Let’s say your company just found out about robotic process automation (RPA) – software that automates data entry and other repetitive processes. Maybe you read about it on the internet. Maybe you attended a conference. Maybe you were fortunate enough to attend a user group meeting hosted by one of the major RPA vendors. You’re excited! You’re energized! You can’t wait to get started! But where do you begin?
The simplest way to begin is to find out more about RPA – how it can help a business and what its potential is. Fear not. Loads of information – and an overabundance of opinion – are available about the uses for RPA, the results, the advantages and disadvantages. Information about vendors that make software to support RPA and the best practices companies can use to achieve the targeted results is also out there.
The best way to get a sense of the technology is to get your hands on it: Get to know the RPA software vendors and the products, and then ask for a demonstration or trial version of the software. Follow these four steps to get started:
- Know the vendors. The RPA market is dynamic with new firms and products entering all the time. While some vendors are well established and have credentials and an extensive installed base, others are seeking to gain traction. Businesses considering a vendor or software solution need to know a provider is viable, that it has installed the product in similar businesses or industries, and it has a defined growth path for additional features and functions. Educate yourself on the vendor landscape as a way to make an informed decision.
- Try the software. Many of the vendors in the RPA space offer a demonstration or a trial version of their software. This is a great way to obtain hands-on experience with the product. Additionally, many of the vendors provide online documentation and training materials to help new users get started. Download the software it if it is available. Here is one opportunity.
- Experiment. Many businesses prefer to begin their RPA journeys by experimenting with a variety of products. This helps potential users become familiar with the products and better understand not only the differences between them, but also how they are used and how to automate one or more processes. While experimenting with the software, businesses inevitably learn more about the vendor and the market. This information also can be used during the final selection of a solution.
- Implement for real. Of course, an organization needs more than experimentation to make a sound decision and optimize the resources needed to launch a successful RPA program. When the business is serious and ready to start the journey, we recommend starting with either a proof of concept or a process assessment. It’s possible to take the “proof of concept in a day” approach, during which an organization rapidly gets to know the process targeted for automation and can quickly compare the impact of RPA to the existing manual process. A business can use this experience to launch a discussion about how best to use RPA.
Once an organization has familiarity with the technology, the next step is to conduct one of two process assessments:
- A deep-dive process assessment includes a detailed examination of processes, interviews with subject-matter experts and observation of existing jobs. This process typically takes about one week per business division.
- A rapid assessment is a workshop-based approach typically completed in a day or less. The workshop begins with a discussion of which processes are good candidates for RPA and is followed by breakout sessions with subject-matter experts to obtain an understanding of each process, using targeted questions to understand what processes should be analyzed. This is all done in a whiteboard or wall-chart-type environment, where you can detail and prioritize processes.
Both types of assessments result in similar results: a description of each targeted process, the ability to automate each process, the possible pain points, and the potential benefits and savings. The assessments also should provide businesses time and cost estimates to build the automation, a business case and a roadmap. These results often form the basis for a funding request for RPA software and associated services to install the software and launch the program.
The POC and process assessment give an organization the information it needs to begin to use RPA. Best practices include:
- Engaging the IT team early and working with it to successfully install the software and plan for needed prerequisites, back-ups and ongoing support and maintenance
- Training the team that will use the technology, including hands-on experience with the software tool, building the automations and controls and hardening the system to ensure the automations run consistently and reliably
- Launching an in-house RPA center of excellence and embracing a robotic operating model, including planning for organization and staffing, focusing on building the automations and supporting them, developing technical and performance standards and managing related organizational changes
- Speeding up the launch of the software and the program as a way to generate positive results to help fund the effort
- Building bots to define, design, configure and test the automated processes and deploy them as rapidly as possible, so the RPA program can scale horizontally and vertically within the enterprise
- Monitoring the automations to assure they are running and making repairs and modifications if necessary, ensuring the automated processes do their work faster and better.
ISG is an independent advisory firm that works with many of the vendors in the space. We monitor the vendors, their products, their plans, new releases and versions, the growth of their companies, how they go to market and how they price. We help organizations optimize their RPA journey and accelerate results to dramatically improve business performance.
About the author
Mark is an experienced consultant and former CIO with more than 30 years of experience in process automation, information technology, sourcing, supply chain management, transformation and acquisition integration. His consulting experience includes work for well known firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte, and AlixPartners. His industry experience includes acquisition integration, supply chain and IT roles in the banking, manufacturing and distribution industries. He has held CIO positions for nationwide distribution, retail, media/publishing and textile firms. He holds an MBA from Emory University and BA from Cornell University.