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Questions to Ask about Processes before Implementing RPA

Digital roadmaps that were once planned and measured in years have quickly accelerated and proven their worth since the beginning of 2020, in the climate of the ongoing pandemic. This stands true even for areas like complex business-to-business (B2B) sales, that are traditionally done in person.

In the past, it seemed as if in-person meetings for B2B transactions were paramount to close sales. In a recent survey, Bain research has discovered that more than 70% of B2B buyers, plus a growing number of sellers, have reached the conclusion that virtual sales calls are as effective as in-person ones when it comes to complex products. That still stands true for products that involve a high degree of customisation and configuration.

“A recent survey shows than 70% of B2B buyers have reached the conclusion that virtual sales calls are as effective as in-person ones when it comes to complex products. “

The same survey shows that 80% of companies are accelerating their automation effort in response to Covid-19. Looking at past experiences, this type of efforts usually weaken with time, and it’s highly likely that only about 1/2 of these companies will achieve their automation performance goals. In the recovery process, companies need to keep investing in and extending their previous tactics for crisis response to be able to successfully profit of automation strategies. Long-term success will depend on redesigning work and processes to be suitable for automation.

By now, most people in business have heard about robotic process automation and its ability to use software robots to either fully or partially take over the task of completing processes within the office.

The key to automation is to assist an organisation to improve and/or remain competitive across our fast and changing business environment. For these reasons and the many benefits RPA has been shown to bring, it is slowly but surely becoming a “must” for businesses of all sizes. Because, as UiPath rightfully puts it, “robots are here to stay”.

At this point, you might rightly wonder about the criteria you should have in mind when picking the processes most suitable for robotic process automation.

What should you consider when making a choice?

We discussed in a previous article the five factors that ought to be examined when designing an automation plan. Now we focus on the actual questions that you should be asking yourself in order to make the most out of implementing robotic process automation.

Are your processes ready for robotic process automation?

First of all, it is advisable that you start from a very concrete problem and have a clear objective to be attained. Let us say that you are an open-minded business manager, open to innovation as long as it brings you profit and promises sustained long-term development.

To this end, after having been brought up to date with respect to the latest available technologies, you make a sound business case that automation is the way to go. But, where exactly should you start from?

1. Is the process rules based?

Processes with clear processing instructions (template driven), with decision making based on standardised and predictive rules make automating easier. Should it have many exceptions, it is likely to be overly complex, therefore increasing cost and time to implement. Software robots are largely designed to handle tasks that allow a clear formulation in conditional format. For example, “If address X is encountered in database Y, update database Z at position zn”.

2. Are there measurable savings?

The CiGen team recommends to commence automation with processes that can be evaluated against a known cost and/or time basis. The cost savings or benefit gained can typically be expressed in terms of greater accuracy, faster response times, reduced labour costs and higher productivity from re-allocating staff.

3. Does the process have readable inputs?

Processes require readable input types, including text based data, user interface (UI) activities (keyboard strokes, mouse clicks, etc), Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and green screen. Processes can operate within almost any application or environment, such as desktop, Citrix, web, server, etc. Ensure your process has readable inputs – if they do not, then investigate what steps are required to obtain them.

4. Is the process manual and repetitive?

Processes that require a high degree of manual input, structured and repetitive input involve activities that are more susceptible to human error. Unless the answer to this question is ‘yes’, it is perhaps better to leave it to your creative, bright-minded employees.

5. What type of data does the process work with – structured or unstructured?

Robotic process automation calls for structured data, like that made available in an ERP application, Excel file, etc. Unstructured data, like the free-form content within the body of an email, must often be pre-processed and turned into a structured format for robots to successfully automate.

Leave these types of processes until later in your automation cycle once you have learned how to get the most out of your RPA solution. These types of task generally end poorly if attempted early in an implementation. Also, always consider the cost/benefit when working with unstructured data.

6. Are the process(es) high volume and/or high frequency?

High transaction volume processes (including batch processes), such as those that run end of day and end of month, or high frequency processes, such as those that run intra-daily, daily and weekly offer excellent payback. We recommend starting some of these type of processes once you have built some good experience with your RPA development tool (i.e. midway through your pilot program, not at the start).

7. Mature and stable?

The more stable the process, the more smooth and effective (and thus cost-efficient) its automated version. The reason behind this is that RPA should always change whenever some steps in the process change.

But more adjustments also mean more hassle, and therefore reduced efficiency. And since efficiency is one top benefit of RPA, this is something you certainly do not want. Moreover, since their operational costs are consistent and well-defined, stable processes are also predictable.

8. What process automations should you avoid?

Seek to avoid automating processes that are either marked for re-work, continually change over the short to medium term, or those that will be eliminated in the near term.

Key takeaway: implementing robotic process automation

Globally, software robots will grow substantially in 2018 and disrupt the operational norms of many companies as robotic process automation is embedded in the front and back-office teams of small, medium and large organisations.

Let that sink in for a minute – it means that more and more employees will be engaged to conduct higher value work in order to improve customer experience, or come up with innovative ideas that support economic development at both the micro and macro scale of the organisation. Most of all, standardised, repetitive and high volume/frequency processes will be the realm of software robots, not people.

We believe that the eight questions above should help you to start automation in a positive fashion, and perhaps even start big. Hopefully, they will bring you one step closer to becoming part of the increasing number of innovative companies that turn to robotic process automation in 2020.