One of the latest automation technologies is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It differs from other automation technologies in its ability to mimic a human user of one or more information systems, thereby reducing development time and expanding the range of functions that can be automated in a broader range of business activities.
It is often used to automate financial processes, such as comparing invoices to shipping notices or transferring data from email and call center voice recognition systems to transaction record systems. Many organizations have adopted it to automate back and middle office processes, with many receiving a rapid return on their investment.
Why is it better to prepare for automation?
However, the match between RPA and business processes is not perfect when the goal is to redesign or improve a process rather than automate its current state. RPA doesn’t redesign anything and doesn’t ask why activities are done. It works at the task level rather than on the process from start to finish.
However, RPA can be combined with changes in related business processes. Suppose the goal is to improve processes beyond basic labor hours savings, as it should be. In that case, organizations need to fully understand their existing business processes and new RPA-enabled processes before implementing technical changes.
However, many companies do not. Basic RPA implementation without improving or reviewing current automated steps results in mediocre cost savings. But in many cases, they miss the opportunity to significantly improve process outcomes, quality, cost, and cycle time.
Process mapping, analysis, and redesign are critical to an effective RPA implementation. Existing business processes are often too complex, and unnecessary steps can be eliminated before implementing RPA.
The following list is a starting point to help you prepare for effective business process automation implementation.
Reexamine business rules
RPA involves the codification of business processes, although in many cases, business rules have not been inspected for years and do not make sense in their current environments. Furthermore, existing business rules are sometimes described as requiring judgment, but in reality, they can be transformed into more accurate algorithms for better, more consistent decisions.
In many companies, the level of process understanding is relatively low. Organizations may have a series of standard operating procedures, which are often poorly documented and outdated. Each employee generally follows their knowledge of best practices. By partnering with high performers to challenge and improve processes and embedding them in RPA, companies see significant improvements in automated processes and reduced process issues in other parts of the organization.
RPA can also simplify the information environment. The technology is sometimes described as enabling the process of switching back and forth between multiple information systems. In many cases, however, the process can extract all the needed information from the system simultaneously — with fewer back-and-forths.
In general, RPA no longer needs built-in checkpoints for processes previously performed by humans – since at least once the initial problem is fixed, RPA usually doesn’t make any mistakes, so no checks are needed.
Sometimes existing processes involve the same data being reviewed by multiple teams in different countries. The intention might be to address historical quality issues when work is outsourced, but these steps became redundant for the accuracy that RPA brings.
Add back processes
Adequate RPA-based preparation can help to design and restore some useful foregone steps at a low cost. Some organizations have removed steps that add value to customers from existing processes because the resources needed to complete them are not available. For example, in-process communication with customers about the status of their orders or requests can be time-consuming for a human to send and receive but trivial for a bot.
For example, over the years, some companies have reduced processes to a bare minimum of practical steps to increase efficiency. However, this resulted in poor communication with customers, which in turn, drove up the costs of customer support.
New tasks for employees
For many RPA implementations, there is also the question of whether the RPA system will disrupt human work. While RPA may take over some human functions, job losses are relatively low in most companies implementing the technology. Redesigning processes during an RPA implementation helps ensure that humans perform tasks that match their skills.
In the past, new technologies have been catalysts for many companies to redesign their business processes. While RPA is not as dramatic a technological advance, it has the potential to drive new process designs. Innovative companies use this technology to enable new ways of doing business that matter, as employees can dedicate more time to new, creative tasks.
Choose the right areas to automate
The tools you use to automate your business will depend on the process that needs it the most. By pre-determining your needs and identifying key business areas suitable for automation, you can choose the best solution for the problem at hand.
For example, suppose your accounting team spends too much time matching invoices to purchase orders and sending those invoices through an internal approval process. In that case, accounts payable automation tools will help you significantly improve those processes. Or, if your marketing team spends a lot of time developing relevant content and sending it to customers, a marketing automation platform will do the trick.
When looking for areas of automation, look for areas where your employees:
regularly work on a large number of repetitive tasks
work in large groups to complete small tasks
have missed deadlines due to lengthy manual processes
do their best but still negatively impact other business processes (for example, sales campaigns that take too long to launch and send introductory emails)
need better compliance, auditing, and paperwork processes
As you explore various automation tools, look for solutions that can help you reduce costs and increase efficiency — two main goals of any automation solution. Whether using sales and marketing tools, automated accounting platforms, or human resource management solutions, you can find tools tightly integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or an ERP system with a comprehensive platform with multiple automation tools.
When automation software and ERP are integrated, organizations can eliminate data anomalies, minimize the time it takes to move information between these systems, and gain more accurate real-time information. This gives them a comprehensive view of their operations and fully utilizes their automated systems’ capabilities.
With such changes, an RPA-enabled process can become more efficient and effective than an automated but unchanged process. Redesigning processes during an RPA implementation may add time and expense to the overall program. Still, the return on investment is much more likely to be higher than an RPA implementation without process changes.
If you don’t know where to start, our team will be happy to help. Meanwhile, read more about how and when business automation consultants can help your organization in our recent blog post.