Your IT organization has just deployed bots to automate the company’s cash applications and help your collectors determine the right disposition (e.g., write-off, offset, reversal, or refund). What happens if someone unexpectedly changes the templates and the bots break down? What’s the business continuity plan? How do you confirm that the bots are meeting the intended productivity savings, improved quality, compliance and other targeted business outcomes? And at a higher level, what’s the right approach to ensure continued involvement and effective coordination among the various stakeholders, including audit, compliance, security, IT, and executive leadership?
Launching a robotic process automation program with little investment in resources and capabilities to drive automation could seriously undermine the initiative’s full potential. To fully reap meaningful benefits from automation, companies should consider establishing an RPA center of excellence. A CoE helps organizations deliver automation’s promise by leveraging best practices, tools, and implementation experience to deploy RPA; driving change management; and establishing a sustainable governance model to identify and dimension RPA opportunities.
Staffing the CoE with both technical and functional resources is also critical to ensuring a more effective and stable RPA deployment and to effectively track, monito,r and report process improvements and financial benefits across the enterprise. Specifically, CoE resource teams should include process and technical solution architects, project managers, process SMEs and business analysts, and cross-functional representation (as appropriate) from finance, HR, compliance, and IT.
But what exactly does a world-class CoE look like?
By executing the following eight best practices, the CoE – through strategic automation and effective governance – can drive continuous improvement by actively leading multiple stakeholders and orchestrating the various activities to implement, maintain and evolve the automation process.
Provide a common knowledge repository. To accelerate time to value, the CoE must provide consistent tools and best-in-class approaches to assess process candidacy; document “as-is” processes and “to-be” future requirements; develop, test, and deploy the solution; monitor automation performance; and ensure business outcomes are met. It should also document best practices and lessons learned to facilitate future implementations.
Manage the automation portfolio. The CoE is responsible for actively engaging business and technology partners to identify opportunities and evaluate if a process is a good automation candidate. It then prioritizes the opportunity by evaluating its business case, quantitative, and other qualitative merits. Finally, this opportunity is incorporated into a broader automation roadmap that catalogues other opportunities, savings, timing, risks, stakeholders, and the required resources to implement.
Develop the solution architecture. A well-oiled CoE executes the intended automation based on the roadmap and uses the right automation technology (RPA or other cognitive tools). This includes applying consistent tools and methods to document the “to-be” requirements, develop solutions, and exhaustively test solutions before going live.
Deploy and scale the automation. The CoE team – in concert with business and technology stakeholders – launches the automation and ensures sufficient “hypercare” is in place to provide post go-live stabilization support. Once go-live glitches are resolved, the CoE then scales the automation to the broader organization e.g., to adjoining functions or other areas with similar processes.
Define the change management process. The CoE team also implements a change management process and institutes a regular review cadence with business, process, and technology stakeholders so that changes or events that impact automation performance are proactively communicated. Such changes could include modifications to process systems, changes to process steps or documentation, or changes to the technology infrastructure.
Another critical element is defining who is accountable for modifying the deployed automation and when such modifications are triggered. For example, automation performance issues or process evolution may drive the need for automation updates.
Most importantly, the CoE employs the necessary change management to help transition the affected resources to the enhanced, automated approach (training, redeployment, etc.).
Define a business continuity plan. A faulty bot could be a nuisance, or worse, adversely impact your operations and customers. As such, it is crucial that the team establishes a mechanism to track automation performance (“is it live?”), to monitor output quality (“is it producing the right results?”), and to implement a defined plan in case of malfunction. It ensures that the plan conveys the failure mode (e.g., infrastructure issue, process changes issue), the mitigating action (e.g., temporarily augment with cross-trained labor), and the parties responsible for resolution.
Manage and track the automation. The CoE provides run support to monitor and ensure performance. Additionally, the team looks at bot utilization and identifies opportunities for other deployments (e.g., adjacent processes, different shifts). It also validates if the automation is meeting the intended business outcomes via savings, improved output, better compliance, and other pre-defined success measures.
Innovate new capabilities. Best-in-class CoE teams continuously identify opportunities to augment its internal capability by refining its tools and methodologies, evaluating and implementing other tools to further drive automation (e.g., use of cognitive technologies), expanding its offering beyond automation (e.g., data analytics, advanced visualization and reporting, data extraction of non-normalized data), and enhancing competencies and skills of its internal resources.
By establishing an effective CoE, CIOs and IT leaders can propel and accelerate their organizations’ automation efforts to yield bottom-line results. However, clearly articulating the CoE’s role and objectives are crucial to driving intended outcomes for strategic RPA programs.
Jean Paul Baritugo is a senior associate at Pace Harmon, a business transformation and outsourcing advisory firm providing guidance on complex transactions, process and operational optimization, and provider governance.