GUEST OPINION by Chris Ellis, APAC Technical Evangelist, Nintex: As increasing numbers of organisations tackle the challenge of digital transformation, many are coming to understand the important part played by robotic process automation (RPA) software.
RPA can deliver significant benefits by automating tedious manual processes and freeing staff to focus their time and efforts on more value-adding tasks. Many firms are already reporting significant returns on their investments in this area.
However, as with any innovative approach, it can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of automation without fully comprehending the context and process for successful implementation.
There are five key steps that need to be taken to complete an effective RPA project:
1. Formulate a strategy
The implementation of RPA should not be seen as a bandage to overcome troublesome problems with existing processes. Rather, it should be a carefully considered approach to better enabling business strategy. Areas to be considered include cost management, differentiation, and focus.
The most common benefit of RPA is that it allows processes to be executed more economically. That means reducing the time and resources required, and the number of defects produced. RPA can also increase customer satisfaction through faster responses, unique approaches to customer service, and reduced errors in data handling.
Ideally, RPA should be considered as part of a wider strategic plan. Investment in it should be evaluated in the same way as other investments, and compared, tested, and adopted based on alignment to the existing clearly-defined business strategies.
An effective way to ensure strategic alignment is to foster a robust approach to process management. This provides a good framework through visibility over all end-to-end processes and operations that are in place.
2. Examine what is being automated
It’s important to have a clear picture of what effects RPA will have before any deployment is started. Once there is strategic alignment for the project, you then need to identify the best candidates for RPA, and further define, baseline, and optimise them.
A process map is the start of standard work, which is about ensuring that things are done in a consistent and repeatable manner. Before any automation takes place, it’s vital that the process map faithfully represents the ‘as-is’ state of your process and not an aspirational or legacy depiction of the procedure.
With the process map captured, teams have a foundation for applying RPA technology. First, however, those processes need to be thoroughly reviewed and optimised.
3. Make your processes lean
The ‘lean’ approach to process improvement is a systematic methodology intended to increase value for the customer by eliminating waste. While the application of lean principles varies a great deal across different organisations, purists argue that true lean demands a company-wide commitment to the approach in order to get true value from it. However, the reality is there are immediate benefits that can come from applying simple lean concepts to existing processes.
Some of those ‘quick wins’ include applying ‘value stream mapping’ to remove waste, improve process flow, and quantify the cycle time. Each of these improvements will have a significant impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, providing sustainable gains for the business, and support the application of automation technologies like RPA.
4. Identify and reduce defects
Under a lean approach, defects are one of the seven kinds of ‘waste’ and it’s likely that process defects are costing more than is realised. The effects of defects are widespread and can include annoyed customers, re-work, increased costs, and even regulatory risks.
Applying automation to a process that suffers these kinds of defects will only amplify the problems. It’s essential that the defects are identified, and a strategy developed to reduce them before automation technology is brought into play.
As well as identifying defects, they also need to be tagged with information about the type and volume of events. That data enables process experts to target their efforts to reduce or eliminate the defects, using anything from standardised forms or data to reducing paper artifacts and manual handling.
5. Involve your people
Be open and honest with your teams about the process and goals of your automation strategy. Some people feel threatened by the technology, afraid it will eliminate the need for their jobs. Help them understand your intent and the likely impacts on both them and the business.
Process improvement needs buy-in from the teams involved, so before you begin changing processes and applying new technologies, ensure you have clear communication with those affected and consider them in the decisions you make.
By following these five steps, the likelihood that an RPA project will be a success is greatly enhanced. The promises of reduced costs, improved productivity and enhanced customer service will shift from strategic goals into reality.
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