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Robotic process automation (RPA) bots are quickly becoming an essential part of the enterprise.
More than 3 million attended and unattended RPA bots will be running in 2020 as enterprises ramp up their investments in RPA, according to new research from Everest Group. In fact, the firm's study calculated that enterprise RPA adoption grew 100 to 110% from 2017 to 2018 and will see a compound annual growth rate of 70 to 85% between 2018 and 2020.
Despite the rapid rise of RPA bots, Everest Group researchers have also identified a number of challenges that organizations face as they adopt and scale RPA. Those challenges, as detailed here, include the absence of an RPA strategy as well as a lack of organizational change management and experienced RPA resources.
Forrester Research identified similar issues, noting that a survey found that 25% of responding data and analytics decision-makers said their firms lack an overall vision or strategy for automation, 26% said they face challenges with culture and change management, and 25% said they see gaps in their organizational structure, alignment and readiness.
Analysts, researchers and management advisors said such findings raise some red flags. They stress that automation is already a critical technology for operational efficiency and digital transformation, adding that the role it plays in enterprise strategy and operations will only continue to increase. That makes RPA bots a topic that the C-suite should have on its agenda.
Experts said the C-level decision makers should consider these points:
Where automation fits in the enterprise roadmap
RPA bots can support both tactical and strategic objectives. RPA deployments done as point solutions can deliver efficiencies with improved quality and cost savings, while some RPA projects can help organizations transform their processes and services and support broader digital initiatives, experts said.
With that in mind, enterprise executives should establish an RPA program where leaders can determine how, where and why they want to use the technology, said Gina Schaefer, managing director and intelligent automation leader with Deloitte Consulting LLP.
As part of this program, executives should develop mechanisms to identify processes that are good candidates for RPA and find a way to enlist managers and directors who have greater visibility into the everyday operations and processes that could benefit from RPA, said Justin Richie, the data science director at digital consultancy Nerdery.
Executives also should determine the methods for evaluating the ROI of such opportunities, and using those ROI calculations to prioritize projects, Richie added.
The need for a center of excellence
Organizations that are more mature in their use of automation have RPA centers of excellence to house technology domain experts as well as employees from the various business lines who are familiar with the manual processes who are prime candidates for RPA, said Carl F. Lehmann, a principal analyst for automation and integration at 451 Research.
These centers document such processes, then rate and qualify them for automation, thereby creating a standard procedure to advance, manage and govern the RPA agenda within the enterprise.
How to staff and operate the center of excellence
"The center of excellence has to think about how the business is represented, what kind of skills are needed from the business, what tech skills are needed, and which ones need to be in-house and outside," Schaefer said, adding that those questions often don't get the attention they deserve at the outset of an RPA program.
Organizations must consider, for example, what technical roles they'll need on an ongoing basis to support RPA bots and make those staff positions, and which skills they'll only need occasionally and could therefore come from RPA vendors, partners or contractors.
Similarly, she said executives should consider how the center of excellence will enlist the business-side workers who understand the processes targeted for automation and how those business-side workers will partner with the technical teams to be productive.
Schaefer said she has seen some centers "crumble under their own weight," with more technical experts than available work. But she said she has also seen centers that empower business-side employees to create their own RPA bots with support and guidance from their technical colleagues. "Those centers act as facilitators and not bottlenecks," she added.
How to move beyond tactical uses to leveraging RPA for transformation
"The greatest pitfall and limiting factor in the success of digital transformation programs driven by intelligent automation is point solutions," said PR Krishnan, the global head of enterprise intelligent automation and AI at Tata Consultancy Services.
"Continuous innovation and rapid changes across the technology landscape mean point solutions become outdated quickly or present a constant integration challenge as enterprises evolve their technology investments to deliver on business objectives," he said.
To avoid that pitfall, Krishnan said he advises executives to view RPA as part of a larger intelligent automation strategy that is holistic and that's steered by both business and IT.
"For enterprise leaders who are looking to make the investment, it is critical to recognize RPA as the first step in the intelligent automation journey," he said. "While the ownership of this strategy may lie with a business leader, a CIO or CMO, it is important to recognize the partnerships -- both internal and external -- that will effectively determine the success of program."