Radiant Digital has over twenty years of experience, helping customers re-engineer their business processes. This article is the first in a two-part series on business process automation. In this series, we will discuss the evolution of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), how to begin your automation journey, and how to promote success.

Evolution of RPA

Operational efficiency is a powerful strategic lever for organizations seeking to reduce costs and improve customer and employee satisfaction. Over the last three decades, human resources’ value has become the common denominator in the equation to enhance operational efficiency. As such, organizations have limited options, such as 1) shifting resources to more economical locations; 2) outsourcing work to other organizations or partners; 3) offshoring work to other countries; and 4) offshoring work to partners.

Just-in-time management techniques, geographical time advantage, increased availability of skilled resources, globalization, and favorable trade pacts have favored these approaches. Organizations have enjoyed the results for nearly two and a half decades. However, several factors force companies to look for alternatives or supplement outsourcing models that provide additional efficiencies. These factors include rapidly advancing digital technologies, cybersecurity threats, populism, increased outsourcing costs, tax laws changes, and knowledge loss through the aging workforce.

Recently, digital enterprises have increasingly focused on a business process automation strategy to increase operational efficiency further. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools propelled this change and yield the following key advantages:

  • Cost-effective: RPA solutions are relatively economical, and return on investment is very high
  • High velocity: Business processes can be automated and deployed into production swiftly
  • Codeless automation: Advancements in technology and RPA solutions allow business users to automate with little coding experience
  • Enhance human capabilities: RPA will take laborious and tedious tasks from humans and will allow them to focus on high-value activities.
  • Minimal disruption: RPA solutions can quickly augment humans in the existing processes with minimum disruption
  • Complex task execution: in some cases, RPA solutions with advanced capabilities (e.g., machine learning, OCR) can perform complex tasks more accurately than humans.

Where to begin? A good beginning makes a good ending.

The first step in realizing the benefits of RPA is to decide where and how to begin implementation. The best possible candidates for RPA should choose via a decision and scoring framework. For example, a decision framework might include process attributes such as:

  • Stability: Processes stable with limited variation are optimal candidates for automation as they yield quick returns and require little maintenance.
  • Repetitiveness: A candidate process should include repetitive tasks to realize the exponential value of RPA.
  • Documentation: Processes should document sufficiently such that all the stakeholders can agree and provide sign-off.
  • Structure: Processes structured with a clear decision and action criteria are more comfortable with automating.

Certain types of processes that usually don’t require human intervention are definitive candidates for RPA. Exemplar candidates include:

Swivel-chair processes are tasks that require users to refer to multiple systems to retrieve data. For example, some network operation users need to access various systems, pull up data, and compare them using various screens before responding to customers. So, checking equipment purchases and delivery status, which takes on an average of a week for fulfillment, is a repeatable task by hundreds of customer service representatives across the organization. This well-structured and documented process has matured to offer consistent customer service. Hence, the operations that involve swivel-chairing are the best candidates to pilot RPA. When the process is automated, the user’s expertise and knowledge become invaluable in validating and optimizing the process.

End-user computing processes, for example, in financial or health services, workers are often required to provide updated information to customers—e.g., computing insurance premiums, generating an amortization schedule based on daily market changes, or developing new risk models. End-users typically build these models in their choice of tools, pull data from secure sources, and analyze outcomes based on market trends. The process of removing data from source systems, conditioning, and formatting data to feed into the model doesn’t change frequently. RPA can automate this repeatable process so users can focus on value-added activities such as modeling and analyzing data.

HR operations – HR operational activities have been the same for a long time for many organizations. Digitization forces HR departments to harness social media for talent acquisition and use SaaS platforms to accomplish various activities.  However, operational activities are still cumbersome, as they involve many manual steps. For example, prompting employees to submit timesheets, running background checks, and on-boarding are simple activities but require multiple prompts and sometimes require a soft nudge. RPA bot can easily accomplish these steps and free up time for more human activities. Since these are age-old stable processes, they are also relatively easy to automate and earn good returns on RPA.

Enterprise reporting – Large programs require reporting to be done with data compiled from multiple tools. No matter how advanced tools become, as programs and organizations evolve, they don’t meet all reporting requirements. For example, we had to pull data from seven different tools across three organizations to report the program status accurately. This process has nearly 35 steps that took 4.5 hours each day to aggregate, condition, and format data to compile multiple reports. For the program that runs at jet speed, reports with a data lag of 24 hours are pretty stale. Using the RPA bot, we have automated the entire process and brought the total time to less than 30 minutes, and this automation allowed us to generate reports as often as required. These are great candidates for RPA as they provide instant visibility to key stakeholders and decision-makers.

Manual / Paper Processing – Many organizations still use large amounts of paper received via faxes or manual submissions to fulfill a business need. It requires a lot of time and is prone to errors as the manual operators input data into other processing systems. RPA platforms, with their ability to scan and learn using advanced technologies, can become very handy in accelerating the business process and significantly reducing errors while assisting and relieving the burden to employees to focus on high-value functions.

The success of RPA adoption by different organizations largely depends on where and how they start. As discussed above, once organizations get the hang of it, results lend themselves to further the case of automation.

Our next article in this two-part series will dive deep into critical success factors and hitching RPA bots with Chatbots to make it even more powerful. Connect with one of our experts at Radiant to learn more!