How to implement robotic process automation: 3 tips

RPA has the potential to improve costs and productivity, but there is a large learning curve, according to the Hackett Group.

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Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Robotic process automation has the potential to deliver significant improvements in cost, quality, productivity, and speed of business operations. -- The Hackett Group, 2018
  • Robotic process automation adoption will rise in the next two to three years. -- The Hackett Group, 2018

Robotic process automation (RPA) has the potential to to create major improvements in cost, quality, productivity, and speed of business operations, according to a recent report from The Hackett Group.

The technology--which analysts began studying about five years ago--offers the ability to deploy quickly, with reduced dependency on IT for implementation and support, according to the report. Some vendors have claimed to use RPA to deliver as much as 60-80% in savings. The automation technology can also reduce errors common in human-performed work, and allow companies to refocus their human talent on higher-value tasks, the report noted.

While early initiatives have produced some success in terms of back office performance improvement, the technology comes with a large learning curve, the report found.

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Current RSA adoption remains low (3%), but executives across all business lines said they intend to increase this adoption in the coming years. Finance and global business services (GBS) in particular are planning the largest growth--finance executives project mainstream adoption to grow to 38% in the next two to three years, while GBS executives expect it to grow to more than 52% in that time frame, the report found.

Successful RPA deployment requires companies to have tasks with digital inputs, that use structured data, and follow clear logical rules. The technology is most effective for automating tasks such as extracting and entering data; processing and updating forms; merging, consolidating, and archiving; downloading, updating, and uploading files; and conducting periodic analysis, according to the report.

"Despite the relative ease of initial implementation, though, RPA has come with growing pains that are limiting both impact and expansion of adoption," the report said. "As a result, many early adopters have found it difficult to deliver on an RPA business case and to turn initial efforts into larger-scale programs. Returns, while tangible, are often more modest than originally promised or expected."

Many organizations do not take the time to think through their automation objectives before introducing RPA into operations, the report noted.

Here are three tips for successful RPA deployment, according to the report:

1. Select the right RPA opportunities

When researching RPA, companies should look to tasks that meet those criteria mentioned above, such as those with digital inputs that use structured data. One way to identify these suitable tasks is to deconstruct your back-office process, according to the report.

2. Plan the journey

Companies must build a roadmap to deliver the full value of RPA as they introduce and scale the technology. This will help to navigate areas that have proven challenging for others, including selecting the right tool for the specific use case, building realistic expectations in the organization for expected returns, and creating change management processes.

3. Build an RPA team or center of excellence

As a company begins to extend its use of RPA, it should begin building a team to support process owners who are interested in introducing RPA into their own operations, the report noted. This team can take different forms, but should generally include people with skills in leadership, business analysis and design, and technical development.

"Even though RPA deployment is usually business-led, IT support will be vital to enabling and scaling RPA by providing guidance, requirements and resources for infrastructure, connectivity and operations management," the report said.

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