Organizations have been looking for ways to improve their efficiencies, reduce errors, and increase data security and privacy using robotic process automation (RPA). This technology has been implemented across thousands of organizations globally since it emerged over ten years ago. However, while the promise of huge gains in efficiencies has been proven, documented, and reported by many sources, some organizations are not seeing the same results. In this series of articles, the goal is to understand the primary reasons why some are realizing these results but others are only achieving marginal returns on their investments. To harness the power of the RPA platform, it’s important to consider the human element, the infrastructure, the road map of where you ultimately want to go, and the definition of success as the program progresses.
Why Planning is so Important
When looking into RPA, it’s tempting to simply consider it another IT tool that can support the automation of applications or system data. RPA is a tool to support automation, but it can also be a digital transformation platform to change the way that the organization transacts business with its customers and manages those transactions internally. With nearly half of the digital transformation programs being led by non-technical executives, (https://www.bdo.com/insights/business-financial-advisory/digital-transformation-survey/business,-reinvented-pioneering-digital-transform), RPA provides an accessible way to drive digital innovation. However, to get the most out of any digital transformation program, you really need to understand where you’re headed.
Humans are the heart of any business. They develop the strategies, interact with the customers, and govern the business. Along with these high value activities, they also do a lot of the mundane work that is associated with transacting business. Certainly, computers have been used for decades to manage these transactions so the business can scale, but quite often people are still the engine that has driven the transactions within the various systems of record. RPA is changing this by enabling digital workers to function as the transaction glue among the systems. But if transactions are now being handled by digital workers, what becomes of the human workers? This question doesn’t have a straightforward answer, as it greatly depends on the organization and the humans involved.
For example, an organization with many human workers that have been doing a steady workload of transactional activity may not require as many humans to complete the same amount of work once it is automated. Certainly, there will be a need to support non-standard transactions or exceptions to the rules, but those should be a very small part of the overall volume. In these cases, it’s likely that fewer humans would be required to do the same amount of this transactional work.
However, most successful RPA programs don’t simply cut people from the organization. People have a great deal of experience working in the organization and understand customer service and business value. People are needed to train and manage the new digital workforce which unlocks new opportunities for personal growth for human associates. However, it goes far beyond that. Business strategy and customer service will certainly benefit from long-term employees using their experience to improve or expand the business to new areas. Additionally, empowering employees with tools to allow them to innovate is ultimately better for the business.
These changes to the human workforce require planning to create a road map that defines the type of work humans should do versus their digital counterparts. It must include a communication plan for the organization to engage employees’ innovation rather than leave their imagination to fill in the blanks about the fate of their jobs. The plan must address the technological environment in which these new digital workers will reside so the organization can understand the most effective way to govern, manage, and assign work to the digital workforce. Finally, the plan must lay out the expectations for what a successful program should be accomplishing. This allows the organization’s management team to assess and report the effectiveness of the program over time and provide guidance for modifying the work to get the most value from its digital workforce.