Why it’s time to get staff involved in RPA deployment

With businesses struggling to scale RPA, IT heads should turn to employees for guidance.
28 March 2019

Bringing staff into discussions could be an RPA game-changer. Source: Shutterstock

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software is becoming big business.

The tools are seeing rapid uptake, in the finance sector in particular, where they are generally deployed on mundane, repetitive data-based tasks, mimicking the manual path a human worker would take.

Removing humans from heavy, number-crunching work, RPA programs pose on-paper benefits in reducing errors, increased productivity, reduced costs and boosts to profit, while high-profile examples— such as AXA claiming to save US$182,000 and 18,000 people hours with RPA— adds substance to those claims.

Meanwhile, the shift in focus of RPA from a job elimination to talent augmentation, and extending the life of legacy IT systems has increased appetite for operations executives to fast-track RPA training programs and invest in broader automation.

As such, the RPA market is expected to reach US$2.3 billion this year, reaching US$4.3 billion by 2022, on the path to becoming a commonplace business technology.

But as IT heads face increasing pressure to adopt these tools, a report by HFS Research that many early adopters are struggling to scale RPA initiatives from project to enterprise level.

With only 13 percent of enterprise RPA initiatives achieving scale across the organization, research suggests that while automation of business processes is hot on the priority list, there are problems when it comes to its deployment, meaning RPA’s full potential is being hampered in the majority of cases.

Going further, the HFS Research said that 30 percent to 50 percent of projects fail entirely, as companies fall short on returns.  

According to Dr, Gero Decker, CEO of Signavio, a business process management software firm, the top priority for business leaders across industries is to scale their RPA initiatives to achieve wider corporate goals.

However, poorly planned implementation, as well as internal resistance, are proving barriers to innovation. The result is that non-optimized processes are being automated with no overall value to businesses.

“The reason a lot of companies are only seeing marginal returns on their RPA deployment is that they are diving straight into automation before understanding and optimizing their existing processes,” said Decker.

While it can be tempting to focus the technology on short-term fixes, he explains, the approach leads to an unsustainable deployment strategy; “automating bad processes just means you can make the same mistakes faster.”

Instead of deploying RPA tools straight out of the traps, Decker suggests that organizations seek crowdsourced ideas for the automation of processes internally. Capturing existing knowledge and insights from staff before RPA is implemented is an important component of an enterprise-wide initiative.

“Empowering business users to take ownership means there is constant end-to-end monitoring and re-engineering of processes, so enterprises not only improve performance but also remain committed to business outcomes,” said Decker.

“Enterprise-level RPA allows businesses to respond to change and disruption, monitoring end-to-end performance so employees can anticipate and detect potential problems and risks in advance.

“It is important to recognize that deploying RPA is not a one-time set-up.”

As such, decisions regarding where in the business that RPA should be deployed should be owned by employees themselves, to govern process architecture and identify opportunities for continuous improvements.