The rapid progress of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has generated business benefits across many industries and for many companies, small and large. However, we at Virtual Operations are observing that RPA deployment is at risk of hitting a glass ceiling – a barrier preventing the next level of progression to true transformative automation. This is because RPA is predominantly applied at only the process level and the processes that are being automated tend to be a rework of today’s processes – this approach will typically result in just a fraction of the total potential benefits being addressed.
RPA adopters may still see faster processes, increases in efficiency and savings in headcount. This after all is what organisations are looking for and predominantly what the RPA technology provides. But the optimum benefit from process automation is nowhere near being realised and early adopters are already hitting a glass ceiling?
What we believe is missing in most process automation programmes is a more structured approach and broader strategy including:
- a redesign of the way work is executed;
- analytical input from organisations’ process excellence teams to reduce process steps or redesign processes;
- utilising process automation as a catalyst for restructuring or transforming service delivery;
- exploiting RPA to facilitate straight through processing within an organisation, and between its multiple operations teams, its suppliers and its customers;
- application of multiple technology including AI, RPA, Desktop Automation and Analytics Tools.
Undoubtedly the benefits of process automation, even on a single process, can be substantial and varied, from reducing headcount and seat cost, to increasing regulatory compliance, to improving cash management; and for point solutions like backlog reduction, post-M&A data migration and work repatriation to name just a few.
For these benefits to be realised a certain set of criteria within a process must be recognised. At Virtual Operations we have developed an assessment tool to analyse and score these criteria to accurately predict the value and benefit of automating a process. The score is higher, for example, if the input is structured, the processing variables are relatively low, the process is triggered digitally, or the interacting systems are few. The score is boosted if data preparation is simple and the automation will reduce processing exceptions.
This is a perfectly valid approach on a process by process basis but this is where the level of the glass ceiling is encountered. For many organisations automation projects are focused at this (process) level. However, if they have disparate and dispersed operations, there will not be the concentration of processing to really exploit the features of RPA deployed alone. This is where it becomes harder to find ways of breaking through the glass ceiling to achieve the next level of benefit.
We believe that there are three principal ways to smash the glass ceiling;
The first is where to focus the initial analysis and deployment.
In a previous thought piece (here) we discussed whether the target should be at the level of a single or group of processes, across operational teams, or to meet specific service objectives. A few months on from that paper, the emphasis still seems to be at the process level. The broader and deeper the view taken in targeting automation, the greater the benefits will be – although the trade-off will be a potentially longer project.
The chart below shows the trade-offs between speed and span.
The second approach is about matching the appropriate automation tool, or tools, to the problem to be addressed.
We see many clients who have selected a product (the proverbial hammer) and then spend time looking around for a problem process (the nail) to hit. There will be far greater benefit if an end-to-end operation is analysed resulting in the development of a more strategic solution. This might well include a hybrid approach to developing an automation platform that comprises a mix of automation tools – RPA with AI, desktop automation and digital data entry.
Further opportunities can be identified by looking at how an organisations suppliers and clients interact currently. For example: to work with and ask suppliers to submit invoices electronically; or to integrate the flow of data between claimants, insurance companies and support services.
The third method is to concentrate on the way that work is actually organised in an operational area.
For example, it is quite usual in large processing teams for lots of people to be executing multiple processes. If just one or two of those processes are automated it can deliver productivity benefits but it is difficult to achieve headcount related savings because only a portion of a person’s work has been automated. We advocate an assessment of the different types of processes by work type – it could be purely transactional, it could be case-based or it could be more specialised. Typically teams are organised by job content (e.g. Payroll or Claims) and then the type of work: but if the reverse happens, and teams are primarily organised around the type of work, then the scale of benefits realisable from automation becomes more apparent. Once the transactional work has been identified and resources are grouped this way, then the overall benefits of automation can be enhanced. In some instances this might be to release headcount, in others it might be to release staff from mundane activities and focus more on the higher value specialised and case based work.
There is little doubt that RPA has generated business benefits in most areas of deployment since its initial uptake – but more is achievable. By taking a more strategic approach and adopting a broader view of process, we’re confident that the three principal steps discussed can go a long way to smashing the proverbial glass ceiling and assist in achieving true transformation.
Contact us on +44 2035 891 549 to find out more, or email firstname.lastname@example.org