It can be too easy sometimes to dismiss or ignore statistics and evidence that don’t support your viewpoint or reflect badly on a topic you advocate for. Whilst these statistics could be conveniently side-lined, here at Embrace Digital that’s simply not our way. When we see a result that isn’t what we’d expect or strikes us as unusual, we prick up our ears and want to investigate why.

So, here’s a stat from a recent study that stood out from the crowd: Despite all the advantages that RPA delivers only 3% of firms have managed to scale their digital workforce*.

Before we begin to look at this in more detail; let’s just take a moment to clarify what we mean by Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Often referred to as ‘robotics’ or ‘robots’, RPA is defined as the automation of rules-based processes with software that utilises the user interface and which can run on any software, including web-based applications, ERP systems and mainframe systems.

The benefits of Robotic Process Automation are well documented; RPA continues to meet and exceed expectations with businesses citing improved compliance (92%), improved quality/accuracy (90%) and improved productivity (86%) as key benefits. Project payback is reported at less than 12 months, with an average 20% of full time equivalent (FTE) capacity provided by robots. Indeed, 78% of those who have already implemented RPA expect to significantly increase investment in RPA over the next three years*. Yet, scaling RPA is clearly proving to be an issue…

Given the relatively low cost of implementation and the significant benefits to be achieved, it’s surprising to see such a small number of companies moving to scale.

So, what’s happening?

RPA is regarded as a relatively new technology, so despite the advantages being proven and well understood, adoption is still in its early stages. Many are still at an experimental phase and are evaluating how the technology can best be delivered and used within their own organisations.

During this initial evaluation it would appear though that many have underestimated the planning and resources required to implement RPA. Of the same organisations that hailed the significant benefits achieved, 63% said their expectations of time to implement were not met and 37% said their expectations of cost to implement were not met. Inaccurate process mapping, a lack of clarity in identifying candidate tasks for automation, and weak change management , appear to have contributed to the issue.

The perception that RPA is more accessible and easier to use in comparison to more complex technologies may be limiting its success. Seen as a route to automation that can be implemented by non-specialised teams, some businesses and IT departments continue to experiment with RPA without fully incorporating it into their strategy. Without purpose and direction, evaluation is difficult, and the lack of context compromises the organisation’s ability to see future benefit and opportunity.

The alignment between Internal IT and overall business strategy also appears to be a contributory factor in the scaling of RPA. ‘The IT organisation remains the least supportive stakeholder when it comes to RPA.*’ Why is this the case? Often Internal IT teams are incredibly busy dealing with major projects and current issues. As a recent report from McKinsey highlighted; ‘Many IT functions have trouble matching their priorities with those of the business.’** This misalignment, combined with a reported lack of in-house RPA resources/skills/expertise, poses a real challenge. If indeed companies want to expand their use of RPA and make the investments they claim, then they need to have a clear approach from the outset, striking the correct balance between investing in internal capability and sourcing external expertise to deliver specialist projects.

How can success be achieved?

The approach that has led many organisations to treat RPA as an experiment proves to be a difficult one to adapt once the business wishes to scale. Many are now stuck unable to see how to apply RPA more widely due to process complexity and wider IT issues. There needs to be a distinct change in approach to achieve all the potential benefits of RPA.

Strategic alignment & clear objectives
As with any transformation project, there needs to be a clear goal and objective that is aligned with the company strategy. Organisations are no longer looking at technology solutions solely as an exercise in efficiency and cost-reduction, instead using technology to focus on higher-value customer-centric processes, and RPA is no exception. It’s important to ask: What are we trying to achieve? What technologies can best fulfil our needs? Remember, RPA isn’t just to be used in isolation and whilst RPA certainly fills process gaps, it shouldn’t be viewed as a sticking plaster solution to patch up poor processes. RPA is just one tool in our automation toolkit that when combined with other technologies can bring touchless processing to core activity. Decide on what you want to achieve and analyse processes holistically. Having a clear objective, aligned with strategy, provides far more than project focus; senior sponsorship is achieved more easily along with engagement throughout the business, creating a clear path for change and adequate investment in both the technology and the resources needed to deliver it.

Achieving the correct reach
Up until now the reach of RPA projects has been wide rather than deep, impacting the cost of deployment. Whilst it is important to look at the opportunities company-wide and not to simply replicate silos, the biggest savings are often to be gained where discrete processes are optimised, eliminating human intervention, and where bots are either engaged in high-volume activity that in turn maximises the human-hours saved or in activity that releases high-value individuals to work more efficiently.

Used in this way, RPA provides the means to refine and enhance the more traditional technologies that form the backbone of solutions such as mailroom automation, tracking & distribution workflows and Accounts Payable automation; solutions already proven to deliver fast ROI and competitive advantage.

To identify where human hours are currently being spent unprofitably and where inefficiencies exist, it is vital to spend time mapping processes for internal and external users. It is often difficult for people to recognise and describe all the tasks they undertake as part of their day, especially for those working across multiple systems and data source so make sure you have the correct tools and methods in place to do this effectively

Developing a roadmap
Any technology should be implemented as part of a clearly defined roadmap . This way, even if you want to experiment with new technologies such as RPA there will be a rationale and agreed programme for the activity. The potential for your RPA project (the scale) should be identified at the outset and the experimental phase treated as a proof of concept. Thereby avoiding many of the barriers to scaling RPA adoption within the business.

Recognising the need for expertise
It is clear that the success of any project relies on finding the right approach, skills and resource. Whilst RPA technology is becoming more accessible, the evidence from these early adopters is that often the cost and time taken to deliver the technology is being underestimated. Having experienced these issues, the majority of the organisations in the original survey (63%), have recognised that wider implementation will need to involve working alongside a dedicated third-party provider, often to provide advice and skills that are scarce in their own organisation.

It is important to find a partner who isn’t just adept at the use of RPA technology but works closely with your business to understand your long-term objectives and current processes, and is experienced in automating processes that work seamlessly to support your operational priorities. As those in the experimental phase have discovered, success in RPA isn’t simply determined by deploying technology but a host of other influencing factors including project scoping, project management and change management.

In summary, RPA is hugely beneficial in removing the need for manual tasks and intervention between existing systems and the use cases are endless. Even though RPA technology is accessible, the initiatives that are most successful and provide the biggest returns are those with a strong strategy in place and well thought out resourcing; two things we advocate for in the adoption of any technology. With these success factors in place, RPA can provide strong benefits, be scaled effectively, and transform the way your company operates and responds to customers.

* Third Annual Global RPA Survey – Deloitte

**The CEO’s new technology agenda – McKinsey Digital

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