Hats off to Barbara Hodge and SSON for two useful webinars yesterday on RPA.
I’ve been trying to ignore RPA for months – but clients, partners and colleagues keep bringing it up. My take was that RPA was a marketing-driven fad and not worth spending any time researching. It was surely just a mash up of a business rules engine with some case management and real-time analytics bundled in, to create something like a BPMS but with the agility of a ‘low code’ platform.
Anyway, after hearing recently of some serious RPA projects on the horizon, I was sufficiently intrigued to tune in yesterday. The Telefonica UK case study claims some very impressive ROI – not just in opex and capex but also in improved customer experience. RPA is now an established part of Telefonica’s improvement tool kit, alongside standard PI, Process Elimination and old school automation using a BPMS.
RPA has opened up new capabilities:
It is used as a low-cost means of testing possible (very expensive) changes to sophisticated customer self-service portals. Of three potential changes tested, only one had demonstrated sufficient customer impact to justify investment in changing the portal.
RPA is also used to deal with the exceptions to IT-led automation projects. So the 5% of process exceptions from a typical IT-led automation are no longer dumped into the back office; RPA is used as a low cost way to close the loop so that there is no additional workload for the back office.
RPA is used to increase peak capacity when business volumes soar (such as the first six weeks after an iPhone launch).
There were significant governance challenges (hat tip to the Telefonica presenter, who was commendably frank). It has taken some years to evolve a governance framework which ensures that process owners and other stakeholders have visibility of proposed changes throughout, and includes a series of quality gates for sign-offs at each stage. It also includes enhanced monitoring during and after the launch of any process change.
Governance remains the challenge whatever the underlying technology of course. Whether it’s RPA or a BPMS or plain old workflow (or all of them, as may easily happen, even in a single process) the challenges in delivering sustained performance improvement are similar:
- to ensure appropriate end-to-end visibility and engagement
- to ensure effective cross-silo collaboration in the design and implementation of change
- to clarify roles and responsibilities at every level
- to ensure risks are identified and controls are in place and tested
- to ensure that the people doing real work are fully engaged and will be properly supported.
Maybe RPA is just another automation toolset. But it could also be a significant disruptor, not least in the world of BPO – and outsourcing more generally.
08 Sep 2014 When Does A Tool Become A Platform?
07 Jul 2014 Process? Just Don’t Make Me Think