Q&A: RPA is a solution, not a strategy

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1.            What are the benefits of RPA for businesses?

Organisations are beginning to take notice of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and the benefits it can bring. Essentially, RPA enables companies to automate routine processes that are repetitive and time intensive. RPA can be used across businesses’ entire operations from the finance, legal and HR functions right down to the supply chain process, helping them to cut costs and improve accuracy and compliance.

Looking to the future and the rapidly changing nature of the workplace, RPA can serve as a digital workforce assistant, helping team members speed up processes and reduce the possibility of human error. It empowers staff to spend more time on complex, value-adding tasks, while their new bot assistants can handle the more administrative side of work.

With Gartner’s latest findings revealing that the RPA market grew 63 per cent in 2018, it’s now the fastest growing enterprise software category. So, it’s no real surprise that businesses are diving in to automate far and wide across their operations.

2.            Is RPA always the answer?

In short, no. As attractive as low investment costs and simplified processes are, it’s important that businesses don’t rush blindly into adopting RPA. Enterprises often don’t understand where the inefficiencies in their operations are before they look to automation, but without knowing what’s going wrong first, any RPA initiative is likely to fail.

3.            How can businesses ensure that their RPA implementation is successful?

Ultimately, RPA is a solution, not a strategy. RPA can be a valuable tactic – but only once a business has identified the best opportunities for automation. Leaders should focus on uncovering the opportunities that will have the greatest impact on the business and that will create seamless processes throughout their operations.

In many cases, the reason why RPA initiatives fail is because businesses are leading with it as a solution before identifying the root of the problem. Recent studies show that ROI from RPA deployment can vary enormously (from 30 per cent to 200 per cent), depending on how effectively automation is aligned to processes.

Recent research we conducted revealed that despite mounting pressure to embark on digital transformation, businesses are still at a loss when it comes to executing transformation programmes – with nearly half (44 per cent) deeming them a waste of time. With a quarter (25 per cent) of enterprises spending over £500,000 on business transformation projects in the last year, organisations run the risk of incurring huge costs with no return.

Most organisations are struggling with transformation initiatives because they are diving headfirst into execution before properly understanding what actually needs changing. In fact, 82 per cent of C-suite executives admitted that they do not review their internal business processes to gain a better understanding of what needs to be prioritised when setting goals and KPIs for their transformation programmes. 

The first step to ensuring a successful RPA implementation is to gain a thorough overview and understanding of how the business is currently running. Major roadblocks to inefficiency must be pinpointed in order to identify what needs to be prioritised first in automation. This means that once deployed, RPA can help the organisation to cut costs and increase efficiency in the most effective, targeted way.

4.            Are there any other technologies that can help ensure RPA is used in the right way?

One way in which enterprises can take a more strategic approach to their automation is through technology such as process mining, a category of data analytics that detects patterns in event log data. This approach can help enterprises visualise activities as well as understand how processes are correlating within their business operations.

Process mining creates a business process map to highlight areas of inefficiency and suggests improvements that could be made. By identifying which processes need the most attention, enterprises can weigh up whether automation is the answer and decide where best to implement RPA within the company.

5.            Can you give any examples of successful RPA implementation?

Vodafone is a great example of a business that has successfully increased automation in its operations, specifically in its accounting department. With 446 million customers globally and 19.5 million in the UK, Vodafone is one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, dealing with vast quantities of data every day generated by millions of transactions.

Vodafone is one of the few companies in the world that is on its second iteration of digital transformation, where companies use technology to overcome increasingly complex problems. Take Vodafone’s procurement unit, for example, which issues 800,000 purchase orders (POs) and processes five million invoices annually. The biggest challenge in all of this lies in being able to analyse these buying practices effectively.

To tackle the problem, Vodafone spent nine months building a new platform that used RPA to streamline a number of tasks, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning to spot patterns and boost predictive modelling. This improved visibility has given the team access to efficiency metrics, enabling them to pinpoint the areas that required improvement. Not only this, but the speed of analysis has helped the firm improve its cost effectiveness overall.

Before adopting RPA, Vodafone had a perfect PO rate of 73 per cent. Today, Vodafone can boast a perfect PO rate of 92 per cent. In addition, the cost per PO was previously £2.49; this has now decreased to £2.18 per purchase order. With millions of transactions happening daily within Vodafone’s operations, this has helped the company achieve significant savings.

The implementation of RPA has completely overhauled Vodafone’s procurement process. The firm now has access to a detailed overview of its operations, and has increased its efficiency and improved its bottom line.

Alexander Rinke, co-founder and co-CEO, Celonis