In the previous post in this series, we looked at what you need to consider on Day One of your RPA journey. A different post looked at how to start to industrialise your RPA capability following a successful RPA pilot. This post joins those two together by considering how to build momentum in your fledgling RPA program, leading up to running that pilot project and creating a robust RPA business case.
The assumption here is that you will have already created a high-level Automation Strategy based on the areas we considered in the previous post, including your objectives, your automation ambitions, your overall approach and what sort of partner eco-system you will need to build. The next step is to better understand those automation ambitions, ideally broken down by business function. This can be done by creating an Automation Maturity Matrix that identifies, by business function, the current level of automation, from the simple use of macros, through the ad-hoc use of various automation tools, to an organisation that uses a wide range of automation tools as a fundamental part of their ways of working. The next stage is to consider where each function wants to be. Remember that not everyone will want, or need, wall-to-wall automation, so each department may have different levels of ambition. The gap between where they are now and where they want to be represents the scale of your automation program, and, importantly, sets the expectations for the RPA users and stakeholders.
Your Automation Roadmap will set out how you plan to meet those expectations. Initially this will be done at a high level, with more detail being added as you progress and gather more information. Two of the most important elements of this plan are the business case and the approach to the initial build.
To be honest, there is nothing too challenging with the mechanics of an RPA Business Case – it will be based on comparing a base-case to a future state, using whatever indicators (ROI, NPV, etc) that your organisation is used to. But the interesting thing with RPA specifically is in the range of different benefits that can be achieved. Clearly cost reduction is the one that everyone tends to focus on the most but it is not necessarily the one that will give you the biggest benefits:
- Related to Cost Reduction is cost avoidance – this is when the business is growing and already has plans to recruit more people and/or take on more office space. Implementing RPA can negate the need for both of these without the associated challenges around change management.
- RPA can also have a significant positive impact on customer service – automated processes are error-free and can run 24 hours a day if required, helping them respond faster to customer enquiries.
- Because robots will do everything exactly the same way each time, they are great for reducing risk in a business and ensuring that compliance obligations are upheld.
- RPA can be used to enable new services – this includes provisioning self-service for customers and allowing your business to sell on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Clearly, the more and bigger benefits you can identify, the more likely it is that your RPA program will build the necessary stakeholder buy-in and therefore the all-important momentum.
The Business Case is usually validated by an initial process automation. This initial build can take many forms, but generally falls into one of two types:
- A proof-of-concept (PoC), which will simply test the concept of RPA on the ‘happy path’ of a simple process. Once the PoC has been deemed a success then it is discarded in favour of a more robust production build.
- A pilot, which automates a complete process to production standards. This build will continue to be used once it has been deemed a success.
As you can tell, a PoC is much quicker and cheaper to build than a pilot, but won’t necessarily test everything that you need it to. A well-chosen pilot will deliver tangible benefits which can then be used to fund additional activity. Generally, a pilot is the preferred option because of these reasons.
No other activity will create more momentum for your RPA program than a successful initial automation build. The choice of process to test with a pilot or PoC is therefore a very important decision. The candidate process needs to be one that is relatively simple (but not overly simple) and of a relatively high volume (so that many runs of the process can be seen). It also needs to be accessible, by which we mean that it is easily observed, that the underlying systems are available to the developers and that new user accounts (for the robots) can be created quickly and without delay.
As well as the Business case and Initial Build, the roadmap will also need to consider a couple of other areas in order to create as much momentum as possible:
- Finding an RPA champion in the organisation can sometimes make the difference between success and failure. If you have found what you think is the ideal pilot process but the department manager is not keen on having his area used as a test case, or is even opposed to automation completely, then it will be worth looking for an alternative, perhaps less-optimal process in an area where the manager is enthusiastic to implement automation.
- On the other side of the coin, you will also need to identify any barriers to momentum for your automation program – these could include regulatory constraints and other projects that are dependent on, or will impact, the automated systems. We have seen projects stall badly as other projects have been identified which severely impact the initial RPA business case.
Finally, your roadmap needs to take into account the post-pilot slump that we discussed in a previous post. This means that the timing for the approval process must be thought about carefully – make sure that the next Steering Committee Meeting (or Board Meeting) is as soon as possible after the end of the pilot. If this is not possible, try and build in additional activities between the end of the pilot and that approval meeting. So often momentum is lost after the pilot, even if it has been a great success.
Creating and maintaining momentum for your RPA program is one of the most difficult things to achieve – so much else is usually going on and people get distracted by the necessary day-to-day running of the business. By using the tips in this article you should hopefully have a much better chance of delivering all of those great benefits that RPA can deliver.