There’s no question: businesses are operating in a highly challenging global environment. Sectors are changing rapidly due to technological developments and digital disruptors, and all the while political and economic uncertainty remains high. Faced with fierce competition, clients are becoming more demanding, both in terms of what they want and when they want it.
Of course, this creates significant challenges for project managers. Balancing tight timelines and limited resources, they must deliver high quality outcomes, on time, to meet exacting client expectations. This challenging modern landscape however also offers a potential solution.
By integrating a digital workforce, with technology like robotic process automation (RPA), into the operating model, organisations can solve some of their biggest pain points and improve the quality and efficiency of the projects they deliver. But in this challenging and complex environment, it’s vital that businesses implement RPA in the right way to realise its advantages.
What’s in a robot?
To understand how RPA can enhance project delivery, it’s helpful to know how it works. RPA is a cutting-edge technology that allows software ‘robots’ to mimic any interactions that a human might have with an existing system. Importantly, a majority of RPA tooling is distinct from machine learning and artificial intelligence, which involves a system learning from experience to improve its performance at a task.
The technology is becoming incredibly valuable for businesses given the growth of data being accumulated. Common applications for RPA include data entry, data manipulation, system integration and the creation of digital documents. Decision-making processes today are based on the evaluation of huge volumes of structured and unstructured data, an undertaking that can be extremely resource-intensive to achieve manually.
Your new digital workforce
RPA can benefit project teams by freeing up employees from highly repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Robots will complete the task that they are programmed to do consistently and efficiently, eliminating the mistakes that can be made due to human error. By off-handing these tasks to robots, project teams can take on more requirements that previously may have been deemed out of scope due to lack of resource capacity.
A key advantage of RPA is that outputs can be scaled in times of high demand, without consideration of factors like sickness or holiday. In essence, RPA represents an agile digital workforce that can deliver the output needed even in times of high demand.
The high value human
Naturally, integrating RPA into a team alters the role of human employees. Once team members are relieved of repetitive tasks, they are able to focus instead on the creative, analytical and critical thinking that robots remain incapable of.
That means teams can devise new and improved answers to clients’ requirements, even identifying new issues that they can solve. RPA allows space for new thinking that might not be possible at times when teams are focused on delivering a tough brief.
Project teams can equally put a greater emphasis on tasks encompassing emotional intelligence, which is a vital facet for adding value and creating longevity in client relationships. And importantly, RPA can provide more time for upskilling, to ensure that businesses are able to continue to meet their clients’ needs into the future.
The projected impact
Robotic process automation can offer incredible benefits for project delivery. It presents businesses with the opportunity to work out where humans add the most value and maximise this offering, while creating greater productivity and job satisfaction in the process.
It also offers new and quicker ways to deliver changes within a broader Digital Transformation project. Robots can be used as an intermediate solution while waiting for a broader system development.
Across the board, RPA can deliver better end-to-end execution times, reduced operational costs and a greater return on investment (ROI) for clients due to the ability to focus on higher value work. Given the potential improvements in the volume and quality of projects delivered, it’s perhaps not surprising that the investment recovery for the technology can be as short as six to nine months.
A case study in RPA
Businesses are already realising the benefits of RPA. With increasing demands and seasonal spikes, a top telecoms provider was facing challenges in meeting service level agreements (SLAs). The business identified an inefficient process, which involved the transferring of key data from multiple systems to its destination.
This manual process required valuable full-time effort, which kept these resources away from customer queries, introduced operational risk and slowed down the availability of valuable data.
Using RPA, systems that previously did not interact were able to work together seamlessly. By eliminating the manual task, employees could be reallocated to work on more meaningful tasks – including dedicating more time to client facing activities.
A change in culture, not just capability
Successfully implementing RPA, and ensuring that the business gains the greatest commercial benefit, requires a considered approach. Before embarking on a transformation programme, organisations must be sensitive to the fact that robots represent a change in culture, not just capability.
There may be strong concerns in the workforce about their new ‘digital colleagues.’ Anxiety about facing unfair competition and the elimination of roles may resonate with employees, particularly given the current media focus on how automation may eliminate jobs. Equally, there might be fears that managing RPA systems could be just another task at a time when project teams are already stretched – exacerbating, rather than relieving, workloads.
Given the potential reticence and even resistance amongst employees, businesses must develop a carefully considered strategy encompassing both its technical and cultural integration into the organisation.
Start from the top
So what does best practice look like for implementing robotic process automation? Firstly, it’s vital to secure support from the leadership team. RPA represents a significant shift in business practice and the top of the organisation must be involved.
Begin by securing buy-in from the C-suite, including IT and operational leads, who can play a valuable role in both scoping how the technology can most benefit the business and then spearheading the change process. Consider appointing a head of robotic process automation, a consistent figure throughout the process who can ensure a successful transition.
Equally, a RPA Centre of Excellence can act as a vital resource from the very beginning of the transition. Creating a CoE will provide an organisation with a multitude of benefits and services enabling the rapid and successful delivery of a digital workforce This group can work to outline and implement standards, define governance and ensure that the relevant skills are available across the organisation.
Focus on the value
From the very outset, businesses must identify the areas where robotic process automation could save the most resources and add the most value – and consider how that could ultimately benefit project delivery. Integrating RPA into the overall business strategy will ensure the maximum return on investment.
Before a robot can be built, you should ask yourself ‘does this process need to be modelled and optimised to ensure that the robot delivers the best results efficiently’. Robotic process automation is not a fix all solution. If the original process is not efficient, then this will affect the robot’s output and downstream processes as well. Also, you must ensure that automated processes are robust and sustainable when underlying applications or processes change.
Implementing RPA presents the perfect opportunity to evaluate and improve on processes, both on a per project basis and across the business, to ensure that the transition delivers significant lasting value.
Remember your people
Change can often be met with fear and suspicion, and that’s especially the case when the transition taken place is such a potentially ‘loaded’ change. It’s key to plan the people strategy from the very beginning, with a particular emphasis on communication.
Explain how the digital workforce will work and highlight the value that employees will continue to bring to the business and project delivery across the board. Equally, outline the opportunities for upskilling in both technical and ‘soft’ competencies and how that will support employees’ careers long term. Defining this ethos early on will be helpful for both the business and the team implementing RPA, to ensure that everyone is working towards the same vision.
These principles should be communicated consistently from the management team. This approach can also be supported through the appointment of ‘robot champions’ across the business. These employees can pair an understanding of the benefits of the technology with knowledge of project teams’ dynamics, to help their colleagues to understand the benefits that RPA can bring.
Education, education, education
Ongoing education must be prioritised throughout the process. Teach employees how to work with the digital workforce and how to intervene when RPA sends an exception. By providing these skills early on, businesses can ensure that employees feel prepared for the changes ahead.
It’s also important to emphasise the creative and critical skills that team members can now prioritise on projects. Understanding the context for the technology, and how their own value will increase, will make employees much more receptive to change and ensure that robotic process automation is a success for the business.
A new model for project delivery
Project management is tougher than ever before, but robotic process automation can play a critical role in keeping up with client demands. The potential to improve the quality of work – and indeed the enjoyment of all employees – is huge. Change must be implemented with thought and care. But get it right, and you can keep up with clients’ demands even as they continue to evolve.