PART 1: How to rate an RPA opportunity
By James Swinford, CEO, Virtual Operations
Welcome to part 1 of our RPA Champions kit.
One of the principle phases during the adoption of an automation program is the organization’s selection of candidate processes to automate. I am often asked how we choose where to start with Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
On the surface, the criteria for this selection would appear to be fairly intuitive and directly equate to the common drivers for the automation program itself…
- What processes need to be improved?
- Which are hindering our productivity the most?
- Which promote the greatest cost reduction?
- Which have the most negative impact to our quality/compliance goals?
While these questions are relevant to an automation strategy, they are also synonymous with standard process improvement. What they don’t provide, however, is the specificity needed to properly qualify a process as an ideal candidate for RPA. They don’t resolve what’s needed to “score” a process as strongest candidate for RPA in relation to others, or take into account the investment needed to bring the automated process into operation.
Most importantly, without experienced insight into the capabilities of the RPA tools available, they fail to find the opportunities that provide most potential value.
As part of our methodology, Virtual Operations uses a systematic approach to identifying and rating an RPA opportunity which consolidates all the decisive factors for a given process into a rating score. We call it the Opportunity Identification Tool.
Where to start
Identifying opportunities is not an exact science. It is a blend of quantitative and qualitative analysis with a good measure of cultural and strategic considerations.
There are many reasons and many routes that can influence deployment target choices such as:
- Process – will process automation focus on a single or group of related processes, within one business function?
- Operational – will process automation be deployed across teams where data, systems and tasks require integration?
- Service – will process automation be deployed to address specific client service objectives or even to integrate with client processes?
How to go about it
Opportunity identification operates as a funnel through which candidate processes are filtered for suitability for automation. The output from this task will be an Opportunity Assessment score using the Opportunity Assessment tool, and a narrative about any associated opportunities.
The Opportunity Assessment score indicates the “Benefit” (automation efficiency) that might be achieved through automation. Alongside the efficiency improvement is an “Effort” score that indicates the degree of work (time, complexity, etc.) required to achieve the Benefit. If there are a number of projects that need to be prioritised, a Benefit / Effort chart can be created that shows the relative merits of each project.
This Benefit / Effort comparison is a common practice in process improvement techniques. But remember, this cannot be done without an understanding of the capability of the RPA tools available.
Even so, this is a guide. There are still some qualitative views that need to be taken of the relative merits of each project. These are varied and are organisation dependent. Some common considerations are: (list needs shrinking please)
- Scale – does the opportunity create large enough benefits and/or is the solution scalable to other processes?
- Risk versus the type of services provided – is there any increase or decrease in risk or compliance if the process is automated?
- Number & type of customers – will the customers of the process be averse to automation?
- Work variation (seasonal, event, etc.) – understand whether the process is going to only run occasionally, although avoiding seasonal peaks might be a positive consideration.
- Maturity of delivery organisation – often if an function or team has just been reorganised or undergone large scale change, it might not be the right time to introduce automation
- Nature of delivery model – does the structure of the way services are delivered impact the potential benefits?
- Readiness for change – is the targeted function or team ready to commit and accept such a disruptive change?
- Geography – can introduce limitation such as language, data movement, time zones; but can also offer opportunity to utilise automation to cover multiple time zones for more virtual operations.
- SLA Drivers – would automation improve SLA attainment, or do SLA’s have processing restrictions that would limit automation opportunities?
Only by understanding the relative Benefit/Effort matrix and the more cultural qualitative aspects can one begin to identify the automation projects which could deliver transformative power, rather than replace the odd FTE here and there.
As RPA champion, we recommend that you:
- Get rigour into your opportunity identification & assessment funnel.
- Pilot rather than build proof of concept (if it’s your first RPA project pick one that isn’t top-right on the grid). Consider carefully where to begin – successful rollout depends on it.
- Get independent insight into the RPA tools that are available – only then will you understand the art of the possible.
In part 2 for RPA champions we will explore how to build a business case for RPA.
If you would like to know a little more about useful questions to ask, what to do next and see a list of some ideal RPA processes take a look at: