RPA Gold Rush: Just the right mix of ingredients

From its initial euphoria a few years ago - that robotic process automation will rule the world - we are seeing clients getting burned by the bots and are stumbling

Updated: Nov 9, 2017 10:57:36 AM UTC

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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) initiative is akin to a 'Gold Rush', where the RPA-led savings will be high for a few and selected processes (read, harmonised) and the subsequent effort for automation will be significantly higher, beyond the catchment area. Robotic Process Automation is the automation of repeatable tasks by using artificial intelligence, thus reducing the need for human effort.

From its initial euphoria a few years ago - that RPA will rule the world  - we are seeing clients getting burned by the bots and are stumbling. The incessant approach towards RPA continues and is now fuelled by procurement leaders in client organisations as well. IT leaders, who once believed that RPA is a band-aid and will eventually fade away, are now slowly aligning towards RPA.

A strong conviction for automation is required at all levels, especially at the bottom of the pyramid (please note that CXO-level alignment is considered as a given). Most of the RPA products have similar features – what makes the difference for a successful initiative is the right mix of ingredients (borrowing the metaphor from the cooking up Biryani story) - Ideation, Execution and Validation.

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1.    Gamification (Ideation) – Incentivise Operations towards the Mission Launch a powerful productivity improvement campaign across operations teams. This will create a sense of ownership within operations for the initiative and will create healthy competition across multiple teams/locations and will increase the ‘pull factor’ required for a focused RPA drive.

2.    Assembly Line Surgical Bot Team (Execution Stage)
Unlike a typical IT project which has a set of dedicated teams working together for long durations, RPA projects usually have one or two experts per sub-process/ project working with diverse stakeholders in parallel, like an assembly line. It is essential to follow a pre-set process which ensures that all the dependencies (i.e. prerequisites and requirements like environment license, approvals, access issues) to begin a project are taken care of. An RPA expert developer will only need to focus on bot development (surgical interventions) without worrying about dependencies. For instance, some projects have seen under-utilisation of bot developers and they were running around resolving dependencies [like environment/license, access issues, Statement of Purpose (SOP) availability/accuracy, etc.].

3.    Structured Certification of Benefits (Validation Stage)
RPA project validation requires a bit of micro management. Mere completion of a bot just results in improvement in processing time. Measuring this effectively, re-alining the operational metrics and the workforce is a nightmare.  A well-defined validation process certified by finance controllers is required to ensure that the system is fool-proof. Validation aspects like ‘Leverage factor’ (i.e. staffing gap basis volumetric analysis), soft benefits (i.e. notional, like loss avoidance etc.) shaves off 12-18 percent of final reported benefits.

We worked with a client that replaced three different RPA service providers within eight months (in turn, each provider used different RPA products) for the same process without realising the lack of ground-level operational support that led to the failure of earlier initiatives. I would ascribe RPA as social transformation on the operations floor.

We need to ensure that the RPA program must not be branded as an FTE reduction (FTE is the number of hours put in by one full-time employee) initiative. It needs to be portrayed as purposeful automation and must provide opportunity for agents to do higher order work. This is where the collaboration of men and machines is vital, amplifying the human potential to be more and do more.

By Dr. Lakshmanan Ramanathan - Solution Design Head - Infosys BPO

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