Just over three years ago Virtual Operations was launched to specialise in Automation Services. The rationale was that good core-technology already exists in all areas of Automation (from RPA to AI) and new products would arrive as the market grew. This we have found to be the case although new entrants are struggling because they lack the years of experience from hundreds of automations that the established players have ploughed back into their products.
At the time there was a lot of hype within the fledgling industry which we hoped would disappear as the market matured. Sadly this was not to be and we are continually alarmed at the exaggerated claims, the lack of understanding and the myths that prevail. Now is a good time to bust some of these myths and share our view. Having developed the only multi-technology Automation Academy, worked with the world’s most successful BPO providers and on the largest Automation Programmes ever undertaken we believe we have a good vantage point on this.
- You don’t need any technical people – False. If this was the case we wouldn’t have such a large technical team. Some of the RPA products have more user-friendly interfaces than other and this allows business operations staff to maintain, change and even implement automation projects but, in our experience, there is always a need for experienced automation experts with strong technical backgrounds
- You can automate 60% 70% or more of your operations. .. but (Buyer beware) without understanding what you do and how you do it, it is not possible to even guess how automatable a process is. The most difficult part of any single process automation is documenting (mapping) the candidate process – thereafter automation is relatively straightforward. The business case requires a thorough understanding of the whole process, the number and nature of the transactions and the resources currently deployed to run it.
- It takes just a few weeks to automate a process. .. but only if the process is fully documented (this alone can take weeks) and the process would need to be relatively simple. Most of the automation work we see involves complex processes and 4-6 weeks (with 1-2 developers) is more typical. The business case will still be compelling but be careful not to over state and under deliver.
- Automation programmes can be self-funding in less than a year. True (ish). This is proven but only if the programme has been planned, managed and governed well. Random, individual, automations (which are prevalent) take far longer to pay back and deliver pockets of efficiency rather than transformation. Unfortunately many organisations just want to ‘take a pill’
- It’s all about FTE reduction (False)2 FTE reduction forms just a part of most business cases we see. Very often the indirect (sometimes unpredictable) and intangible benefits exceed the direct benefits. Looking at Automation through the FTE reduction lens leads to sub-optimal results. It is also surprising but true that the majority of people whose positions have been automated are redeployed to higher value roles.
- RPA is the answer – (what was the question again?) In a previous article we offered our opinion that “RPA is just part of the story” Any enterprise-wide, holistic programme needs to look at all of the tools that may be deployed either separately or in combination. In addition there many other considerations such as governance and people, change and stakeholder management which will almost certainly form the larger effort in the programme.
- Self-sufficiency is the best approach. False. Self-sufficiency is an approach but time to value takes far longer. Self-sufficiency requires knowledge experience and training which take years to develop.
- RPA (Automation in general) won’t get in the way of in-flight projects. True but the perception will always remain that any IT project needs to dovetail with existing work. A major part of any new automation initiative is overcoming resistance. Pro-actively demonstrating that Automation won’t present a risk or get in the way, and that it can seamlessly integrate into the IT estate, will smooth your path considerably.
- The IT department doesn’t need to be involved. However, automation without IT participation and governance presents a risk to the company and will be viewed as grey IT. It makes no sense to run any automation without the blessing and full co-operation of IT.
- Cognitive software is the future. It depends on what you define as “Cognitive” We are working on a number of projects where we have deployed either ‘Artificial Intelligence’ alone or in conjunction with a Robot. The AI is extremely powerful and efficient but cannot be considered to be cognitive. (i.e. it ‘learns’ but it doesn’t ‘think’ in the Descartes sense). We do not see truly cognitive software playing a role in automation for at least the next few years.
- Robots can work thousands of times faster than humans. True but only in theory. The major governing factor is the application or applications being accessed. Robots can only run as fast as the systems they use will allow them to run. What is always the case is that Robots will work at least as fast as people and they work 3 shifts per day (hence the 2-3 times efficiency often quoted). We have clients where the Robots are working.
- Robots don’t make mistakes. True – That is unless they are programmed to. Robots don’t do things badly because they are tired or hung-over or anything malicious, they will only do what they are programmed to do. The comforting factors are that when mistakes occur they are always down to human error, can almost invariably be fixed very quickly and are very rare.
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