A very common issue we have seen in the last 12 months is identifying RPA use cases in organisations. In our workshop events, we regularly have discussions with attendees around their existing RPA use cases, and it is not uncommon for attendees to really struggle to identify a single existing business process that they think would make a good candidate for automation. However, we actually know from experience that this, in fact, is a good indicator for automation opportunity. This blog post explains how and why the most successful organisations with RPA usually have a difficult time getting started, and what to do if you are in a similar situation.
The first part of the automation initiation journey is simply to identify and assess RPA use cases within your business. There are many ways of going about this, ranging from internal business process analysis to sophisticated process mining technologies. Ultimately though, a business will need to identify a single RPA use case to act as a proof-of-concept and good kickstarter to their RPA journey. This candidate use-case will typically possess the following attributes:
- Clearly defined benefits that have objective advantages
- Very few downsides, risks or reasons not to proceed with developing it as a proof-of-concept
However, we have seen and spoken to many businesses who say they struggle to identify a single good RPA use case. Common traits for these businesses are that their:
- Processes are not written down anywhere
- Processes are not formally revised and updated regularly
- Staff cannot clearly articulate what it is that they do each day/week/month
At this point, businesses might well be thinking that automation is either too difficult or not presently applicable, and will abandon pursuing RPA altogether. But the reality is that if a business is really struggling to reconcile their internal processes with automation, that is not such a bad thing. In fact, if you can’t identify a single good candidate for RPA, that is a good sign that you are in need of automation. This is because it says that your business, and specifically business processes, are far too reliant on your staff and/or systems. Your business is likely to be operating purely thanks to the efforts of long-term staff, who personally hold all your process knowledge in their brain, and legacy systems that are not being fully utilised, or at the very least, are not being continually challenged as to how the technology can be improved/redesigned to improve efficiencies.
This ‘make-do’ attitude means that your business is exposed in two ways:
- You are more at risk and indeed affected by staff turnover. When existing staff leave, tremendous business process knowledge leaves with them, significantly impacting both short and long-term business.
- Your business is obviously inefficient – there simply MUST be processes in a business which can be more effectively outsourced to automation. No business has ever demonstrated to us that it did not possess a single process that could not be more efficently done via automation, and certainly all big-businesses and market leaders utilise automation in their organisations.
Despite the abovementioned risks having significant consequences, very few businesses take any steps to meaningfully address or manage them. But managing these risks is actually very straightforward.
How to Solve the Problem
The key is to first recognise that this perceived absence RPA opportunities is not because of a true lack of process candidates, but is because of an internal, cultural approach to business, which over relies on staff/systems to execute processes. By recognising this approach, you can begin to enact change to inject good habits and policies into your business. These will typically take the form of:
- Documenting all your processes in detail
- Implementing a continuous improvement framework for your processes (including regular reviews and assessments for risks and opportunities)
- Implementing proper process discovery technologies, such as UiPath Process Mining, Task Mining or Task Capture
After making the above changes, businesses will very quickly begin to accumulate lots of information about their processes, both known and unknown. More importantly though, they also begin to enhance business processes because the knowledge has now been taken from the minds of employees and put on paper, allowing that knowledge to be collectively analysed. This strategy of diversifying process knowledge away from staff not only reduces the risk of business disruption from staff turnover, but allows existing processes to be challenged and enhanced, making them ripe for automation. It is at this point that the original problem of identifying RPA use cases is now solved, because your business is now flush with well documented and well evolved processes.
It’s surprising that the most successful organisations with RPA have usually gone through the above experience: struggling to get started, realising what that struggle actually means, resetting their approach to business process, and succeeding in RPA initiation and implementation. If you want to succeed with RPA, you need to recognise and accept this experience within your own organisation, and understand what it means and how to successfully navigate it. Otherwise, rejecting the opportunity for RPA can be a very costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.