At the most basic level, robotic process automation (RPA) simply means using a piece of computer software to complete a specific task. Process automation technology is based on these software robots (or ‘bots’) copying what a human user would do if asked to complete that same task, then replicating that process. To build the process knowledge required, RPA bots can be set to record what a human user does, then use this recording to establish a set of repeatable actions for future use.

Definition of robotic process automation

Once a bot is activated, it can be triggered manually, or configured to respond to triggers in the background of an organization’s IT infrastructure, like if an email with a certain subject line is received. Once it has received the trigger, the bot then performs its programmed set of actions.

Of course, certain business processes are more suited to automation than others. To determine exactly which processes are easiest to automate, and offer the greatest return on investment, we can define the set of characteristics they have in common.

In short, any process considered for RPA should be:

  • Repetitive and routine
  • Highly susceptible to human error
  • Based on specific rules
  • Dealing with digital data
  • High volume and high priority
  • Standardized and mature
  • Limited in decision-making

In other words, if a business process requires a high level of human intervention, deals with non-electronic data sources, is new or undertaken only rarely, or must produce different outcomes depending on specific circumstances, it is not a good candidate for process automation. For time-consuming and repetitive business processes, especially those human workers find difficult or annoying, robotic process automation can offer significant cost savings, and a host of other benefits.

Benefits of robotic process automation

The ultimate objective of any robotic process automation initiative is to have humans and bots working in perfect harmony. Leaving rule-based business processes to software robots while human employees handle those that require the application of critical thinking or flexible decision-making unlocks a whole range of benefits, including:

  • Massively increased efficiency
  • Reduced costs
  • Repetitive tasks completed more quickly and with fewer errors
  • Improved regulatory compliance as repeated steps are monitored and documented
  • Employees freed from uninspiring and menial tasks, instead focusing higher-value tasks that can help grow your business
  • Enhanced company culture, with successful RPA implementations making employees more open to digital transformation in other areas of the business
  • Potential risks can be anticipated and overcome by assessing the quality of specific processes before automating them
  • Maintenance of corporate knowledge and memory without the need to rely on specific employees
  • Improved customer service as errors are reduced, resulting in an improved customer experience, better customer relationships, and higher retention rates
  • Reduced reliance on offshore or contracted employees
  • Better insights into, and therefore greater control over, how work actually gets done within your business

Challenges of robotic process automation

Of course, as with the introduction of any new software or other technology into an organization, there are always risks that need to be taken into account. For robotic process automation, these risks are not attached to the actual business process automation itself, but instead to the decisions around the goal of the automation, and which business processes an organization is seeking to automate. Here are three of the most common pitfalls facing organizations as they deploy their RPA tools and automate their processes.

1. Poor choice of pilot

Pilot projects offer a way for the benefits of automation to be demonstrated in a smaller, more controlled way. However, the general enthusiasm to automate as much and as quickly as possible can sometimes lead management to implement RPA pilots using larger and more complex processes, which are often not suitable for limited or proof-of-concept RPA projects. The best pilot project would avoid large, mission-critical tasks in favor of tasks with low importance to the overall organization, but high user frustration. That way, when RPA reduces that frustration, staff are more likely to support further use of RPA software within your organization.

(In general, pilot projects work best when they are limited to a specific area within an organization. Application of bots to high-volume instances of data entry or information processing, of the sort usually related to back-office activities, is a good place to start. Human resources tasks like onboarding and offboarding also offer an area where robotic process automation can shine.)

2. Lack of buy-in from your team

The actual implementation of robotic process automation is a change management exercise as much as anything, especially when the software can be seen as ‘taking over’ the jobs of human workers. Therefore, employees must be provided with the information they need to understand what RPA will mean for them, their work, and their colleagues. Setting up channels through which your team can be educated on the changes and give feedback is critical to avoiding the failure of your automation efforts. A happy and informed workforce will feel ready to embrace RPA, and are also much more likely to offer suggestions for additional automation opportunities.

3. Making monitoring and upkeep a low priority

The return on investment for any new piece of software, new technology, or new initiative can only be proven by monitoring and measuring results over time. As such, monitoring the results of your RPA solution against its expected value is crucial to ensure value for money is being achieved. In order to determine the effectiveness of your automation efforts, you may need to ask some difficult questions. For example: Is productivity really improving, or is RPA simply moving work from one desk to another? Are the expected savings being delivered? Do you need to fine-tune or even totally change the way that robots are being used? Are there any unintended consequences that impacting other processes?

For long-term success, robots need to be monitored to ensure they’re operating as intended and following the rules they’ve been given. However, a robot cannot extrapolate data about its own performance, it can’t alert you if a process is not working the way you intended, and it can’t make suggestions for improvements to the quality of the data it is processing. To access these kinds of analytics, you will need a process monitoring tool that can show you data about how your RPA implementation is working, in real-time, and in an easy-to-understand format. That’s where the Signavio Business Transformation Suite comes in.

Business process management as the foundation of successful enterprise RPA

Automation software does what it is told, and thus by definition, any process automation tool must be programmed before it can be effective. Thinking in detail about which processes you wish to automate, reviewing them end-to-end, and optimizing them first is the key to avoiding costly and frustrating problems down the line. After all, if you pursue process automation without process optimization, you will simply end up using robotic automation to do the wrong thing, faster!

Many companies fall into the trap of treating RPA as a tool that simply attaches to their existing systems and processes, with the simple goal of improving their short-term efficiency. This is the narrowest view of what effective automation can achieve. Following the quickest and easiest route to implementation, even with the best RPA software in the world, is a tactical solution unlikely to lead to sustainable improvements. The key to lasting success is embracing a strategic, enterprise-level view of RPA, which in turn means taking the time to truly understand the way your organization’s processes function, and then using this information to effectively target your RPA solution.

Enterprise-level robotic process automation with Signavio

The winners in today’s competitive market space are organizations who think strategically about the impact processes have on a business. The Signavio Business Transformation Suite gives you the technology you need to get your process landscape in order, before you make a decision on which RPA software you will deploy to automate your processes. The Suite offers a set of powerful, enterprise-level BPM software solutions, which together serve as the foundation for effective enterprise-level RPA – not to mention other forms of digital transformation as well.

As well as giving you the opportunity to continue perfecting your organizational processes, Signavio can lay the groundwork for the effective application of RPA solutions from our partner, Blue Prism. As an affiliate-level partner in Blue Prism’s Technology Alliance Program (TAP), Signavio can help organizations to leverage the benefits of RPA, with minimal effort and disruption to their business transformation initiatives.

From process analytics, to optimization and monitoring, the Signavio Business Transformation Suite helps organizations use technology-enabled BPM to gain a competitive advantage, increase operational efficiency, automate their processes, and improve employee productivity. Think of Signavio as HR for your digital workforce. To find out more, or see how Signavio can help you automate business processes across your organization, why not sign up for a free 30-day trial today.