Maximising RPA benefits in the enterprise – 5 steps to success

By Jonathan Ebsworth. Posted 05 April 2018

Do you need a cheaper, more efficient alternative to expensive customer service staff? There’s a bot for that. How about the tedious and time-consuming task of analysing reams of legal documentation? No problem; there’s a bot for that. And as for complex HR or financial compliance issues – well, you’ve guessed it.

While some businesses may be rubbing their hands gleefully at RPA’s potential to replace human workers, this is to misunderstand their nature and the value that the technology brings. Bots are best suited to repetitive, manual, time-consuming and rule-based tasks; enterprises that think they’re a substitute for skilled, experienced staff are in for a rude awakening.

As, indeed, are those who think that RPA is simply a matter of ‘plug-and-play’. There are plenty of misconceptions about bots, and one of the most overlooked areas is how they require a fundamental shift in strategic thinking if RPA is to solve current business challenges and deliver their full potential.

Missed opportunities

Anyone who has had had to deal with a bot when trying to resolve a complex customer service problem will understand that RPA is a long way from replacing human workers. However, almost every business is failing to maximise bots undoubted potential.

Recent research by Infosys Consulting on a range of intelligent automation solutions revealed that only 10 per cent of organisations currently using RPA or AI believe they are maximising their full benefits and capabilities. One of the biggest reasons for this spectacular missed opportunity is a lack of clear strategic vision for RPA and poor understanding of the requirements for effective implementation.

We should all be tremendously excited about RPA’s potential; to achieve this, however, businesses must take a pragmatic and strategic approach to bots in the enterprise. Here are our five steps to RPA success:

  1. Forget ‘like-for-like’ replacement

In our experience, bots are around three times more efficient at certain processes than an equivalent human worker, so it’s tempting to think that one bot can replace several existing employees. Yet it’s foolish to expect a bot to demonstrate the same lateral thinking, intuition, or problem-solving ability as a human. Organisations shouldn’t calculate their RPA strategy on like-for-like replacement, but must give careful thought to how bots and humans complement each other in various roles – as well as considering the costs of retraining, redeployment and sometimes organisational adjustment required.

  1. Beware the business continuity risks

Bad things happen when organisations surrender too much responsibility to automation. Never is this truer than in the case of a disaster, when an enterprise needs staff who are fully familiar with business operations and their underlying processes. When a spade slices through a critical cable or floods deprive your premises of power, will the bots keep functioning – and will they have intelligence to understand how this disaster affects day-to-day processes? Business continuity questions like these are often overlooked, but should be at the heart of any RPA strategy.

  1. Understand the security challenge

Because of increasing security challenges across the workplace, biometric and two-factor authentication are becoming increasingly widespread. Bots obviously have no biometric data, and struggle with two-factor authentication. Enterprises cannot reasonably allow automated processes to operate in a less secure environment than one that is human operated; they must therefore be alive to the potential vulnerabilities of RPA, and integrate bots fully into their organisational security strategy.

  1. The impact on agility

A tactical or poorly-planned RPA deployment can significantly reduce the agility an organization has, tightly coupling automated processes to the underlying platforms. Automated processes can be quite fragile, sensitive to even minor updates to the core systems they drive. Bots and AI solutions at scale should be governed within the overall architecture framework that underpins the business, not as a stand-alone solution sitting outside of the enterprise architecture.

  1. Remember, it’s early days for RPA

The tools across this space are developing quickly. Today’s winner will not necessarily be around in its current form in a year or two. Switching from one RPA vendor to another is difficult and expensive. The risk and consequences of new versions and new products need to be factored into your journey.

The boundless enthusiasm for these technologies needs to be tempered with a little realism. Before organisations answer every problem with “there’s a bot for that”, they must establish a business rationale for each use case, and be fully aware of their impact on operations and organisational strategy. Only then will they deliver their full potential – and human workers will be assured of their continuing value to the organisation.

By Jonathan Ebsworth – Partner, Disruptive Technologies Practice, Infosys Consulting