RPA Is Just One Piece of the Automation Puzzle

With any technology experiencing massive adoption, there is no shortage of unwarranted hype. RPA is no exception as it has been the fastest-growing enterprise software category for the last three years. But, beyond the hype, RPA does deliver significant value and can radically transform how your enterprise works. You just need to realize what to expect of RPA before it’s unleashed.

Hype Leads to RPA’s Perceived Failure

The biggest fallacy fueling RPA’s hype machine is the term itself. It is not robotic process automation. More accurately, it is robotic task automation. The misnomer is responsible for some of the challenges the technology has faced in terms of scaling across the enterprise. The vast majority of companies that have deployed RPA still can’t get more than 10 bots into production.

Another major misperception for RPA is that automation will reduce operating costs by eliminating headcount. There is no doubt RPA does enable a team to do more with less, but promises of fewer resource requirements too often fail to materialize. Companies need to think more about the impact on employee experience and the value those employees deliver. RPA does a great job of automating low-value work so employees can focus on high-value activities. 

Finally, despite its reputation as a panacea for many enterprise ills, RPA often adds to an organization’s technical debt, which will eventually be a problem someone has to correct. There is no doubt RPA is fast, efficient, and less expensive than other methods. But, it’s more of a band-aid than a cure. 

For example, with analytics workloads, in particular, data is often generated in legacy mainframes and RPA is used in place of costly API integrations and other fixes. It provides a temporary fix to get a few more years out of a legacy system. Yes, it avoids a costly, time-consuming, and error-prone system upgrade. But it ignores the less obvious costs and inefficiencies associated with maintaining the legacy application, like performance, compliance, and security. These issues would typically be addressed by an upgrade but are too often pushed off by deploying RPA as an interim solution. 

Focus on Automation’s Value

The grand promise of RPA so frequently falls short due to over planning, the inability to identify key automation opportunities, and a disproportionate focus on short-term objectives to show wins even if they’re not aligned with corporate objectives. This is why many organizations spend 12-18 months before getting a single bot into production. 

Today, automation is the new transformation. After a decade or more of mediocre success rates and an overemphasis on customer experience initiatives, automation provided needed relief to address the transformation fatigue that many companies faced. Fortunately, RPA is not the only automation technology available to drive business value. 

Automation technologies are quite flexible and are being implemented across a wide variety of settings, from structured transactional activities to end-to-end processes. Use cases across the enterprise can be addressed using a variety of technologies. In addition to general user interface (UI) layer tools like RPA, there are domain-specific tools available to support various functions, like marketing automation. Other tools focus on data extraction to capture unstructured data and make it more usable. Technologists also have digital process automation platforms available to address deeper and wider workflows, and more traditional APIs can be used to integrate enterprise systems.

4 Automation Prerequisites

Regardless of the automation technology deployed, there are four vital actions to take before your company or department invests time, energy, and budget into a project. 

  1. Assess the overall process complexity. Insights on the applications involved and the amount of human expertise required will help guide technology selection and determine the feasibility of success. 
  2. Decide if the process is mission-critical or if you are automating just for the sake of automating. 
  3. Identify key metrics that will define a winning result. Whether it is speed or scale or accuracy or efficiency, you want to establish the goal in advance so you know when you can celebrate. 
  4. Proceed only with fully detailed process documentation. To improve tomorrow, you need to understand where you are today. It’s common sense. No one says they are going to lose 20 pounds but do not know how much they currently weigh. Unfortunately, too many organizations try — and fail — to automate a process that they do not fully understand how they complete today.

It all makes sense. Before you begin, you need to know where you’re starting from, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. Automation is no different. And, if you truly want to succeed in transforming how your business operates, you must realize RPA is just one piece of the automation puzzle.