Overcoming the pain of RPA maintenance

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has fundamentally changed the way modern companies view each and every one of their critical business processes. In fact, the analyst firm Gartner predicts that most companies can reduce their operating costs by up to 30 percent by 2024 by redesigning their processes as well as implementing automation technologies. With the predicted high reliance on automation technology, it is important that organizations have a contingency plan in place if the unexpected happens and something goes wrong. This is where RPA maintenance comes in.

Ensure business continuity

Companies around the world understand the power and potential of RPA. According to McKinsey, 88 percent of companies want to implement more robotic automation, but often don’t know where to start, especially when figuring out which processes to automate first. When considering where to start their automation strategy, organizations often rely on the most complex and business-critical tasks – but this is the wrong approach.

The most successful automation projects in recent years began their automation journey with automating some simple processes that have minimal risk to business continuity, such as: B. HR processes such as payroll. However, as companies try to ramp up their automation, it is important that they have a clear understanding of their processes and their business criticality. At this stage, organizations should attempt to conduct a thorough Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to understand the risks associated with automation downtime and to put in place the correct response and maintenance logs in case something goes wrong.

Organizations should try to set critical recovery time (RTO) goals for each automated process. This is the time it will take to get the process up and running again. This should take into account the specific time the process is running. For example, for a retailer who automates email, this activity is likely to peak around the holiday season and be of greater concern. Therefore, the RTO in December has to be faster than in other parts of the year. It should also be assessed whether the RTO needs to be faster during the week than at the weekend.

Other important considerations include how quickly the process downtime would create financial or reputational impacts for the company. The business challenge here is resources. Digital employees increase the complexity of internal IT resources. In fact, a recent study examining the effects of RPA found that 41 percent of respondents said bot management was consuming more time and resources than expected. Hence, a challenge arises when companies do not have the in-house resources to sustain their digital workforce.

Scaling maintenance

Another challenge arises when companies want to scale their automations. RPA should always be tied to the long-term strategic goals of the organization. It should be viewed as a tool that a company can use to achieve its overall goals, rather than just a short-term solution to fix a faulty part of a process. It is therefore unlikely that separate RPA projects set up within the same company but operated in silos would be of much use in helping the company achieve its overall strategic goals.

Companies should therefore of course pay attention to scalability – and quickly. This is where the second RPA maintenance challenge arises. What should companies look like to improve the maintenance of their live digital workforce?

One option could be to use the deployment team of developers who are responsible for implementing the automation. While this is a valid option for maintenance, it is not without risk. This is because after successfully deploying 5 to 10 automations, their role effectively shifts from developers to full-time RPA maintainers. This limits their ability to develop and implement new automation projects and can cause your company’s entire automation program to stagnate.

The cost of scaling

There is evidence that the most successful automation projects happen when automation is carried out on an industrial scale. However, scaling automation can result in huge maintenance costs if done in-house. For example, in the early phases 5-10, automations can be serviced by one person in a full-time role (FTE). However, to cover absences such as vacation or sick leave, this role requires coverage, so more than one person is required. This ensures that processes are always operational and business continuity is maintained.

However, as companies scale their automation, the need for full-time positions exponentially increases. For example, if a full-time employee can cover up to 10 automations, maintaining 100 automations requires at least 10 full-time positions. For example, if a full-time employee costs 70,000 euros, 10 full-time positions cost the company at least 700,000 euros. This is a huge cost to businesses and can result in companies either delaying scaling their automations or running the risk of not having adequate maintenance on all of their automations.

The value of outsourcing

How can organizations address the challenges of RPA maintenance? The answer lies in finding a trustworthy partner. Outsourcing maintenance to a 24/7 specialist can accelerate delivery costs by giving time back to the company’s internal delivery team, lowering costs, and reducing the risk of automation downtime.

Outsourcing maintenance also offers the option of scaling maintenance needs as needed. As maintenance requirements increase, companies do not need to invest in skilled staff who are available around the clock due to outsourcing functions. Even if companies have a low level of automation, companies can optimize process availability by running updates and reports at night with maintenance specialists who are always available to respond to problems that arise.

Ultimately, this means that RTOs can be changed and met at peak times. In summary, outsourcing maintenance is the best way for companies to cost-effectively ensure business continuity while ensuring that they can scale their automations.

James Ewing, Regional Director, UK and Ireland, Digital Workforce

April 12, 2021