room feature, which allows an organisation to schedule and monitor robot activities. The control room also highlights robots which did not execute properly and provides an error message noting the point of failure. RPA software should also provide user access restriction functionality and comprehensive audit logs for each robot, to ensure RPA is appropriately controlled.

IT Involvement - RPA is sold to business units as a low IT impact solution to business problems. Although this is somewhat true, RPA is a software and therefore its implementation is a software implementation that requires IT’s involvement. It is critical that the IT department be involved in the RPA implementation early. Business units need to obtain IT executive buy-in early to ensure RPA aligns to the organisations’ IT strategic roadmap. RPA may not be needed if full system functionality can be utilised, or if system updates or upgrades are expected in the short to medium term.

IT is also ultimately responsible for ensuring the RPA software complies with the organisation’s technical specifications and security and data standards, therefore IT needs to be included in the RPA technology procurement process.

Furthermore, IT will provide practical support throughout the RPA implementation, for example, access to hardware and IT infrastructure, system access, new user set up for the robots, and technical support as issues or access problems arise. IT will also play an important role in user acceptance testing (UAT), including follow up testing and performing impact analysis.

Once the software is implemented, IT’s role will change to include notifying your RPA centre of excellence of impending IT changes which may impact operational robots, can assist with technical support, manage change requests and execute maintenance requests.

Closing thoughts  - RPA will continue to take hold in organisations as RPA matures and practices become proven. Companies will continue to develop methods to employ greater precision and efficiency in a variety of processes to further utilise RPA across business units and processes. RPA enables companies to employ automation for routine tasks, which in turn frees up talent to add value by taking on more qualitative and strategic level initiatives.

 

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