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Everyone wants to scale RPA – but how do you do it well?

(Image credit: Image Credit: MNBB Studio / Shutterstock)

One of the biggest problems for organisations when they start automating their business processes with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is how to sustain and scale up these activities. The reality is that not enough business automation projects are really motoring beyond the pilot stage – to be blunt, having good intentions and good RPA technologies just isn’t enough.

The key here is having the right delivery methodology – while retaining a team, with the right skills to action this - right from the start. These are ‘the’ critical factors that determine success and failure. I’ll discuss the following steps that must be undertaken to ensure that a RPA programme becomes an ongoing value generator across an organisation’s operations.

Be visionary 

For any RPA programme to have a chance of success, a strategy and purpose is needed. This could be improving data quality, operational efficiency, process quality and employee empowerment, or enhancing stakeholder experiences by providing quicker, more accurate responses. Whatever the rationale any RPA strategy must be aligned to wider needs of the business.

If they haven’t already been involved in creating the vision, engage key stakeholders to secure their backing.  If they see RPA as a strategic business project, they’ll support it – and provide the necessary financial and human resources too. Although RPA is usually managed by a business team, it will still be governed by the IT team using existing practices, so they must also be involved at the beginning. IT will support RPA on many critical fronts, such as compliance with IT security, auditability, the supporting infrastructure, its configuration and scalability.

Get organised

So RPA can most effectively scale as automation demand increases, plan where it sits within the business. A centralised approach encompasses the entire organisation, so it may be beneficial to embed this into a RPA ‘centre of excellence’ (CoE) or at least move towards creating this CoE operating environment. 

Another effective approach is the ‘federated’ model where the RPA capability sits within a particular function but is scaled across the business, with the central automation team controlling standards and best practice. This is achieved by creating delivery pods throughout the organisation, responsible for identification and delivery of their own automated processes - governed by the CoE.

However, avoid lapsing into a divisional approach at all costs - where multiple RPA functions run separately across the organisation with differing infrastructure, governance, and delivery teams. Naturally, this ‘siloed’ non-collaborative, poorly controlled set up is guaranteed to prevent true, scale ever being achieved.

Best process selection

When identifying process automation opportunities – always select ones that will generate the fastest benefits, and be crystal clear about what makes a truly good process. For example, best options are those processes involving a high volume of manual and repetitive tasks, or suffer from human errors, or require customer experience improvements – such as faster response times. 

However, prior to automation, think carefully about streamlining or improving processes as this requires additional time, cost and effort and usually results in only minor improvements to the automated solution. Any decision should always depend on the overall strategic business objectives for automation. If the requirement is for ultra smooth process delivery go ahead and improve it, but if cost cutting is the core aim, just automate an ‘as is’ process.

Next up, talk with IT to ensure that there isn’t any maintenance planned for the target application, or the process automation will have to be stalled. To guarantee the traceability of the automation program and before any activities take place, a set of indicators should also be agreed - including; financial, process, quality and performance related KPIs.

Also, consider how to generate demand for RPA within the business. Proven routes include running internal communication programmes and workshops for engagement or providing employee incentives for identifying suitable processes. Also, establish meaningful measures of RPA’s value such as how many hours saved - and what they accomplished and alignment with core strategic business metrics like contribution to operational efficiency and employee retention.

Start delivering with care 

To actually start automating processes, capture the correct information in the define phase to avoid problems, so involve knowledgeable subject matter experts in this activity. It’s also worth holding a process walk-through for the right audience. Each chosen automated process must be documented and an understanding gained of how it will differ from the same human process. Once this has all been agreed with the business, and the process design authority has approved the proposed blueprint and conducted the necessary peer reviews - development can begin. Only when the business is satisfied, can sign-off testing begin.

Smooth operator

Now processes are in production, they need the right support around them. So ensure that Digital Workers are handing back business referrals, or exceptions, to the operational team for manual intervention, and that a technical capability is readily available in case the Digital Workers don’t act as expected. Ultimately, to ensure continuity and availability of automation resources, there must be a robust, supporting IT infrastructure.

Train and retain the RPA team

Appointing a high-quality lead developer is essential to deal with the inevitable RPA pain points but these people can be extremely difficult to find in the current market. Developers will need to be trained to the highest standard in development and process analysis. This way, can perform in a hybrid role, while receiving on-site support from an experienced consultant. As a development team continues to grow, appoint a Design Authority to ensure standards are maintained and a Control Room Monitor to manage the production robots.

Having the best talent in RPA is the life blood of any successful initiative and with these skills being increasingly more sought after has led to demand outweighing supply. Therefore, it’s worth considering a partner that provides the human resources, governance, management and methodologies to support global learning programmes and integrate training into rapidly expanding RPA implementations.

In fact, some partners will even source, train and mentor a fully accredited RPA team of people within weeks. This team is then committed for several years and are subsequently equipped to maintain a dynamic, sustainable centre of intelligent automation excellence. 

Don’t forget the tech

When deploying a RPA platform decide if it’s a virtual machine set up, how to manage license provisioning for future scaling, as well as choosing between a cloud-based solution, or on-premise hosting of the platform. Those that operate in a regulated sector - on-premise may be the best bet, or opt for cloud deployment if speed to market is a key driver. 

Fast forward 

Ultimately, to gain the best results with RPA, the complete journey must be defined upfront, rather than waiting for mistakes and then correcting after. Once company-wide support is gained and a vision of desired results created, starting small is recommended, then start delivering – while learning fast - to allow the RPA programme to really thrive as it scales across the business.

Jack Rimmer, director, Robiquity