The market for robotic process automation (RPA) is forecast to reach $2.1bn per year by 2021, according to Forrester Research, as IT leaders see the benefit of automating repetitive tasks by replicating routine human-computer interactions with software.
Initial use of RPA is often a gateway to full automation, and to ensure the intended benefits in cost and productivity, it’s important to understand the key factors for selecting a supplier.
“Getting started with RPA is an easy decision to make; it’s a no-brainer. RPA is a painless technology that lets you easily automate certain tasks that are time-consuming and done on a regular basis,” says Brian Safron, worldwide programme director for digital business automation at IBM.
Think long term
Despite the low risk and quick return of introducing a standalone solution and using RPA to address a specific task such as data entry that would otherwise be done manually, it is worth considering a longer-term automation strategy.
“The question to ask is, ‘Do you want to be limited by an RPA that is finite and fenced off?’ You can automate specific tasks by mirroring the actions of a human at a PC, but RPA can be part of something bigger,” says Safron.
Limiting RPA to a specific task does not unlock its full value because a business process comprises a complex series of tasks that are chained together. It is only by putting into perspective how RPA works within business automation, integrating technologies like decision management and content management, that you can see the bigger picture so greater value can be derived for the organisation.
CIOs need to think about RPA within the context of an automation strategy, or “RPA-plus”, when choosing a provider. Otherwise CIOs risk losing out on longer-term gains because RPA on its own is not a replacement for digital business automation.
“RPA is great for replicating repetitive tasks that otherwise can take a person several minutes or sometimes even hours to complete. But you also want the ability to run longer processes comprised of numerous tasks where you can track the status and progress of that process, apply operational analytics, and report on where processing can be improved,” says Safron.
By choosing a provider that offers RPA-plus, an organisation can report on which processes hit their service level agreements (SLAs), for example. This can determine how RPA can be leveraged to expand its value to the organisation.
RPA can be used with data capture, business rules, workflow and content as part of a richer business automation strategy. Finding a provider that offers this breadth of capabilities, integrated with RPA, is the way to unleash this potential.
“RPA is the sweet spot for automating repetitive, mundane, human tasks but it has limited use cases. Some solutions require RPA plus some other things. While RPA can provide quick returns, you need to make sure you don’t restrict your opportunities,” says Safron.
A roadmap for integration
When integrated with other automation technologies, RPA can be used in a variety of situations to bring wider benefits to the organisation. CIOs should have this roadmap in mind when selecting a supplier.
“By using RPA in the broader context, from an architectural standpoint you can combine RPA with things like business rules, decision management, data capture and workflow,” says Safron.
This allows organisations with complex processes that may run over days or hours to use RPA as part of a sophisticated automation strategy. It can enable RPA to be integrated with decision-making and non-routine tasks with a variety of outcomes leading to a high return on investment.
An automation portfolio
Safron advises that in choosing a supplier, CIOs needs to look at their portfolio of automation requirements and map out the different types of solutions. Automation is not one size fits all, so it is important to consider factors such as the volume of automation, the amount of human involvement required and the uniqueness of each instance.
“Think about automation from a portfolio perspective,” says Safron.
Identify tasks that are carried out by humans that are repetitive and can be replicated by a computer to reduce human error and speed up the process. Look at the division of where repeatable tasks end and where decision management begins.
“Look at how those intersect and what combinations you need to accomplish your business goals,” says Safron.
Finally, it is vital to consider the opportunities of RPA-plus when considering a provider to ensure your organisation can put together the right combination of solutions to solve challenges in the future to improve customer and employee experiences. The ability to deliver a broader portfolio will help create a clear roadmap towards full automation and a digital-first model.
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