Robotic Process Automation: The A-Z of RPA

Cartoon Character TECHOHats 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:

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Why 48% Of Cost Reduction Initiatives Fail

Almost half of all cost reduction initiatives fail – and that’s despite enterprises scaling back their cost-cutting ambitions – as Deloitte’s 2013 Cost Improvement Survey reports:

“[Despite lower targets…] executive respondents have reported a higher failure rate for their cost initiatives. In 2008, the failure rate was 14%. In 2010, it was 37%. And in 2012, the failure rate climbed to 48%, meaning that nearly half of all cost initiatives now fail to achieve their goals.”

One root cause – possibly the root cause – must be that most organizations don’t have an enterprise process management platform. So they:

  • don’t have a comprehensive and joined-up perspective on their operations
  • don’t have a framework for effective collaboration on the design and implementation of change
  • can’t fully leverage the power of process visualization to simplify
  • can’t easily break down silos and engage their people in continuous improvement
  • are locked into project-thinking, and so down-playing longer-term sustainability.

It’s a diagnosis that’s borne out by the survey respondents:

“The biggest barriers to effective cost reduction cited by respondents are “lack of understanding” about the need for cost reduction (74%), and “erosion of savings” (73%) resulting from cost improvements that are not feasible or sustainable.

Survey respondents indicated that their companies are attempting to overcome the barriers by focusing more attention on change management (52%), clearly defining goals and objectives (41%), and communication (32%).”

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02 Apr 2013   A Simplification Bandwagon Begins To Roll

21 Feb 2013   When Process Standardization Backfires

Soulful Operational Excellence

iStock_000023558527LargeIf Operational Excellence (OpEx) and Lean Sigma are too often associated with a sense of heartless oppression, what would be soulful OpEx be? Is there a recipe for a wholegrain honest-to-goodness OpEx that everyone can believe in?

I think so – and there’s a step that we could take to nudge it to become the new normal.

There’s a wide spectrum of definitions of Operational Excellence. Some are crude, defined simply in terms of resource efficiency and its impact on the bottom line. Others seem ethereal.  But many start by acknowledging that people aren’t simply just another resource, and that the means matter just as much as the ends. Continue reading

The Process Team Quietly Demolishing Silos

iStock_000002428072XSmallA shout out, on behalf of stockholders, for all the unsung heroes in process excellence.

This is the story of one:  the Head of Process Excellence in a global organization on a 7-year transformation program after rapid growth through acquisition. One of its strategic goals is to break down the silos and ensure more effective collaboration.

In his role as the final QA, my friend is under huge pressure to sign off the To-Be processes. But he’s refusing because there’s fog where there should be a clear line of sight.  The Global Process Owners are content within their silos and happy to fudge. They don’t welcome the clarity that will embed the changes.

It’s tough. In many circumstances, it could be career-limiting.  My friend has executive support, for now at least.  But there’s a lot of flak, with accusations flying of a major re-organization being obstructed by ‘process nerds who think their maps are more important’.

That’s process leadership.

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26 Mar 2013   A Litmus Test For Process Craft

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Process Excellence: What’s To Be Done?

The PEX Week Europe survey results, just published, make for surprisingly gloomy reading. There seems to be something badly adrift in the world of Process Excellence.

Almost 1,000 ‘process professionals’ were surveyed last month. The single most worrying chart shows perceptions of process improvement in their organizations:

11.7% said that their process excellence program was either at risk or had already been dismantled (up from 5.7% in 2011)

15% said that process improvement was experiencing declining returns in their organization

17% reported that effort and interest in process improvement has peaked.

Which is surprising. My own take is that continuous improvement is very much part of the zeitgeist in the CxO suite, and that process excellence is becoming more widely understood as the other side of that coin.  So why do ‘process professionals’ seem so downbeat?

It could be simply a European problem, but I suspect not.  More likely perhaps is that many organizations hugely over-invested in Lean and Six Sigma programmes that failed to deliver. They failed to some extent, of course, because they were wildly over-sold.  But many of today’s ‘process professionals’ might looking back nostalgically at those heady days.

It is plainly ridiculous that process excellence should be getting such a bad press. So what’s to be done?

At the risk of your groans at this point, here’s some reasons why I see the enterprise process management platform as the missing piece in this jigsaw:

It links process improvement with top level business strategy.  It addresses directly the single biggest process excellence challenge reported in the PEX survey. It provides direct line of sight between the operating model and the operational processes.

