People. Process. Technology. A three-word mantra for implementing RPA successfully. Part 1 of a 3-part series.
Recently, we had the privilege of being invited by the Institute of Systems Science at National University of Singapore (NUS-ISS) to speak at a seminar titled “Transforming your Business with RPA”.
At the seminar, we shared some use cases of how companies are using RPA in Singapore, and what some of the best practices are, as well as the common pitfalls and challenges faced by Singapore companies in their RPA implementations.
You can view the presentation slides here.
During the panel discussion, a member from the audience asked a great question:
“We are a multinational company, and our headquarters wants us to implement RPA. Where should we start?”
With every enterprise of all shapes and sizes looking to get onboard the RPA bandwagon, this is definitely a very relevant question.
Truth be told, we are not a strong advocate of a top-down approach to implementing RPA, at least not in the initial stages when the benefits of RPA remain unproven. Rather, we favour the bottom-up approach where end users initiate an evaluation of the technology as a means to solving their current pain points.
But we digress.
Going back to the question, our advice would be to focus on people, process, then technology (in this order).
Perhaps to a casual observer, this advice might appear somewhat surprising. After all, isn’t RPA about getting bots to perform the mundane, repetitive tasks previously handled by humans? Shouldn’t we focus on the technology (i.e. the bots) first and foremost?
The elephant in the RPA room
To answer this question, we need to delve deeper into how RPA implementations are usually carried out.
A typical RPA implementation will begin with the Process Selection Workshop (PSW), where a large number of processes are assessed for their suitability for automation. Next, a Process Deep Dive (PDD) will be carried out where the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will perform a gemba walk of the shortlisted process “as is”. A business case for RPA will then be built. Only when approved will the actual design and development of the bots begin (i.e. process kick-off).
The astute reader among you will quickly notice that the SME plays a critical role in the steps described above. In particular, the SME needs to provide accurate and complete description of the existing process in order for the RPA developer to program the bots appropriately.
Therein lies the potential conflict of interests. Assuming the RPA implementation proceeds successfully, would the SME inadvertently make himself/herself redundant?
Upton Sinclair said it best:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
(There are now means to skirt around this issue, but that will be a topic for another day 😊)
This could be one of the main reasons why the reported failure rate of RPA projects is as high as 30-50%.
Quite clearly, employees buy-in is a critical success factor for any RPA initiatives. But how do you achieve that?
How to allay employee fears of RPA
The key is change management, and having a well thought-out communications plan. Many business leaders commit the mistake of viewing RPA as just another IT project while ignoring the human element.
Fears by employees about job displacements are understandable, and over-hyped. In the 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research survey, a majority (45%) of respondents think that automation will make their job better. A whopping 72% of respondents are happy to retrain if they are paid the same or more than their current pay.
At the end of day, employees are simply looking for an equitable distribution of the gains from automation. This is what one of our clients (who by the way is extremely successful in introducing automation) has to say -
"We use automation to help our employees increase productivity amid a tight labour market. As long as our employees remain open to retraining, the company will never allow automation to take their jobs away!"
Together Everyone Automates More (TEAM)
But first, you will need to form you RPA tiger team.
This is a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary team that is also commonly known as the RPA Centre of Excellence (RPA CoE) or the Robotic Operating Team. The main objective of this tiger team is to promote and proliferate the use of the RPA technologies to address business challenges, and in so doing, help the organization achieve the desired level of operational excellence.
A fully functional RPA CoE will consists of the following roles:
From the above, the two most critical roles (which needs to be filled first) are the RPA sponsor and the RPA champion.
The RPA sponsor is typically a member of the executive management team. He/she will endorse RPA as an enterprise-wide strategic priority, establishes the goals and objectives of the RPA initiative, and underwrite the corporate resources necessary to bring all this to fruition.
The RPA champion, on the other hand, is the chief evangelist who will help drive RPA adoption across the entire organization. He/she is responsible for the overall success of the RPA programme, and is directly answerable to the RPA sponsor. Ideally, the RPA champion is someone well-respected within the organization, and has the necessary clout to exert pressure across the various departments or business units to overcome resistance to RPA, and to provide timely problem-resolution.
As for the rest of the tiger team, you can choose to either insource or outsource them. As RPA is still an emerging technology after all, finding existing employees within your organization with the necessary capabilities might be a big ask.
As such, to shortcut your organization’s learning curve, you may choose to onboard people with the requisite experience, or even work with external consultants.
One last, but important point about the team.
It is perfectly fine for either business or IT to own the RPA programme. But as mentioned earlier, the team itself needs to be cross-functional. Business, IT (including security), HR and even marketing all needs to be involved.
Wait a minute. Did I just say marketing?
Yes, RPA has the potential to become a disruptive change agent for true digital transformation, if a whole-of-organization approach is adopted. Just take a look at the example of KAS BANK in the Netherlands.
KAS BANK is using RPA in their marketing communications as a competitive advantage and differentiation, by explaining how they are using RPA to add value for their customers.
As we mentioned in How Singapore companies can accelerate their digital transformation through a robotisation programme, investors are paying increasing attention on how companies are managing digital disruption. Against this backdrop, companies that do not have a formal digital transformation strategy in place are being viewed as laggards by the investment community.
Rallying the troops
Once your tiger team is in place, you need to start rallying your employees. Town halls can be an effective format for engaging your staff, addressing any concerns that they may have, and ultimately securing their buy-in for this “all-hands” digital transformation effort.
These town halls should be a two-way dialogue. On the one hand, it is a forum for the team to share with the entire company what RPA is, why the organization needs to embark on RPA, what would be the impact (if any) on existing jobs, etc. Particular emphasis should be placed on what does it means for your employees.
On the other hand, it is also an opportunity for your employees to raise any objections or concerns that they may have. Such concerns typically revolve around job redundancies, retraining and redeployment, and the like. This is understandable and totally to be expected, so it is important not to skirt around such questions, and come prepared with a satisfactory response.
Town halls can also be a good opportunity to give your employees a first-look at RPA, and to dazzle and wow them. For example, you can show a video recording of a RPA bot automating a common and well-understood process within the company, juxtaposed with the recording of an employee performing the same work manually. This is a good way to highlight the operational speed and accuracy of RPA bots, and to sway over the sceptics.
In general, for the town halls to be effective, it is vital that you observe the following rules:
RPA is simple, but not easy
Warren Buffett, the investor extraordinaire, famously said, “Investing is simple, but not easy.”
Similarly, we opine that RPA is simple, but not easy.
Simple in the sense that with user-friendly features like graphical user interface, drag-and-drop programming, desktop recording tool, etc., anyone and everyone can become a bona-fide RPA developer.
Yet, as many organizations who have dipped their toes into RPA and burnt their fingers can attest, making RPA work is devilishly challenging.
Focusing on the human equation might ironically improve your odds of success in your robotization programme.
What are some of the common pitfalls and challenges, as well as best practices in RPA implementations that you have seen? Do share them in the comments below.
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