6 questions to ask before starting an RPA project

Robotic process automation is helping organizations complete repetitive tasks efficiently. Here's what you need to know before integrating the tech into your organization.

What is robotic process automation and why does it matter to your business?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is becoming unquestionably popular as more organizations search for ways to automate repetitive tasks. The market for RPA services is projected to only grow, reaching $12 billion by 2023, a Forrester report found

SEE: An IT pro's guide to robotic process automation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Automation is inevitable in the future of the enterprise. An EY survey found that automation is key for business success, with 84% of respondents reporting that artificial intelligence (AI) is critical to the future success of their company. 

However, integrating automation into an organization can be daunting. To help companies get started with RPA, Ed Gower, vice president of solutions consulting at the software company Bizagi, outlines and addresses the six critical questions organizations need to see success with the technology. 

6 RPA questions and answers

  • What exactly is RPA?

To get started with RPA, companies need to first understand the technology, according to Gower. 

"[RPA] is a way for us to automate tasks which are typically done by people; copying and pasting information from one screen and putting it in another is an example of that," Gower said.  

"Reading information from an email, interpreting that information, and taking a followup action on that information is another example," he added. "It's really about those tasks, which need some kind of human intervention in order to allow them to run." 

While this type of functionality has caused employees to have concerns about their job security, experts have said that automation isn't here to steal human jobs, but instead bolster them. Automating menial tasks opens humans up for more enriching, cost-effective work. 

  • What is a typical RPA use-case?

RPA has many use cases, Gower said, but a popular one has to do with legacy systems.  

"One example is around loan origination and lending, whereby you may have an institution that's not all in the cloud, that's competing all of a sudden against these new startups that don't have this friction around legacy systems and legacy processes," Gower said. 

"A lot of lending systems' platforms, or the applications that banks or financial services institutions world use to assess risk of an individual, require you to manually enter information into them in order to get the risk output back out of them," Gower noted. "An RPA solution is good at helping automate." 

Another popular use case is associated with HR onboarding workflows. 

RPA can help in "creating things like domain accounts, entitlements and email accounts for new employees within the organization, that's usually something which is completely disconnected from the HR system, which is used to hire people," Gower said. "It usually requires an additional manual step to go in and do that."

  • What are the benefits of RPA?

One of the most critical benefits of RPA is its efficiency, Gower said. 

"It frees up employee time, and that's definitely a benefit which helps drive the ROI," Gower said. "[Companies] are able to put those employees to better use than doing mundane, repetitive tasks.

"The analogy we use within digital process automation is that they're more knowledge workers rather than routine process workers, so they actually get to use their knowledge, information and expertise to work on other things that their time is freed up to do."

RPA is also fairly easy to integrate, Gower said. 

"You can see a particular problem within a process. You can identify that there were manual steps in there, and you can quickly and easily deploy a bot or a digital worker to help automate that process," Gower said. "Usually, those point solutions are easy to identify, and there's a lot that can be done in a very short amount of time to get them up and running."

  • Why is RPA so popular right now?

The benefits of RPA and its popularity go hand-in-hand, according to Gower. 

"It's popular because there's a better way of doing things, and it's actually pretty easy to do that, but you're not always aware that that possibility is there," Gower said. "RPA is a really good tool to open your eyes to what's possible in terms of automation and digitization of processes. It's the frictionless application of that technology, which reinforces that excitement around using it."

  • How do I deliver an RPA project?

To successfully deliver an RPA project, three components need to come together: Process, people, and technology, Gower said. 

"It's about identification of prioritization of the task which are most suited to RPA that have the least amount of friction to adopt," Gower said. "Because what you want to be able to do is gain credibility and trust in the solution. The best way to do that is to target specific processes that are going to give the biggest business impact for the lowest possible risk." 

The second piece is about establishing a governance model for IT and business groups so they can collaborate and agree with how RPA should be managed in the company, Gower said. 

Lastly, companies should leverage industry examples and best practices to integrate the technology effectively, he added. 

  • Is RPA actually the right solution to meet my needs?

As with any popular technology, people often then they can use RPA as the solution to any problem; however, that is not the case, Gower said.  

"RPA is really good at automating specific aspects or parts of the process. But if you're looking to orchestrate across a process, a business user's perspective of that process, you typically need multiple bots or other solutions in there as well to help rebuild that end-to-end solution," Gower said. 

"It's something that you do need to be pragmatic about," Gower added. "You do need to look at what RPA can offer and make a very educated determination on whether it's the right solution." 

For more, check out Companies are planning to spend big on robotic process automation on ZDNet.  

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