RPA Beyond the Back Office


Recently, I did a quick Google search on the term “Robotic Process Automation (RPA),” and received more than 1.2 million hits! From a quick scan, it appeared that few of the hits were more than 2-3 years old, which goes to show how fast RPA interest and growth have materialized. Its growth is largely due to implementations in Shared Services (SS) or the back office where high levels of transactional activity are “fertile” opportunities. Gartner, Forrester, Grandview and others forecast RPA market growth in the range of 2.5-2.9 billion USD by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 30% or more! The back office is a significant contributor to that growth especially in financial/banking, insurance and telecom sectors, but other areas have emerged across S,G&A as ripe areas for RPA as well. Increasingly, every month and with every conference (most recently at Shared Services Outsourcing Network’s (SSON) North America SS week in Orlando), there are documented use cases beyond SS and the back office in areas including HR, Customer service, IT Services, and many others. Let’s explore a few…

Use Cases

Just to refresh, RPA is a solution whereby software can execute standard and repetitive activities that are currently carried out by people. The software acts as a “virtual worker” (or robot) in support of executing tasks in processes. Conservatively, the fully-loaded cost of the virtual worker is less than an offshore resource depending on process complexity…hence the interest. My previous post provides additional background. So, it is easy to understand why the transactional areas of a company are great initial targets for RPA but here are a few others:

  • Human Resources – is a good fit for RPA solutions since there are often multiple technology platforms utilized for service delivery, connected manually or via workflows. One RPA use case is from a client of PwC who globally delivers back office HR services through a combination of onshore and offshore delivery centers. A combination of 200 onshore and offshore FTEs were managing the end to end recruitment process for the client for its US operations, and 10-30 FTEs were handling approximately 19,000 new employees/year. After assessment, proof of concept (POC) development and implementation over a 10-week time frame, they were able to reduce the FTEs by 10-15, while improving processing quality substantially, and reducing on-boarding costs due to improved data quality. Walgreens also shared their RPA progress at SSON’s North America SS conference covering a broad set or HR processes as well.
  • Customer Service – in Deloitte’s most recent SS survey only 34% of organizations performed customer service/contact center activities within a SS environment. So, these activities are more often within the purview of a business unit, whose focus is not just on cost reduction and quality, but speed and customer satisfaction as well. In this use case from Genpact, their client (a leading imaging company who creates cameras, lenses, and other imaging tools), had an inefficient manual process, where agents had to manually query a system for new orders from clients, physically validate the purchase order, apply specific pricing/discounts to the order, and secure discount approvals, before the order was finalized, shipped and invoiced. In partnership w/ Automation Anywhere, they designed an automation solution using various RPA technologies available with the Automation Anywhere platform. They reduced the number of employees required for Purchase Order fulfillment from 100 to 10 (90%), and reduced overall errors (to Zero) while increasing transaction speed by 25%. Pega Systems and Kryon also have some excellent use cases documented in this space.
  • Data Migration – is typically a team led by IT supplemented w/ business resources that utilizes a variety of tools to move data from an older legacy system to a replacement system. Data migration is regular set of tasks/processes of any IT organization but, it is often part of a much larger business activity such as mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. These activities are a great fit for leveraging RPA. An use case from an IT and BPO provider, and client of Thoughtonomy, performed a management service for one of its customers which involved recording all activities in its own case management application (used across all of their clients), along with recording the information in the customer’s own dedicated system. The two systems could not be connected, so internal staff supplemented by temporary staff (12 total) were assigned to this manual re-keying effort. Thoughtonomy deployed an automated RPA solution that replaced all 12 staff with 2 Virtual Workers, delivered work outside normal business hours (minimizing overall customer impact), cleared case backlog quickly, and saved the client around £200K in the first three months of operation.

In addition, there are also management consulting firms like Accenture, Deloitte, EY, Genpact, Capgemini, etc., who have implemented RPA within their own shared services and delivery organizations, and also are now marketing RPA solutions as part of their offering to clients. So, they also have documented use cases from their unique RPA perspective of being both consumers of the technology as well as marketers/implementers of the solution. 

Next Steps

All the early adopters in finance/banking, telecom and healthcare sectors will continue to drive RPA utilization across their organizations. The next tranche of sectors that are following close behind, will build upon their learnings and be looking more broadly beyond the their SS/back office organizations, and expand into areas such as sales/marketing support, and mergers and acquisitions. Amidst all the growth of RPA, there is still one disconcerting trend, the 30%-50% failure rate of initial implementations. The issue is NOT the technology but, how it is being implemented. I will cover this along with some recommendations from other RPA leaders in my next post. Look forward to your feedback and comments…


Art Anderson is a General Management Executive with 20+ years of experience in the industrial and specialty chemical industries. He has specific expertise in optimizing commercial operations, implementing shared business services, leveraging process excellence tools, and improving both internal and external customer focus. He is currently an independent consultant for AH Anderson Consulting, LLC. Art was previously a Director for a Fortune 300 company, and member of the executive team leading the transformation from Shared Services to a Global Business Services framework leveraging a host of automation technologies. Learn more at www.linkedin.com/in/artandersonjr. Art can be reached directly at artanderson100@gmail.com.

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