Launch of RPA programs

Venkat Arakoni, IT Manager – SAP and RPA Solution Delivery, CommScope Inc

RPA has matured and also gained popularity over the past few years and has become the tool of choice for organizations to rapidly increase productivity and reduce transaction costs in a short period of time. However, companies continue to struggle to revive the program and/or establish measures that maximize the benefits of the RPA program. Below are some key thoughts for businesses to maximize returns on their RPA programs.

Selection of RPA vendors: As RPA vendors increase functionality and sophistication, these features should be carefully evaluated for ease of use, ability to scale to sophisticated features such as AI and ML, cultural fit, rapid financial returns, RPA support model, and other factors, including vendor sustainability. Partnering with the right RPA provider is key in this journey. Performing a proof of concept with each shortlisted vendor would be a great way to assess vendor RPA applications for organizational fit. For example, if an organization wishes to pursue a citizen development/support model, the selected RPA application must be able to meet the desired model.

Governance: Executive sponsorship is critical to accelerating and sustaining RPA programs. Unlike large ERP programs where benefits accrue over a longer period of time, RPA programs focus on rapid deployments and immediate realization of benefits. Executive sponsorship and strong governance can help maintain focus on the program charter and, more importantly, the program’s ROI. RPA programs require a very strong IT and business partnership, and RPA governance must reflect that partnership. Joint Centers of Excellence can help launch the program through roadshows, communications, change management and demand generation. Increasingly, RPA requests are intermingled with other corporate reporting and citizen development requests. As various centers of excellence mature, organizations should seek to pollinate the constituents of governance to maximize benefits for related applications. Empowering constituents of governance to ensure execution practices remain lean and nimble is essential.

Intake process: RPA intake forms can initially be simple (Excel sheet or SharePoint form), with functionality added later to automate assessments and workflows. Assessment forms should collect functional, technical, and ROI information to quickly determine applications. Centers of Excellence must rigorously refine RPA requests against defined criteria before channeling the request for delivery. Due to the short lifespan of RPAs, the expectation is to accrue benefits immediately with full repayment within 6 months. Finally, top performers include post-implementation assessments to confirm realized benefits.

Once the “RPAfirst” mindset becomes mainstream, the benefits of RPA begin to accelerate exponentially

Demand Generation: There are many ways to drive demand for RPA. Perform many proofs of concept (POCs) initially and use POCs to market RPAs to enterprise consumers. Once key consumers have embraced the benefits of the program, selling and adopting RPA applications across the enterprise becomes easier. There are two broad approaches to generating demand for RPA, bottom-up and top-down. Most organizations start with a bottom-up approach that involves doing lots of POCs and show & tell to get consumers interested in automation. The bottom-up or crowdsourcing approach is a natural first step in the progression of RPA. As RPAs grow in popularity, potential consumers come up with ideas for automating manual tasks in their respective fields. The bottom-up approach is a great approach to quickly seize the simplest automation opportunities and, more importantly, to reinforce the perception of the program. However, the next step in generating the RPA request requires applying the top-down approach. In this approach, end-to-end processes are examined across functional domains (including disparate systems), with the goal of seizing all possible automation opportunities within a domain. The use cases thus derived are then compared to the admission criteria and selected for implementation. The top-down approach is more comprehensive in compensation automation opportunities and, when done well, will cover the full spectrum of opportunities within a business.

IT and Business Supported Model: There are no right or wrong models to support RPA applications. The support decision will depend on the RPA software selected (some RPA applications are more conducive to citizen development), the functionality of the RPA being deployed (AI and machine learning require deep tech/programming experience), the culture and size of the company and the ability to leverage IT investments (particularly in offshore centers and Helpdesk). Organizations can start with a simple support model and evolve the model over time. Support models should be evaluated periodically to ensure agile delivery.

Organizations will need a 5-year roadmap to mature the RPA journey, of which year #1 should be used for demos, road shows, and communications to promote RPA awareness. In the early years, lowering the ROI and productivity bar for RPA demands will help accelerate RPA deployments and adoption in later years. Once the “RPAfirst” mindset becomes mainstream, the benefits of RPA begin to accelerate exponentially.