It ensures sustainable improvement, the second biggest challenge reported in the survey. An enterprise process management platform allows a pipeline of improvement projects to be identified, analysed, designed and delivered – in collaboration with the business. So there’s engagement and adoption: cost cuts stick and there’s no organizational snapback after change.

It gives meaning to metrics.  A third of survey respondents reported that “My organization measures so many metrics that it’s difficult to know which ones are important”.  Define KPIs as leading indicators of the health of the end-to-end processes and they have context. Even better, when a traffic light goes red, I can see immediately what’s upstream, what’s downstream and who are the stakeholders: I can start to fix it quicker.

And, if that wasn’t enough, it allows risks and controls to be embedded and managed within the context of the operational processes, so compliance and risk management is easier – which will get the attention of the CFO at least and so address another reported challenge: the lack of executive buy-in.

With an enterprise process management platform in place, ‘process professionals’ can do what they do best.  And feel loved again.

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21 Feb 2013   When Process Standardization Backfires

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013

Shared Services: Search For Missing Benefits Continues

Deloitte 2013 Global Shared Services Survey ResultsDeloitte’s 2013 Global Shared Services Survey report, just published, confirms that things are progressing as expected. There’s growth – in the breadth of services offered, and in the spread of locations – and more complexity and sophistication, with more multifunction SSCs, more hybrid delivery models and more stand-alone GBS organizations.

This year, Deloitte is not publishing the main survey findings, listing only the questions asked of the 270+ respondents.  But one line in the executive summary hints at what is perhaps the most interesting story of all:

“A multifaceted approach to addressing the retained organization is required to realize the intended benefits.”

The word on the street is that few shared services programmes deliver their business case. They may do great things, they may employ very talented people, but often there seems to be a question mark over benefits realization. And although the 2013 Survey report doesn’t comment on this directly, a (separate) Deloitte webinar last week seemed to confirm that there’s no smoke without fire.

Now it’s true that that webinar was focussed on HR Shared Services. But many SSCs are now multi-functional, and Deloitte claims to have worked on 900 shared services projects. So it seems a credible source.

In Global HR Shared Services: Emerging Trends, Brett Walsh and colleagues from Deloitte shed light on Shared Services ‘optimisation’ challenges:

“Much has been said about the role of shared services in the transformation of the Human Resources function. Yet for many companies, the benefits expected from transformation are proving elusive.”

“Long after project go-live, when systems and delivery models are in place, organisations still struggle to release the full potential of their investment in HR Shared Services. In fact, many organisations report either failure or significant underperformance compared to their original business case.”

There’s no single solution. Every organization is different.  But I’m going to stake a claim that one of the root causes for the ‘missing’ benefits – maybe the root cause – is a laid-back approach to process management.  It’s the attitude that defining process is simply an overhead and a non-value-add activity; that it doesn’t matter if process is in duplicated and overlapping fragments, in different tools and formats, unconnected with real work, and ‘governed’ only by email.

Without the rigour and support of a process management platform, effective collaboration among the stakeholders on the design and implementation of change must be in jeopardy.  We see it mostly obviously, and dramatically, in the chasm that can appear between IT and the business, but it undermines effective collaboration between all the other stakeholders too.

Related Posts

21 Feb 2013    When Process Standardization Backfires

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013

Burning Platforms

A prospective client shared the hidden costs of ‘normal’ process management.

This is a back-office function of 4k people within in a global organization of 100k+ people. This particular division is changing fast, like most back offices.  Its transformation team set up almost 40 major change projects last year – covering offshoring, outsourcing, systems consolidation, shared services, organizational restructuring and Lean initiatives.

Every one of those change projects started with a process capture phase.  Typically 2 FTE take 4 weeks to define the current processes in detail, as the start point for managing change.

That’s roughly 6 FTE full-time employed on capturing the As-Is processes. Scale it up across the organization and that’s around 150 FTE employed full-time in capturing the current processes as the start point for managing change.

Downstream, after the As-Is processes have been defined, there’s probably much more waste – and risk – in how the To-Be processes are designed, analysed and implemented.

But it’s ‘the way things have always been’. For busy execs there’s no burning platform. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that adopting Nimbus as an enterprise process platform looks like ‘additional time and effort, that we don’t have, to achieve a nice-to-have’.

Bring out the hidden costs though and it’s easy to re-frame it, correctly, as an investment of the existing time and effort into building a joined-up, comprehensive and real-time view of the business, and a flame-proof platform for sustainable improvement.

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29 Jan 2013    Process Resistance

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© Text Michael Gammage 2013