Holiday season – hooray! How to maintain RPA productivity during downtime

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As the schools have broken up and the UK basks in another mini heatwave, thoughts turn to holidays and turning on an out of office. Robotics Process Automation (RPA) means that digital workers run 24/7 operation and don’t make mistakes. But, the technology requires significant amounts of runtime maintenance and scheduling to continue to add value in an organisation.

How does an organisation develop and maintain RPA initiatives once they are up and running? Unsurprisingly management consultancy Deloitte revealed that 63 per cent of organisations implementing RPA will need to work alongside a dedicated third-party partner for their advice and expertise. The required skills are either scarce or lacking in many organisations which is where partner organisations become invaluable. When holiday season comes around, how do organisations make the most of RPA and ensure digital workers operate smoothly?

Identifying challenges

The ultimate success of RPA is determined by the transformative change it brings about. Reaching this point requires a robust and effective runtime management to underpin and drive RPA so its full potential can be realised.

There are many aspects to robust and reliable RPA maintenance but at a high level it needs to provide 24/7 maintenance and monitoring to ensure automated and critical processes run smoothly. It should also be able to handle incidents that result from external factors such as system or network error and updates.

Many organisations face challenges in this area. These are largely based around issues such as capacity, scalability and cost. For capacity, the number of processes that one maintenance specialist is able to handle is related to the complexity of the automation, the quality of the build and the criticality of the process. In terms of scalability, a well-organised RPA delivery team typically delivers 1-3 automations per developer per quarter. During the holiday season, these automations need to be accounted for so that any issues can be identified and resolved by reviewing incident logs by a skilled maintenance specialist.

The challenges are not immediately apparent because the initial RPA focus tends to be on choosing turn-key solutions, deciding which processes to automate, redesigning processes for effective automation and training in-house staff.

In terms of cost, the digital workforce is only creating value when the robots are working as intended. Downtime can have a vast impact on the cost of RPA projects, with cost implications getting exponentially worse as the length of downtime continues.

Establishing capacity

When an organisation wants to scale up, potential roadblocks to success become apparent. RPA requires significant amounts of runtime maintenance as it is scaled. A run management service needs to initially calculate the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) rate for each automated process and when the RPA has matured, accurately project how this FTE rate will change.  At the beginning of any RPA implementation the FTE rate is likely to be 1 FTE for five to ten processes. However, as the process matures there will likely be higher number automations for 1 FTE.

This is important because it helps determine the run management service capacity. Implicit within this capacity model is an understanding of how many digital worker automations will be delivered each year by developers. Is the organisation happy with its current digital workforce scope or will it be deploying new automations each year and if so how many? If automation growth is part of the plan, and for many it is, it clearly impacts on FTE.

It makes sense that the delivery team actually handles maintenance. However, there is major structural weakness in this approach that is not readily apparent. There is a tendency for developers to transform into full-time RPA maintainers when they have deployed 5-10 solutions to production. But this can create a roadblock.

Avoiding project slowdown

If developers switch to an all-important maintenance role, scaling up the RPA platform can slow down the process and potentially the entire project can come to a stand-still. This can be quite costly as the most significant benefits of RPA are linked to volume and deploying the technology on an industrial scale.

Setting up, running, and growing an in-house maintenance team also has its costs. 10 processes in production usually requires one full-time maintenance specialist. If one FTE is calculated at the cost of €70,000 a year, which is an industry standard, then the cost of maintaining 10 processes is €70,000. Of course, as the number of processes grows so does the cost.

And with in-house maintenance teams there are likely to be downtimes. This isn’t an aspersion on a team’s ability rather it’s the recognition that downtime does happen and it can be costly. It goes without saying that the more downtime the greater the cost. Considering the cost of downtime, it is clear that setting up effective maintenance is required for productive automations.

Optimal performance, successful expansion

These are just some of the issues an organisation will face with RPA run-time maintenance. Other factors such as the complexity of the automations, quality of the build, and criticality of the process are also going to influence maintenance especially in the early stages of the project.

This is why it’s so important to choose a good partner that not only guarantees maximised up-time for the automated processes but can also boost the overall quality of automation by taking into account the issues mentioned above and others. An experienced run management service partner will put the processes through a quality test so when they are in production they are operating at a peak level. This delivers optimal performance and equally important provides a solid foundation for scalability and successful RPA expansion.

Robots will work 24/7 without making mistakes, ensuring staff are freed up to concentrate on value added work. But someone needs to maintain their automated processes, trouble shoot issues and flag potential changes before they turn into downtime. An experienced maintenance person, or partner organisation, needs to be involved in the day to day operations of ensuring smooth running of the automated processes. 

James Ewing, UK Sales Director, Digital Workforce