Commentary
8/21/2018
07:00 AM
Jim Shand, Director, AlixPartners
Jim Shand, Director, AlixPartners
Commentary

Hype and Myths Surround RPA

There's much more to implementing Robotic Process Automation than plugging in a software package. It's about the business as much as technology.



While Robotic Process Automation technologies have been around since the early 2000’s, it is only in the last couple of years the market has seen meaningful growth, driven primarily by the financial services and healthcare industries. However, as with many emerging technologies, a large dose of hype and myth accompany their growth and adoption.

Why is RPA even needed?

Because traditional IT cannot economically automate every business process. RPA eliminates “drudge” work and frees employee hours that can be spent on more creative, innovative and value-added work using human skills. Benefits may also accrue to customers, such as faster and more accurate delivery of information-based responses and services, 24/7 availability, and improved consistency. From a business standpoint, RPA can lead to high first-year ROIs, increased compliance, and operational efficiencies leading to higher margins and increased scalability of the back office.

Understanding some of the common hype and myths about RPA may help you better appreciate the limitations – and opportunities – of this technology.

Myth #1: RPA is a self-contained solution

RPA needs to integrate with other related technologies to create an automation solution. Also, some believe there’s no requirement to change back-end legacy systems. While this is true, changing backend legacy systems may significantly speed up your deployment/training process. And, very old applications may require workarounds that delay development.

Myth #2: Implementation should be outsourced to an integrator

One of the biggest myths you may hear is that to implement an RPA solution you need to work with one of the large systems integrators. For some companies this may be true, but for many companies, developing your own capability in-house is something you should aspire to do and be able to achieve, with some committed effort or coaching. Not only does this provide a new (and exciting) career path for your employees, but you also have people who are invested in the outcome of the business process itself, managing the best way to execute that process.

Myth #3: RPA will replace humans

The “hype du jour” seems to be about software robots taking over human jobs. We think that’s an overblown and misguided view. RPA does repetitive standardized jobs that require structured data but often benefit from human involvement in the process. It’s not just about replacing labor. In fact, alone, RPA is not a solution. It’s more of a tool that works alongside humans and turns individual contributors into “Robot Managers". If you’ve ever heard people say “any human” can train a software robot to do a task, you may find that those humans actually need far more of a “programming mindset” than expected. It is rare that a software robot will automate 100% of even a very standardized process. As soon as any level of human judgment is required to complete a task, a “Robot Manager” needs to get involved. The position of “Robot Manager” is a tremendous opportunity for motivated, high-value employees to grow and multiply their value.

Myth #4: RPA is quick to implement

RPA is remarkably effective, but there is a longer-than-expected learning curve for initial implementation. Why? Any slight variation in a process can create a roadblock for a robot. Humans are not standardized; each of us has our own way of doing things. It is these “gotchas” that take time to fully understand, those activities that as humans we don’t even think about doing! You may also find that instead of simply replicating human keyboard activities you need to find workarounds because your application or your RPA solution doesn’t operate exactly as you thought it should.

Myth #5: An RPA implementation is most like a systems implementation

You may find yourself doing far more process re-design work than originally expected. This is not only to standardize, but also because your business partners are suddenly seeing opportunities for improvements in processes that they had simply never given any serious thought to for years.

While robotic process automation (RPA) is an important technology that can help companies re-think their workforce and human capital needs, it should not necessarily be the first solution you jump to when you automate. Before going down that road, ask yourself: Does the work need to be done at all? Can we get benefits simply by reorganizing the work or redesigning the process? Is it something IT should address with a better solution in the near term? Answering these questions first will help you determine if the process/task/activity you are looking at is a good candidate for automation through RPA.

A director with AlixPartners, Jim Shand has more than 25 years of working with companies across a variety of industries, including retail, consumer packaged goods, high tech, financial services, oil & gas, and consumer-oriented service sectors. He is a transformational and client-facing leader known for his ability to rapidly expand growth and improve financial and operational performance. He has a deep understanding of how to leverage business analytics and technology and is expert in transforming and reshaping businesses, including company turnarounds, acquisitions, service lines, and service offering launches. Jim has an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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