The technological advancement that is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) first arrived on the scene around 5 years ago to a gargantuan storm of discussion about its disruptive potential for Process Performance. Even today the arguments continue, with unscrupulous licence sellers on one side promising a digital revolution, and a scaremongering media on the other, who claim RPA is a disastrous threat to jobs.
Caught in the middle, are the businesses who desperately want to improve their Process Performance. Not to mention a global economy desperately in need of technological advancements which will help improve wealth and living standards for all.
The hype was huge. But as many have now found to their cost, it was akin to being fleeced by a backstreet bookie. Now that whistle’s been blown, it’s time for everyone to get a grip on reality when it comes to RPA.
Placing the big bets……
High pressure sales tactics for RPA licences have lured many an unsuspecting CEO and digital leader into believing RPA is a fast track to competitive advantage, the key to unlocking unprecedented levels of productivity. But the reality experienced by many organisations has been the polar opposite, with Process Performance crashing spectacularly amid the disarray of another failed deployment. Meanwhile, a great deal of process insight, expertise and management has been thrown on the scrapheap in favour of RPA licences. Talk about collateral damage.
You couldn’t make this up: “We did RPA – the Business Case just did not deliver”, “We believed the hype – now our business process is a mess. Can you help?” and “We took out headcount and killed our service performance” are comments I hear all the time. Just last week I was told “Our RPA programme didn’t deliver the business case, we need to take another 10% out of our headcount”.
For balance, I have also heard “Yep, it worked for us – it was a real game changer.” But certainly less often. And for clarity, R&G were in no way involved in any of these RPA deployments.
The fact is “only 3% of progressive leaders have reached any form of scale with more than 50 robots in service” (Deloitte, 3rd Annual Global RPA Survey). And despite being willed on by the masses, RPA has so far been a dismal failure in answering the world’s productivity challenges. A ‘reset’ in thinking is required.”
Bill Gates was on the money when he said……“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second, is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Given the number of organisations still contravening Bill’s second rule, it appears a lot of people either weren’t paying attention or just didn’t believe him.
Game of chance
If we look at a typical RPA deployment it generally consists of an RPA Assessment, a business case (that involves people and their jobs) and a quickly derived implementation plan. But with little to no consideration given to upstream or downstream dependencies. No end-to-end assessment of business performance along the entire value chain, nor consideration of overall impact on the internal employee experience. Customers are not engaged in the end solution and the organisation often remains ignorant of the impact on them. The fact that many organisations aren’t tuned in to their customer experience in the first place – when they absolutely should be – is another matter.
Spot the problem?
In essence, an enormous array of factors are being left to chance. Which leaves all the room in the world for both positives and negatives to be amplified. Especially when organisations caught up in the excitement of their shiny new technology decide to create a “Centre of Excellence” for their RPA which, in the high likelihood of inefficiencies being present, does nothing other than make them truly outstanding at automating these inefficiencies and building waste into the process, while making it even more difficult to pick through the aftermath of an enterprise-wide RPA deployment.
Stacking the odds in your favour
The thing is, it’s not that difficult to make any RPA (or digital) deployment a thing of beauty. But this will only happen if you jump off the RPA hype bandwagon and get back into the real business process world.
- Take an end-to-end view of the overall business value chain – your people can help you understand this.
- Know the dependencies and interactions that exist throughout your value chain – you already have the data that tells you this.
- See your real Process Performance – at a granular level, variance based, data driven
- Innovate using the array of digital solutions available to you (including RPA) – blend some old school process thinking and human intelligence with process mining, analytics, automation, machine learning etc.
- Validate the positive impact any process automation has on your customers.
- Go again.
In his theory of constraints, Eli Goldratt talks about being on the lookout out for the “Herbies” in your process – those activities or steps that inject the largest amount of variation or delay. It stands to reason that any deployment should eliminate variation and inefficiency. Then you have a chance of taking performance to the next level while lowering your RPA investment cost, increasing customer satisfaction and benefitting from your employees being more engaged with their day-to-day work.
Horses for courses – build your Data Driven Leadership capability
Ultimately, as with every other piece of digital process tooling with the possibility to ‘transform’ your business performance, it all comes down to appropriate use. Using the right tool for the right job. RPA will not be the silver bullet that solves all (or any) of your problems in isolation, but there is no doubt it will continue to help drive improvement.
Meanwhile, applying a Data-Driven Leadership mindset and blending classical process thinking with an ever-growing suite of digital tools will go a lot further to realising the transformational effect now demanded from any digital implementation.
At R&G, we recommend starting with establishing a business purpose, then bridging into getting the right access to the right data (that you already own) and putting the right structure around it. Our approach then pivots on the ability to do the right process analysis with the right digital tooling. But this is 100% reliant on the people within your business bringing meaning and context to the insights. Strength of leadership is imperative in making and standing behind decisions, then executing the right intervention to deliver the right business outcome.
R&G’s Data-Driven Leadership approach enables you to examine your situation with the end-to-end process always in clear view, fix your inefficiencies and pave the way to enjoying optimal benefit from any improvement initiative (including an RPA deployment). While at the same time, stacking the odds in your favour with some beautiful digital tools.
Why take a gamble when you’ve already got the means to identify a certain winner?
Keith Bestwick is partner of R&G Global Consultants in the United Kingdom.