Demystifying RPA Myths and Misconceptions
Mention robotic process automation (RPA) and many are seeing software bots that are eliminating the need for human workers.
Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, RPA has helped create jobs and make human workers more productive.
More often, a company uses RPA to help its employees cope with peaks or spikes in workloads without increasing their attitudes. In other cases, RPA projects are designed to help human workers improve the value chain to increase their contribution to the business, rather than being burdened with manual, repetitive tasks.
These were some observations that were recently shared and discussed at a CDOTrends Digital Dialogue meeting organized with Automation Anywhere. The discussion, which took place under the Chatham House Rule, was chaired by Siow E Hunt, ASEAN partner at Automation Anywhere, and Madhu Mani, principal advisor at AsiaPac, an M1 company. They were joined by:
- Gautham Bartake, Senior IT Manager for Service Integration in Asia at Bayer
- Lee Giok Leng, IT manager at GuocoLand Ltd.
- Domnick Almeida, Senior Director for IT Planning and Architecture in the Asia-Pacific region at DHL
- Rajeswar Mothe, Chief Technology Officer at Roboxa
- Arnold Leong, Managing Director of the Building and Construction Authority
- Sandra Lam, Vice President for Digitally Managed Partnerships at Citibank
- Elvina Melissa, application analyst at Daimler
- Govind Khandelwal, Director of Cyber Strategy and Planning at Standard Chartered
The lively discussion addressed popular misconceptions about RPA and raised important questions. The answers are as follows.
Can RPA automate everything?
The best way to understand what RPA can do is to know which processes will benefit most from it. Rule-based processes – those that are highly repetitive, manual, and require minimal human decision-making – are the biggest beneficiaries.
Error-prone manual processes are also good candidates. RPA can automate the processes that involve manual copying and pasting (such as moving values between spreadsheets or merging) that can lead to human error. For this reason, RPA projects often start in the administration, finance, and procurement departments.
The type of data is crucial. RPA is designed to work with structured data. For semi-structured data such as files and PDF documents, Automation Anywhere has a bot that can be used to capture the data in the structured data format.
It is equally important to ensure the correct return on investment. Start with processes where automation offers the greatest savings in time, effort, and cost, and make a strong case for deploying RPA in other parts of the business.
One area that organizations overlook is the use of RPA for processes that are part of a system that will eventually be replaced or obsolete. Then the bots need to be designed and trained when the new system is deployed. Better start after a system upgrade or replacement.
How do you deal with user resistance?
One of the biggest challenges for RPA is human resistance. Mention automation and participants agreed that employees believe their jobs are at risk.
The problem is with transparency. Participants shared that when top management is not clear about the intent of the RPA project, employees become defensive.
Clarity about what RPA can do is another issue. People mistakenly believe that RPAs can do a job 100%. It cannot, as there will always be aspects where human choices are required. However, bots can reduce the workload and allow their human colleagues to focus on more complex decisions. However, this misunderstanding can lead to disappointment and resistance to new RPA projects.
Participants agreed that these misunderstandings need to be addressed first by clarifying communication and intent from the start. And instead of getting management to highlight the benefits of the project, they should work with ambassadors or champions within the user communities.
One participant also noted that job progression and job loss shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Project owners should also highlight how RPA can help users improve their productivity in their own way. For example, it can highlight how much time an accountant can save by doing routine, day-to-day tasks.
Should IT or the company lead the RPA project?
While RPA is aimed at business processes, it requires technical expertise to understand how it can work in the current business environment. After all, no two environments are exactly alike. It is recommended that IT and business work together on RPA projects. This way, everyone can identify areas that the other is missing.
The answer also depends on how an organization is structured and how IT works with business departments. Participants shared that there are cases where proactive IT teams have used RPA projects to help their business teams. Conservative IT teams have had the opposite effect.
Instead of waiting for the right team to lead, it may be better to start with the outcome. When the outcome – for example, increasing business productivity by a certain percentage – is clear, both IT and the business can work together to make it happen.
Can you check RPA?
Automation Anywhere enables monitoring of the bot’s actions. It’s a key strength of the company’s value proposition that includes a control room for full visibility of bot actions.
This is crucial for regulated industries like financial services and utilities, where regulators want to know that bot behavior is following established protocols and making compliant decisions.
These same features can also help businesses increase security as the number of bots scale out in the hundreds. It can highlight whether a single bot (outside of a wide area and large number) is acting irregularly or is being compromised.
What are some popular use cases?
The use cases for RPA are diverse. The most popular are in finance, administration, and procurement / logistics. The main reason is that these functions involve numerous repetitive and manual tasks.
An example of administration is creating sales orders. Suppose a company had to create 400 sales orders at the end of each month due to a recurring process. Creating these can take a few days and is prone to errors as it can take a lot of copying and pasting. As a result, a company often had to take in credits. RPA automated the entire process, eliminating the need to apply credit notes and only had to deal with the few exceptions.
Another example is the tightening of trade accounts receivable (AR). Generating an AR summary for each customer due to overdue payments can be troublesome. RPA can automate the entire process right through to sending the emails.
RPA played a good role during COVID-19. One organization used bots to scan and collect information. In another case, a bank used bots to quickly implement loan deferral processes for its users.
In the past, these projects would have required an army of consultants and a lot of process re-engineering. Only two to three programmers are required for RPA.
Photo credit: iStockphoto / axel2001