Success with RPA in the new normal
In simple terms, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a set of tools and technologies we use to replicate human/machine interaction to essentially remove the need for human interaction with certain repetitive computing tasks.
If that sounds cold, it is. While there’s no questioning the importance and value of RPA in modern organisations, an overreliance on RPA can often skew the organisational culture in a different direction, one where the real value of human skills is taken for granted.
Following the global pandemic and the rapid evolution of what we’re loosely calling ‘the new normal’, human/machine interaction has hit an all-time high as we humans have become increasingly reliant on computers to interact with each other from afar. Likewise, organisations have accelerated their digital transformation agendas, with some surveys suggesting pandemic lockdowns saw more transformation in 2020 than in the previous five years combined.
You’d think this would be the perfect storm of circumstances to elevate RPA to a new position of prominence in most organisations, but I believe that instead, it’s time to take pause. Without a doubt there’s going to be a clamour by many vendors to inject RPA into everything, from the simplest tasks to things that weren’t even considered automation-ready in the past.
A Forrester Group online survey of 160 process automation decision-makers from organisations in France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. found that “48% of survey respondents [are] planning to increase RPA spend over the next year [to] Increase agility, diversity, and resilience in their supply chain operations (83%), address extraordinary cost pressures by automating back-office and operational tasks (80%) and support remote workforces (75%).
It’s important to recognise that many vendors are promoting RPA to a very receptive market. Some organisations are being swept up in the trend out of FOMO rather than sound business sense, which is not inherently bad. However, RPA becomes a hammer and every business process a proverbial nail without understanding the broader automation opportunity.
Organisations with a clear vision of their end state from a business perspective will always make it easier for their supporting technology teams to align their solutions strategically. There are multiple ways to achieve an end solution, of which RPA is undoubtedly a capable option. Still, I firmly believe that organisations that recognise the advantage of different disciplines collaborating with a common end have the greatest chance of success.
As a business navigating the new normal, where remote working and associated technology are no longer distant objectives, you need to own your space. Have a strategic vision of what your services will be, how you want your customers to engage with them, what the customer experience should be, and how you’re going to best leverage your human teams to maximise both agility and performance.
Before the pandemic, younger organisations with tech-savvy workforces and processes have an advantage since they can already design their business models with current technology, understand the latest trends, and have well-formulated digital experiences in mind.
More established organisations are challenged by a customer base spoiled by the sudden surge of online products and services the younger, nimbler organisations are bringing to market. The advantage they have, however, is many decades of human capital investment.
Caving to the sudden desire to go from ‘middle-aged to teenager’ by automating everything to get quicker results risks forgetting the potential constraints they carry (custom-developed platforms and legacy systems, anyone?). Additionally, this could result in short-changing the real benefits of having highly experienced and intelligent workforces that can be put to better use - creating the very human interactions their customers are actively seeking.
RPA certainly offers significant potential as a solution when applied in process re-engineering, risk mitigation (error reduction and data exposure being examples) and reduction of administration workloads. The business case for RPA, though, needs to be approached more holistically and consider the impact on organisational culture, customer and employee experience. A balance between BOT and human experience might be the most critical calculation for success with RPA.