Selecting the Right Process for Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

“Automation is good, so long as you know exactly where to put the machine.” – Eliyahu Goldratt


Over the last couple of years, there has been a massive surge in interest in Robotic Process Automation (RPA). And for a good reason - see 36 Reasons Why Companies Are Implementing RPA.


As enterprises rush to digitize their processes and automate them, many are starting to realize that implementing RPA is simple, but not easy. In particular, many are confounded by what seems to be a deceptively simple question – which are the right processes for RPA?


Yet, there is no doubt that this is an extremely important question to answer. According to one research, the poor choice of process for initial pilot (e.g. too complex, too many exception paths, etc) is the leading root cause for failure to meet customers’ expectations.


Given that as high as 30-50% of initial RPA projects fail, it is vital for enterprises planning to implement RPA to answer the following 2 basic questions:


  1. What can we automate?

  2. Does it make sense to automate?


What can we automate?


According to McKinsey, less than 5 percent of all jobs can be completely automated using currently available technologies. On the flip side, for approximately 60 percent of all jobs, at least 30 percent of their constituent activities can be automated. (For more on this, read The Long Tail of Robotic Process Automation.)


The implication is that it is unlikely, perhaps even unrealistic, to deploy a software robot which will automate 100% of the tasks that an employee is currently doing.


Rather, as what Harvard Business Review suggests, we should first break down or deconstruct work into their component tasks and activities that can subsequently be automated. Doing so requires an awareness that work lies along the following continuums:


  • Repetitive vs. Variable Work

  • Independent vs. Interactive Work

  • Physical vs. Mental Work


For RPA, the sweet spot lies in work that is repetitive, performed independently and cognitive in nature. Assuming the hard work of breaking down work (no pun intended) has been completed, the next step is to analyse and assess each individual task for fit for RPA. Common selection criteria include:


  • Rule-based

  • High transaction volumes

  • Low exceptions

  • Stable and well-defined processes

  • Low system change

  • Structured data and readable electronic inputs


If this is getting too complicated, consider the following “Rule of Five” heuristic provided by Forrester:


  1. No more than five decisions

  2. No more than five applications

  3. No more than 500 clicks


Alternatively, for those folks leaning on business process re-engineering, lean six sigma and the like, the SIPOC tool is found to be an excellent tool for understanding and assessing the suitability of a process for RPA.


The SIPOC tool is relatively simple to use and helps ensure clarity during the thought process. In addition, it can also serve as a simplified version of the Process Definition Document, an artefact which one needs to create prior to automating any process.


As a final word, many companies reply heavily on use cases and/or case studies for identifying automation opportunities.


While this can be a useful starting point, do note that no two processes are the same, even if they are performed by companies from within the same industry. Hack, even the same accounts payable process could be handled differently by the various entities operating in different countries (but belonging to the same company)!


Does it make sense to automate?


“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates


Just because we can automate a process using RPA does not mean we should. Afterall, automating the wrong process is often times worse than no automation at all. In fact, you risk placing your company on the path of destruction – on steroids.


Leveraging technology, streamlining processes and empowering people


“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Mark Twain


Certainly, with the recent hype over RPA, we are seeing quite a number of executives going around with a hammer (figuratively) looking for processes to automate. Perhaps a bottom-up approach to innovation, through empowering the employees to streamline, digitize and automate their own processes, might yield better results?


Good automating!


Do you have any tips on selecting the right processes for RPA? Do drop us a comment below.


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The Three Laws of Robotic Process Automation:

  1. The purpose of the RPA software robots is to augment the existing human workforce.

  2. The human managers are responsible for the actions of the RPA software robots.

  3. The learning and development needs of the RPA software robots are no less than that of the human employees.

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