What’s Next for Robotic Process Automation?

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Have you noticed all the articles (and even movies) showing how robots will be replacing human jobs over the coming decades? For years we’ve seen robotic progress in production lines but, the chatter is now about impact to office and administrative jobs. One recent quote from the Bank of England stated “machines might take over 80 million American and 15 million British jobs over the next 10 to 20 years, or 50% of the workforce in each of the two countries.” Quite significant…

Another perspective taken by McKinsey took a bit more pragmatic approach. They analyzed 2,000+ work activities for more than 800 occupations, using United States (US) data (international data will be incorporated in early 2017). They quantified both the amount of time spent on work activities across the economy of the US, and the technical feasibility of automating each of them. The results were a bit lower than the Bank of England study stating that currently available technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities, and that about 60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their activities automated. The big caveat is “currently available technologies.”

So, who has the right answer? Hard to tell but clearly robotics will grab an increasing share of white collar jobs over the coming years, with the initial impact coming from Robotic Process Automation (RPA). My previous article focused on the “hype” surrounding RPA, but this post will focus on current progress and next steps.

Guiding Principles

Two weeks ago I attended an RPA conference hosted by SSON (Shared Services & Outsourcing Network), which featured some of the more established RPA vendors (i.e., Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, Kofax, UiPath, NICE, etc.), matched with companies who’ve significantly leveraged RPA and are delivering tremendous results. In listening and questioning the speakers, there were some key themes (or guiding principles) practiced by all the companies who have successfully launched RPA:

  • Business Leadership – The “push” for RPA came from leaders in Finance, HR, Global Business Services (GBS), and the Business units, who needed solutions for ever increasing operational challenges.
  • Strategy– They broadened their perspective of digital/automation strategy (incorporating RPA and related technologies) and linked it to business outcomes. Some elements of the strategy included automation opportunities/partners, business case, operating methodology and a technology road map.
  • IT Partnership – Early involvement by IT was deemed critical to not only participate in the strategy development, but also establish a base level of governance to ensure success (i.e., infrastructure, security, risk, change control, release/incident management, etc.).
  • Change Management – This transformation is big. So big it is often likened to when businesses started moving work offshore and leveraging shared services and BPO operating models. So, the effort on change management activities wasn’t taken lightly…

The end result is that these companies are building a digital workforce alongside their human workforce. One of the largest banks in Australia, ANZ, shared that they have a “digital workforce” of 1900 robots in 17 countries across multiple functions…and they are not the only one operating at this scale….

Success Factors

Universally, all of these companies could be classified as “early adopters.” They all have been on this journey for over two years and have the “warts” to show for it. As a result, they openly shared their experience and had the following success factors in common:

  • Proof of Concept (POCs) – all the companies and their technology partners started with small “pilots” to build confidence and momentum. One of the companies, Prudential USA, used the catchphrase of “start small, THINK BIG.”
  • Emphasis on Speed – the POCs were completed in weeks and most often used agile methodology. Average project times were in the 3-4 week time frame. 
  • RPA Center of Excellence (COE)– established a COE to help drive the deployment in a consistent and structured fashion, but with minimal bureaucracy. Most often led by the business driving the strategy, and supported by both IT and RPA vendors.
  • Workforce Augmentation – most companies have not used RPA to eliminate jobs. They have transitioned the repetitive and mundane tasks from staff to robots, “freeing-up” capacity resulting in redeployment of staff to higher valued tasks. Thus far, most of the companies used the “created” capacity to support business growth needs and improving the customer experience without adding headcount. A typical metric is “hours given back to the organization per day.” 

There were several other success factors that seemed dependent on the company or the technology platform employed. One example was the natural synergy with Lean Six Sigma (LSS). In some cases, RPA and LSS teams were in the same organization and trained one another on their respective tools, bringing them to bear on their improvement projects. In other cases, companies deferred any process re-engineering activities till after the process was automated. Both approaches yielded successful results and were dependent on the improvement methodology of the respective companies.

Next Steps

RPA’s growth is accelerating faster than initially expected, which is evidenced by the growth in technology companies in this space. In addition, RPA is only part of a spectrum of technologies that ranges on the low-end from desktop automation (RPA’s predecessor) to Cognitive automation and Artificial intelligence (AI) on the high-end. Companies like Deloitte and Accenture have both shared that this space will continue to grow as additional functionality and capabilities are integrated such as speech recognition, natural-language processing and cognitive analytics tools. These emerging technologies will drastically increase the capabilities of a digital workforce and the range of processes they are able to perform. 

It is an exciting time in this space, with plenty of potential to change how companies will operate in the future. Are you ready to take the next step?

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Art Anderson is a Senior Business 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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