A smart approach to robotic process automation (RPA) begins with an honest evaluation of which areas would benefit your enterprise most effectively, whether through soft dollar savings or hard numbers that contribute positively to the financial bottom line. When RPA was introduced to enterprises, it was clear it increased productivity, especially in production. The jump to technology productivity was next embraced as providing efficiency opportunities for multiple technical roles. The attractiveness of freeing time for employees to move to other tasks, however, was often not the experience that organizations gained. Rather, departments often didn’t achieve major time savings, instead shaving a few hours here and there, according to Carlos Veiga, intelligent process automation manager. Veiga has worked in this space for Fortune 500 companies for the past five years and is currently with a Top 10 national healthcare company.
“Everyone jumped in that boat and three years later, that approach is now seen as a mistake. A few hours of your work processes that were replaced simply moved employees on to a different task and overall proved to offer minimal savings,” he said. Rather than automation for automation’s sake, look at your data from a big picture perspective and identify tasks that are:
- Needed quickly
- Low margin for error
After an honest assessment of those projects, which may be numerous, enterprises can then look to tackle what Veiga terms the “impossible” projects. These are larger in scope and have opportunities to achieve larger ROI.
Automate the mundane; accelerate the impactful
He suggests focusing RPA efforts in areas that deliver higher ROI with measurable savings or profit opportunities for the bottom line or in soft-dollar avenues captured by employee retention from improved job satisfaction.
The rise in remote work opportunities can turn employees’ heads. But instilling RPA in high-volume areas can remove mundane tasks and shift an employee’s availability to produce more meaningful work professionally. In turn, someone can see more value and opportunity in their decision to remain with an employer. Veiga said the gains are measurable through employee satisfaction, retention, and time savings.
“Ask, ‘How am I improving: the life of my employees?’ Remove the repetitive tasks and give meaningful challenges instead,” Veiga recommends. “A few years ago, it was just dollar-focused. Now, they’ve found a different truth.”
Focus efforts on ‘low-hanging fruit’
“First you want to look at dollars. Sometimes you can’t effectively measure time savings, but you can measure headcount. Evolve the discussion and see what you can manage. Employee overtime is a readily visible number; if it can be reduced, that translates to savings.
“Look at adding RPA in high-volume standardized document processing such as purchase orders and sales orders. Automation easily understands this data. Look for the low-hanging fruit. You can tie it back dollar to dollar, ROI is accomplished, and everybody is happy. You could hire a company to take care of repetitive tasks that are volumized and reduce vendor contracts. Take the savings recouped to use somewhere else.”
Address multiple data demands
When a data processing need is new, as well as time-sensitive and required for compliance, turning to RPA can be an obvious route. Tasks that fit this bill are also typically high volume, mundane, and don’t particularly contribute to your business strategy.
Legislation or regulatory compliance needs are good cases to consider RPA. Entrusting this to staff fulfillment means all controls may not be applied, exposing you to the risk of human error. This causes the potential for compliance liability, and most employees would gladly turn these situations over to automation. One example Veiga highlights is for companies that must have a department now tracking employee attendance and processing documents related to Covid-19 vaccinations.
The type of enterprise industry also affects whether RPA should be managed internally. Data breaches can negatively affect ROI and demands from customers to comply with data privacy rules must be addressed within a set timeframe, as required by some state laws. Specifically, banks, financial institutions, and healthcare providers often prefer not to outsource specific data handling.
Tackle the ‘impossible’ projects
“Impossible” tasks are those that require many hands and a lot of effort, but the reward is a great ROI, Veiga stated.
“If you’re in the big market spaces, you can grab data from hundreds of thousands of sales, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and similar stores. That impossible work has an ROI that is up to you. It would be great if you knew how much the marketplaces were charging for your project; by measuring profit you can identify needed pricing adjustments. Look at the review ratings for ideas to go back to R&D for product improvement and improved customer satisfaction.”
As you look at your enterprise data, Veiga offers both an RPA warning and a piece of business advice.
“If it has a bad design, don’t create a technical debt and roll over the problem to next year. Never automate a bad process. That is a big no, no. Optimize before you automate.”
Use cases: From city paperwork to provisioning cable modems
An opportunity to incorporate RPA turned into a successful time-save for the city of Miami’s Parking Authority through a partnership with global automation solution provider Decisions. They looked to RPA to speed up the approval process for city residents’ applications for reduced costs for the on-street parking program.
Reviewing applications was lengthy and time-consuming. This was minimized by integrating the application process with geofencing from the provided address to automatically disqualify those not within the city limits. Wading through one application went from about 15 minutes to one or two minutes, said Will Petterson, Decision’s VP of Customer Experience. He added that generating revenue while reducing costs were both achieved in this instance.
According to Henry Espinosa, the parking authority’s director of Information Technology, the process bottlenecks were identified and removed and the RPA partnership allows the city to find solutions through Decisions when new problems present.
“Miami Parking Authority has had a hiring freeze in place for almost two years. With Decisions, we’re able to continue becoming more efficient and increasing revenue during the pandemic. Removing paper and manual work from their processes ensures that employees are doing what they are supposed to do.”
Another Decision’s client who was successful with RPA can be found with the story of a Midwest telecom supplier. Its move from an automated but static and inflexible process to provision users’ cable modems reduced time from 30-45 minutes down to five minutes.
Consider empowering workers at multiple levels to unburden IT
On a more strategic level, enterprises can consider broadening user opportunities for RPA, according to Michele Cunningham, Decision’s VP of Marketing. “The intelligent process toolkit is built for the civilian; subject matter experts can use it more simply,” she said. “Empower them to create their own technical automation moves without going through the overhead – IT is overburdened – let them build the components and integration and let the users build great things.”
Seek outside the industry for inspiration
Cunningham also encourages enterprises to learn by seeking creative use cases outside of their industry.
“Southwest didn’t call another airline when they were seeking advice on their process; they watched NASCAR pit crews. We’re not going to improve from our myopic viewpoint.”