The crisis has come: what’s with RPA?


The biggest question what the entire Robotic Process Automation (RPA) industry faces nowadays is that whether RPA will elevate or evaporate as a consequence of the current conditions at many companies, given that most of them have switched to survival mode as a response to the crisis.

I always firmly believed that RPA is a crisis-resistant technology to the level that RPA will even blossom at an event of an economic downturn. Now’s the time to see whether it was a false hope or a visionary divination.

What happened in the offices?

I really wouldn’t elaborate on the current market conditions, but more on the changes and challenges of the way we work in the offices, because in a blink of an eye, we were told in most countries to stay home and possibly avoid going to offices to limit the impact of the pandemic on our everyday lives.

And, oh boy, the vast majority of the companies were not prepared for that kind of BCP event. The paperless offices (like most Shared Service Centres in Hungary) struggled the least, they just had to make sure their staffs are well equipped for this manoeuvre. But they still feel the pressure that if this pandemic will escalate further, they could easily find themselves in difficult situations.

And there were the less digitally advanced offices (and even countries), where they needed to come up with something out of the blue, rearrange the SLAs, reorganise their teams, equip their staffs with the necessary tools to be able to work from home, and find out a way of handling the paper stacks to be able to carry on with their business critical activities. They faced this situation pretty much unarmed.

What happened with RPA?

The sudden impact varied depending on how well-established the teams were, and how seriously the higher management considered RPA as a business critical investment. It’s not a secret that most companies just got their hands on this technology and made mini-projects out of it that were crawling for years without a meaningful progress. Or created an insignificant initiative to test things out without disrupting much process-wise.

Meanwhile some new entrants had serious plans on an organisation-wide roll-out right from the beginning, so they built strong foundations: well-trained teams, excellent infrastructure, and a well-working delivery methodology. So they’ve managed to make an impact either on a smaller or on a larger scale.

In places, where the higher management’s commitment was negligible, the RPA teams’ budget is drying up, and are suffering pipeline-wise as well, so they are pretty much balancing on the verge of existence. But well-supported and well-established teams with a practical mindset were able to find crisis-critical processes that can help their organisations move forward, and they came out the gates storming to deal with the changed circumstances.

And here comes the brand new initiatives of the firms who waited for this technology to mature in order to consider making an investment into deploying it. RPA is inevitable.

What will change?

There’s a bad joke within the RPA industry saying that robots won’t ask for a sick-leave or a holiday. This only partially true, but nonetheless offensive statement has become exceptionally important in an event of a global pandemic generated crisis. Businesses have started to worry about the vulnerability of their own workforces, hence their entire business activities that are relying on them.

So the RPA ROI equation has immediately changed in many businesses’ mind with several factors on the benefit side, that should have been long considered other than the FTE savings they could reach by automation:

  1. The value of a business process: the P/L impact if it’s not getting performed
  2. The replacement cost of an expert to conduct the process: the cost and length of hiring, on/off-boarding, training, etc.

With these new aspects to think about, that 0.21 FTE activity conducted by a folk getting only £47k p.a. that implicitly ensures that the largest subsidiary’s cash liquidity has not dried up, or could prevent a £53m penalty that could come from regulators/authorities, might get a whole new shine on the RPA roadmap with its £247k cost of automation.

It’s really Time to Go Digital…

For RPA to excel, we need structured data getting manipulated or transferred by optimised and well-though-out (even on keystroke-level) processes. Having digitised data is a no-brainer for paperless offices, it’s more of a challenge for the rest. But having high-quality, structured data and well-though-out, even thoroughly documented processes are too often missing throughout all kinds of business units.

The first steps should be:

  • Transforming the processes to eliminate paper-based documents as a medium of information (digital transformation), or at least implementing intelligent document processing tools in order to get structured data out of them (digitalisation)
  • Documenting all processes on a keystroke-level with special attention to accurately clarify the decision points (whys) and process paths (hows).

Without clearly understanding the mere purpose of our processes, and without having the right tools, we cannot even start thinking about the optimal way of automation, not to mention making a proper design of the robots we need to build.

What’s next?

As Phil Fersht wrote, RPA died at many organisations. As I see, the common reason for that is that they failed to utilise even a quarter of the full potential of this technology. Now that the ROI equation has changed, these failed RPA projects will get a second/third/fourth chance. But this time they’ll have serious management commitment, so it’s really up to the competence of those involved in these new initiatives, whether it will succeed from now on, or fail for the last time.

If you are interested in the ways robots could help your organisation adapt to the ever recurring operational challenges do not hesitate to contact us!

Original article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/crisis-has-come-whats-rpa-balint-laszlo-papp/

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