We get asked regularly about operating a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) program at scale, with the most frequent questions being:
- What does it take to scale an RPA program?
- Why do so many organizations find it difficult to transition from RPA pilots to a program at scale?
- Do I really need to think about scaling my program if I’m just starting with a few bots?
Due to the nature of the technology, RPA programs have the potential to ramp up quickly. A robust bot can be built in as little as a few days or weeks where it would have taken months to build something similar in legacy technologies. What many have failed to recognize is that these shortened development cycles make for a quick trip from your first few bots to dozens of bots that have been implemented without regard for any standards, structure, or strategy. Leaders who don’t anticipate this growth will find themselves without the necessary capabilities to cope with a rapidly expanding RPA program; organizations will then find themselves scrambling.
Before scaling your intelligent automation program, the following areas should be considered: strategy, governance, people, and operations. In this series, we will be focusing on each individual area.
Here, we dive into key considerations when developing your automation strategy.
Strategy1. Invest the time to develop well-defined roles catered for robotics.
Work with stakeholders and program support staff to set clear expectations of what each role entails. RPA is a unique technology requiring a greater degree of process owner involvement. With RPA, the process owner becomes the first line of defense on monitoring bots.
We have found this commitment may require new rolesthat don’t currently exist within your organization. One such position is Digital Worker Controller; a supervisor of bots who is the first line of support that ensures your business process is not interrupted when the bot “calls in sick.”
2. Developing a digital mindset within your organization is an important ingredient for scaling an RPA program.
A well thought out digital strategy includes a plan to cultivate the mindset of the people within your organization, and help to make the transition to a digital organization.
- Recognize that implementing RPA alone won’t change the mindset of the organization. Digital transformation requires a sustained communication and education effort to help people not only see the value of RPA, but believe it can improve their day-to-day work life on a very real and personal level. Helping your employees adapt their thinking to this new way of working will help them to increase their engagement and provide sustained benefits for your organization.
- Be patient. Your organization is learning how to operate in a new environment. Expect to adapt your initial strategy to match the progress of adoption within your organization. This could include implementing one set of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) focused on engagement and acceptance of RPA throughout the organization, and when the program is more mature, replacing them with more traditional ones focused on business value (i.e. dollars or hours saved).
- Acknowledge that investment in digital cannot be considered a transactional activity. An organization can capture a great ROI with RPA in a very short period. However, we have observed what distinguishes digital programs that lose momentum from those that see real and sustained benefits is how the people at all levels within the organization view RPA. Automation exists to elevate the user experience, customer experience, and employee engagement, not diminish it.
One way to do this is to set up guardrails for your program. Consider establishing standards for what makes a good use case, and which stakeholders should participate in their review, decision, and implementation. One example would be to allow anyone within your organization to submit automation ideas, causing people at all levels to feel empowered to help in the delivery of use cases that add real and perceived value.
3. Have a strategy to actively manage business value.
- Use case volume and quality will trail off. Most companies are able to identify a list of use cases with good benefits; however, you may quickly run through your initial list. Plan for this possibility and take proactive steps to cultivate a healthy pipeline. Consider working directly with operational teams to identify an inventory of processes and quantify the opportunities beyond the siloed annoyance-type improvements. With thoughtful use case selection, you will experience great benefits and efficiencies, but getting at the processes that cut across different teams is what will truly transform your organization.
- Consider a strategy for budgeting your program. Traditional technology budgeting approaches may need to be adjusted for RPA. It is a user centric technology, but you shouldn’t go it alone. Include IT as a stakeholder in your project from the beginning; we have seen many companies struggle when IT lacks funding to support their program. While IT may not be building the bots, they will play a role in things such as infrastructure, helpdesk, platform, and putting tools in place (i.e. a database that reinforces your bot designs). Don’t neglect the funding that IT will need just because RPA falls outside of their capital planning process. They may provide support early on but not have the funding to deliver that support at scale.
- Anticipate the closed mindset and Include a strategy to address it. A closed mindset is common in established organizations, and can be seen in statements such as:
- “That’s not how we do it.”
- “That won’t work, because…”
- “We tried that years ago and it didn’t work.”
- “Management will never go for that.”
Closed mindsets come from a good place - a place of experiences. It is a well-intentioned employee trying to do the right thing. RPA provides the potential to breakdown silos and reimagine organizational structure. Bots allow you to combine tasks that would be difficult for a single person or team to deliver because of the extensive knowledge required to complete them. You can leverage these capabilities to design a better process with the customer or employee experience in mind.
When tackling the status quo, it will be difficult to find solutions that the organization will support. It is important to remember that most people who are resistant to change may have valuable input that would result in a better solution. Consider investing in facilitated techniques such as design thinking. This is a very effective way of breaking the gridlock you will experience when trying to change how your organization operates, and avoid the emotional pitfalls that tend to upend any transformation efforts.