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How to build a successful RPA strategy
Tue, 12th Mar 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Gartner has said that global spending on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software is on pace to reach $2.4 billion in 2022, up from an estimated $680 million in 2018 and Forrester estimates that there will be more than 4 million robots doing office, administrative, and sales work by 2021. RPA's momentum is continuous and many businesses across Australia are implementing automation. But how do you start to build an RPA strategy?

There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to implementing RPA. Each automation rollout needs to be adjusted to a company's organisational setting and requires thorough planning: How can the engagement of key stakeholders be ensured? What should the scope, roadmap, and delivery approach include? From where will the necessary funding be secured? Another essential element involves designing an appropriate operating model. The earlier an organisation-wide operating model is defined, the higher the likelihood of RPA's benefits being realised sooner.

Being proactive in delineating an RPA operating model involves the translation of a strategic automation plan into operating requirements and decisions. Such a “blueprint” dictates what processes will be automated, to which employees RPA responsibilities should be assigned, how the software will be integrated into the IT landscape, and more.

Establish the right in-house skillset

Every RPA implementation team must have a deep understanding of the processes for automation and the skills required to develop an automation program. A lack of adequately trained or appropriately skilled automation specialists can risk the success of an RPA implementation project and minimise opportunities for achieving maximum benefits. Varying degrees of responsibility will be delegated to process subject matter experts, scrum masters, process analysts, solution architects, developers, controllers, as well as IT security and infrastructure specialists. This kind of structure and organisation within the team will help to define the accountabilities of the involved individuals and enable the adequate flow of communication.

Determine the level and structure of operational accountability

A primary consideration when designing an RPA operating model is determining the extent to which the RPA unit will have operational responsibilities. Will the RPA unit be a robust operating centre that directly manages the digital workforce, or will it assume an advisory role that delivers oversight of the automation program? A centralised operational model gives authority to a Robotics Operation Centre for ensuring the smooth functioning of RPA, while a more decentralised model relies on the business and IT departments to select the processes for and carry out automation.

Ensure strong governance procedures

RPA deployments can easily slump or even fail without pre-emptive planning, and adopting RPA in an unorganised, complacent fashion can lead to some challenges. Establishing a well-developed RPA governance strategy must be a part of the journey from the early stages and should extend far beyond just the initial implementation phases of RPA. Maintaining comprehensive governance practices include consistently communicating between business and IT representatives, complying with regulatory requirements, laying out operational objectives, as well as having a plan for a potential fall-out of RPA. The designation of an RPA organisation leader and the establishment of an automation council to oversee the alignment of the automation project at a company-wide level is also best practice for creating the foundation for a successful RPA initiative.

Define key operational processes

Streamlining the functioning of an RPA program requires several vital operations to be designed: identifying processes, prioritising and deploying them for automation, as well as developing and maintaining the automated workflows. Documenting these processes should involve creating detailed user stories, defining business requirements, as well as testing, managing, and reporting. It is important to note that these functions depend on a company's priorities, resources, and needs. For example, deciding which processes to automate first may depend on whether the automation project focuses on cost reduction or error elimination.

Track KPIs

Automation enables the ability to reduce operational costs while maximising productivity, therefore achieving financial returns within less than a year is achievable. Unexpected operational costs or a downturn in sales can, nonetheless, limit such success and put producing returns at risk. To manage the performance of RPA within an organization, a performance management framework should be established. Continuous evaluations of these benchmarks are essential to ensure RPA will eventually deliver its benefits on time and within budget.

Each company will need to fulfil unique requirements when starting their RPA journey. Nonetheless, mitigating the risks associated with RPA implementation represent a commonality among all adopting organisations. Determining an RPA operating model is one of the first steps in creating a foundation for successful and sustainable automation. Only with a well-designed, comprehensive framework for deploying RPA will you be able to create lean, efficient, and cost-effective business operation quickly, and for the long-term.