Any person who has gone through a number of RPA implementations will undoubtedly tell you that one of the most important things to do to ensure the timely success of the project is to “involve IT early”. But RPA is just software, so surely it is the main responsibility of IT with them being instrumental in its implementation? Well, yes and no.
The reason the experienced RPA consultants and project managers say this is that RPA isn’t really just about the software. It’s actually mostly about the processes. The majority of the effort in implementing RPA happens on the ‘business’ side, i.e. the function or department that will be impacted most by the technology. It is here that the most appropriate candidate processes must be first identified, then mapped down to key-stroke level and configured (replicated) in the RPA software. All of that work requires business-analyst-type thinking (with a deep knowledge of the individual processes) rather than developer-type thinking.
The role for IT in an RPA project is, broadly speaking, to find a home for the software to live (such as a virtual server) and grant permissions for the robots to access the relevant enterprise systems. And that is where things start getting complicated.
The first of those IT activities is straightforward to do, but must satisfy the usual infosec requirements that any good business will have. That can take time, hence the need to involve IT early. And, if the IT department has outsourced their infrastructure management, then things can take even longer (because the software is unlikely to be on the approved list yet).
The second IT activity, on the other hand, can cause serious consternation. Imagine the situation: “You want to give usernames and passwords to robots? Are you mad?!” But, if you think about it, the robots will be much more secure than a real person: the software agent is definitely not going to be able to walk out the door with a USB stick full of customer data. And then, once IT are comfortable with doing this, there are mechanical issues to get over. For example, in some cases dummy employees have to be set up because the provisioning systems don’t have the capacity to assign usernames without a person’s name associated with it (and in some cases we’ve seen, a social security number!).
There are also some cultural influences at work here as well. It is usually the case that the impetus for RPA comes from the ‘business’ side, therefore it can face a little bit of not-invented-here syndrome. Also, as mentioned earlier, the IT aspects of RPA are relatively simple, and, if the RPA work is going to postpone or negate the need for a big enterprise systems upgrade, as is sometimes the case, then IT can feel a little deflated at missing out on a juicy integration project.
But, it has been noticeable over the last few months or so that IT seems to be warming much more to the concept and potential of RPA. Much of this will just be down to the ubiquity of RPA now – most large enterprises are at least looking at and trying out RPA, and many are making it a core capability in the way that they do business. There are now IT managers and CIOs that have done at least one implementation in a firm and who have moved on to new companies to do the same there – they will be unphased at those perceived challenges to IT.
It is also the case that the message of involving IT early is actually being heeded, so that there are more positive experiences to relate to. Vendors have also been working hard to make it as easy as possible to get through those infosec gates, providing the necessary information as a matter of course rather than treating it as a special request.
But probably the biggest change has come from the elevated status that RPA has earned amongst the IT community, and from business in general. RPA is no longer the ‘sticking plaster’ solution built from ‘macros on steroids’ and ‘screen scraping’ technologies. It is, quite rightly, seen as an enterprise-scale system that can provide temporary and permanent solutions to difficult process and integration problems, delivering significant value in its wake. And those sorts of credentials mean that experience in RPA is seen as valuable and meaningful, on a par with more-established technologies and, dare we say, now surpassing out-of-fashion ERP skills. No wonder those in IT are seeing RPA as an important and relevant part of their portfolio of skills now. At Roboyo, we predict that it will not be long before RPA skills are seen as must-have for any ambitious IT professional.