Robotic Process Automation and the Age of the Digital Workforce
As CIOs and technology leaders work to strengthen IT’s contributions to organizational growth and innovation, automation should be a key figure in the strategic equation.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of automation that is capturing attention and investment across industries. Want to see how RPA can leapfrog your organization?
Here are a few key areas (by industry) where we already see RPA making a significant impact:
- Healthcare – Electronic Medical Records, Care Management, Claims Processing, Grievances and Appeals
- Finance & Banking – Loan & Mortgage processing
- Retail – Inventory Management
- Pharmaceutical – Computer Systems Validation for Clinical Research
Essentially, anywhere that there is repeatable, high-volume processing driven by timeliness and accuracy pressures, RPA should be seriously considered.
Of course, it’s never that easy, is it? Like everything else, there is a myriad of service providers presenting options to solve your biggest process challenges through applied RPA with high-level case studies, representing what they’ve done to date luring you in.
Are you Ready for RPA?
Our Lean-Startup guide to RPA, below, should help you get started. And, like everything else in business, when done correctly, you need to start with asking ‘Why’?
Process Automation is nothing new. Organizations are always looking for ways to drive operational efficiency and execution excellence — whether as a mechanism to improve customer experience or to free up the human workforce to innovate in new areas.
Traditionally, organizations have relied heavily upon their Information Technology arm to drive those changes that have delivered variable results (e.g. IT doesn’t always know the business as well), a higher price tag (specialist, lower level skillsets), and poor maintenance (inability to keep up).
Recent improvements in user and application programming Interfaces, coupled with the power of cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI), provides a next generation opportunity to improve process automation. It’s something the industry is calling Robotic Process Automation 2.0 — automation that no longer requires expensive development skillsets or integration architects.
In fact, depending on the solution, it’s now possible to take your process designs and get them into action within a couple of weeks. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Thanks to these recent breakthroughs, public RPA companies, like Blue Prism, have flourishing stock values way beyond their annual revenue projections and Gartner predicts the industry will grow rapidly from $443M in 2017 to $8.75B in 2024.
That’s an incredible growth rate in only 7 years. The future of the digital workforce will really depend upon us so we need to be ready.
Like everything else worth doing, it starts with the right plan and supporting competency to surface opportunities for RPA. At SDLC Partners, we embrace Lean-Startup at the core of everything we do — driving quantified, achievable results in the fastest possible way without sacrificing quality.
Quality. It’s a word commonly used, but rarely understood. Quality needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do; not simply set as an end goal.
‘The First Rule of any technology used in 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’.Bill Gates
To summarize, first, you need to have a good, solid — when executed properly it does not fail — manual process.
If you’re not there yet, we recommend that you first map out your process (SDLC Partners recommends Value Stream Mapping, identify opportunities for improvement (waste elimination), then move to refinement using a technique like 5s (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain) to reach the desired state that yields NO error when executed properly.
Now, your process (and you are) ready for RPA and to explore our approach to RPA.
Lean Startup Approach to Robotics Process Automation
1. Problem Statement
At the start of this article, we talked about your ‘why?’ This is your opportunity to capture that in a meaningful way.
Whether you have disparate systems delivering your healthcare claim management processes but yielding poor customer experiences and declining membership or you’ve got a daily task to gather data from multiple sources to generate an excel report consumed by leadership, now is your opportunity to capture your current State. It’s best to get this part right and be specific as to where RPA would apply (and not apply).
If you have completed a Value Stream Mapping exercise for your end-to-end process, here is where you would note those findings along with your project charter (scope, timeline, resources, stakeholders, customers) and mission statement. Always list “critical-to-quality” metrics related to how the process performs (or doesn’t). From here, you can start to form your assumptions on what the future could look like.
2. Leaps of Faith
Now, you know your current state; backed up by your Value Stream Map and associated metrics. It’s time to consider what the future should look like.
List out your commercial assumptions — what you expect to gain from this change and the associated assumptions about what this would mean to a customer/buyer/influencer/competition. You will also want to note your technical assumptions. Think of this as a design construct to achieve your goals.
You should have a good preview of what you’ll need to do from an organizational change management perspective to drive the necessary communications and ensure your change sticks with appropriate buy-in.
The biggest value proposition to RPA is that you’ll require fewer and less expensive humans to deliver a process. However, how you message and backup with action, internally and externally, will determine how it is embraced and when it is accepted. Messaging like ‘job cuts’ versus ‘flexibility to innovate and build other priorities’ will require thoughtful planning.
3. Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)
Now your project scope and charter is ready, you have a clear set of hypotheses that you are going to validate. It’s time for action.
Assuming you have decided on an RPA platform (SDLC Partners like BluePrism, UI Path and AutomationAnywhere), it’s time to go to the studio.
Most RPA platforms have a studio interface similar to Microsoft’s Visio, but much smarter with integrators for big data platforms (Oracle, SAS, Microsoft SQL Server, etc.), as well as built-in code blocks (UI driven) to drive your process logic.
We believe that strong acumen in business process engineering (one of SDLC’s core competencies) and a sound understanding of programming logic (note logic, not coding ability), will deliver your RPA solutions consistently.
Gone are the days of relying on expensive enterprise architects to model out how your systems will talk intelligently together. If it can be done with a mouse, manually, it can be automated using RPA.
Setting up small, succinct ‘pieces’ of the puzzle in a series of minimum viable products (MVPs) will be key to success in gaining, both, acceptance (supporting further investments) and outcomes (benefits for the business and the customer).
Also, you’ll want to partner up your business and IT functions in this initiative, achieving the best results and fastest path to acceptance; the greatest challenge facing disruption technology.
One final piece of advice when building out your MVP. Make sure you spend enough time on non-functional and negative use case design. For example, what happens to your RPA solution when Platform A, B, C, or D receives an update to an area you’re using? Knowing your failure modes, before they occur, and how to handle them, will position you best to serve the business and your customers.
4. Learning Metrics
You’ve made it to the moment when you can take your MVP to your customers (you will have defined who they in your project charter) and capture feedback on the new experience.
From here, you will note everything that they like/dislike about your MVP. Which, if agreed upon, will turn into backlog items for further design (persevere) or validation to why you may not want to proceed (pivot).
Leveraging platforms like Qualtrics to get holistic, meaningful experience data should help you here.
5. Pivot or Persevere
Lastly, it’s time to pivot or press on.
All feedback is good feedback when received quickly. Long-winded technology projects that fail at the end are a thing of the past. Don’t be afraid of failure. When done quickly, it can be pivotal to the success of your business.
Once accepted, you may have your first RPA solution on the table for release. It’s time to think about your next project and to consider embarking on RPA at-scale.
The process can seem long (like this Point of View?!), but RPA beginning to gain exponential momentum that aligns with standardizing processes, delivering Proof of Concept solutions, or scaling existing RPA. SDLC Partners has the expertise, experience and stamina to help you maximize the return on RPA.