5 critical success factors for Robotic Process Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) is software that can mimic or copy the actions of users on any application. ENGIE was an early adopter of this technology in 2015 and has won national awards for its RPA programme led by programme director, Martin Ruane. Speaking at the Process Excellence Europe Conference in Amsterdam this October, Martin shared five critical success factors for implementing RPA successfully.

Most RPA adopters go through a maturity curve, which involves three key stages: Early, Incubation and Centre of Excellence (COE). The Early Stage is characterised by a proof of concept leading to the Incubation Stage, where the technology, skills and approach are road tested and refined.  The final stage is COE, where the organisation has all the collateral to scale up its RPA efforts. ENGIE launched its own RPA COE in 2016 and subsequently won two national awards. Martin’s five critical success factors are:

  1. Skills
  2. People and Change
  3. Partnership with ICT
  4. Continuous Improvement
  5. Pipeline Activities

Skills

The latest Forrester research highlights 50 plus RPA service providers and counting.  Gartner suggests that the industry is growing by 20-30% per quarter and according to Horses For Sources the value of the global RPA market is set to increase to $443m this year, from $271m last year, to $1.2bn by 2021.  So demand for the technology is expanding fast as it moves out of an early adopter phase.  Supply of adequate skills is struggling to keep pace with this demand.  Whether you’re a service provider or an in-house team, a solid skills and retention strategy is vital. 

It is possible to train current operational staff to use the technology.  Back in 2015, that is how ENGIE started and we still have an operational model.  However, the technology needs to be simpler still for most people with a non-ICT background to fully utilise.  Potential candidates can be put through a simple assessment process to evaluate their aptitude to use the technology.  ICT graduates can be a better target as they already have the core skills required.

Another factor to consider is how to retain people against the inevitable gaze of the growing number of service providers.  Key will be developing retention mechanisms that are salary competitive.  Just like all organisations, a strong psychological contract with staff is important, if not essential in such a highly competitive market.

It’s all about people

Lacity and Willcocks remind us of the risks of failure should an organisation not embrace RPA as a change programme.  Every organisation is different but RPA will bring widespread change because of its functional reach across a wide range of processes.

There is much debate about the current industrial revolution we are living through; will jobs disappear or will the march of new technology continue to create more, higher value jobs?  The answer is the future is not clear.  Yes, some existing jobs will be replaced with new emerging technology but it is impossible to crystal ball the new, unknown opportunities technology will bring.  Technology is an emotive topic, often  accompanied with sensational job displacement headlines.  A strategy for addressing staff concerns is not only sensible but important for momentum.  The consequence of RPA adoption is that capacity will be created and people will be thrown into a stressed state as a result of the change.  Most organisations are looking to upskill and reshape their organisations over time.  The usual change levers will need to be used to avoid poor momentum or even failure including; top level buy in, appropriate governance, two way communication mechanisms and involvement of stakeholders.

Partner with ICT

RPA models can vary depending on whether the adoption team sit within the business or ICT.  ENGIE’s model is within the business but a close working partnership with ICT has been key in its success.  The consideration stretches way beyond initial set up and maintenance of the RPA environment.  Support for RPA processes needs to be thought through and responsibilities agreed.  What if the infrastructure or an application used by the bot fails?  How are changes to applications managed? What about the process of moving a process from test to production?  Organisations may answer these questions differently but it is important that a clear agreement is reached and communicated. 

Another aspect is considering how functional use of bots complies with your organisation’s security policy. This needs to clearly documented, including risks and mitigations working closely alongside ICT.

What if a critical process fails?  It is sensible carry out an impact assessment in the pre-build stage so risks of failure can be considered and mitigated.  This may mean a change to existing Business Continuity Plans.

Continuous improvement

Encouraging challenge to an organisation or service is very healthy to help drive improvements in performance.  A COE should strive to constantly improve standards that provide greater benefits to customers.  There are many ways to encourage challenge, including staff feedback, customer feedback and benchmarking to name but a few.  Performance data will help adopters track the impact of any improvements made.

Pipeline activities

Building a strong RPA pipeline is one of the most important activities for a COE.  There are three key approaches, which are not mutually exclusive:

  1. Marketing/communications
  2. Industrial rollout
  3. Process taxonomy

The ability to communicate and convince your organisation that RPA can solve some of their problems is fundamental to rolling out the technology as widely as possible and gaining greater acceptance.  Sometimes the burning platform has to be made real at a local level.  A range of marketing/communication activities and general focus on publicising RPA and its benefits is an important role for a COE.  Over time this pro-active approach may be partially replaced by requests from within the organisation.

Identifying common processes that are used across the organisation will become a priority for your pipeline.  Processes can be built and re-used to reduce development times for common processes and allow, if necessary, an element of localisation.  This becomes a much easier way to deploy RPA and can form an integral part of new business opportunities.

Understanding your organisation’s applications and the processes used with them can highlight opportunities to develop industrial processes commonly used across the organisation.  Over time a RPA process taxonomy can be developed for each application to support the wider deployment of RPA across your organisation.

ENGIE has been working with RPA as an early adopter since 2015.  In 2016, ENGIE launched its COE and in the same year won two prestigious UK awards; the Institute of Customer Services Award and Premises and Facilities Management Award.  The success of ENGIE’s RPA programme has been founded on the five critical success factors that Martin has shared.  

Martin will be speaking at this year’s RPA & AI Week on 27 to 29 November at ExCeL London. Find out more information here: https://www.rpaandaisummit.com/agenda-mc