The use of Intelligent Automation (IA), like Robotic Process Automation, is generating huge interest in the shared services and operational transformation space, and also great concern with the outsourcers. These new automation solutions offer the prospect or fast and dramatic returns with minimal up front investments, and the ability to bring previously offshored/outsourced processes back on shore. One just needs to attend any shared service and outsourcing event to see the significant number of IA and RPA vendors in the exhibition rooms, or follow the discussions and trends on LinkedIn and other social and communication networks to read some of the promises being made, and examples of the successes being achieved.
Intelligent Automation and Robotics is the latest evolution in business transformation and automation. What is new and exciting is that early adopters have achieved significant cost and time savings through the successful implementation of ‘bots’ to replace ‘human’ activity. Leading research groups are predicting some pretty staggering growth numbers for RPA software and services in the years ahead.
However, within RPA, the term Robot can be considered slightly misleading, conjuring up images of shiny silver robots sitting and working away at partitioned stations, where people once sat. Recently, after an RPA conference in Chicago, a senior executive from a global company specializing in optics and imaging products commented to me: “I think the industry does themselves a dis-service by calling it ‘robotics’. Perhaps some of the solutions rise to that level, but what I saw was more about automation.” I agree that the term ‘robotics’ does make this sound a bit more manufacturing/high volume/techie like. And I also agree that it is really an extension of automation. Indeed, some of this is simply re-packaging and re-branding of automation solutions. For example, I was involved with some technology ‘packaged solutions’ development a few years back which are to some extent similar – they were bolt-ons or additions to your existing technology platform and process map, that automate specific parts of processes within an end-to-end process, and can be readily implemented with fast and high ROI.
I have come to my own conclusion that RPA is potentially a game changer. In the sense that, as long as it is implemented as part of an overall strategy and is linked with the technology infrastructure and IT, RPA can drive significant efficiencies. This can actually eliminate the need for ‘FTE humans’ whether they be internally provided or sourced from an external outsource provider. The latter is potentially having some really significant impacts on the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers. The most effective solution occurs where processes are documented, routine and relatively simple, following standard policies and procedures, using trusted data, and are to some degree already centralized. That can be in a Shared Services Center or in a Centre of Expertise (of varying scope and sizes), or indeed within a BPO operation.
I do not recommend using RPA as a tool to ‘fire off all over the place’ in an uncontrolled fashion. The old adage that we should not automate a bad process is still true. We should use RPA to automate a good process – or I should say elements along a good process – in a targeted and planned way, linking to all four critical success factors – people/org, process, client and technology.