Richard Joel, UK RPA Practice Lead at Expleo, explains why doing things in the right order can make all the difference when trying to bring extensive change from robotics.

Embedding Robotic Process Automation (RPA) within a legacy organisational infrastructure is rarely a swift implementation. Most organisations will have tens or even hundreds of processes that could be automated across each of their business units. For successful implementation, RPA requires high involvement of the broader business, not just IT. Therefore, RPA demands a holistic change management approach, closely aligning digital and human factors and processes.    

So, what are the defining principles behind successful digital & human process automation?

1. Inspiring human acceptance 

RPA is a software-based solution that is improving business efficiencies through the handling of large data and interacting with a number of different systems that are usually handled by humans. Often employees see automation as a threat, as it disrupts the traditional process structures. When considering automating these processes, business leaders need to take change seriously, communicating change effectively to their staff to encourage full understanding, co-operation and acceptance.

There is always a need for the human element – even 100% automation of a task will still require some human involvement, whether on reporting, supervision, quality control, etc. – and although automation anxiety is no longer as prevalent as it once was, businesses still face the challenge of human acceptance when looking to implement RPA.

It’s the responsibility of the robotics team to ensure that the human team fully understands that it’s not an ‘us and them’ but a ‘human-robot partnership’. Therefore, businesses should approach the transformation strategically, soft launches and handholding can assist in unearthing how humans and robots can work together until everything is running smoothly. We’re creating an entirely new way of working that is a hybrid of humans and robots.

2. Prioritising the priority process

In my experience, you’ll fall well short unless you take heed of selecting, prioritising, and ordering of processes for automation, which will go a long way to earning trust – and then open the path to greater value for the customer (and supplier). How you optimise processes and then mesh the human and robot workforce is fundamental to staying competitive, and it is down to us to educate businesses, and their employees.

However, automation at scale involves a vast ecosystem of tech, and not one size fits all. At Expleo, we take the MORSE approach – an enterprise-grade Business Process Management (BPM) methodology, which encompasses Robotic Process Automation and ensuring process suitability – to address both the technical and business automation needs of an organisation that is centred around prioritisation.

Prioritising the first – or first few – processes for automation is worth taking time to get right. Working closely with those who work on the process can help achieve goals quicker. Every business is different, so the fact-finding stage is critical for drawing up a list of every intricate step in the processes that nobody will mind seeing the back of. Their list might be far removed from the one you have in mind.

Every business is different, so the fact-finding stage is critical for drawing up a list of every intricate step in the processes that nobody will mind seeing the back of.

Either way, the level of detail you need to automate always throws people. They can be too quick to wash their hands of a repetitive task. “Here you go and good riddance.” It’s not so easy. We might need to do a couple of workshops to get the real granular detail of the process. That’s every single click on every screen to create a process definition document that will provide the direction we need for the rest of the lifecycle. Without that single source of truth – the so-called “bible of the lifecycle” – then it can impact all the subsequent stages.

3. Following the vision

In those early days, you want a big win that will show the broader audience that RPA is worth doing. And you want whichever team paid for it to gain a quick return on their investment. What’s the vision for the automation programme, and how does it fit in with the overall company strategy? Answering this should determine your prioritisation.

For example, if the company strategy is all about customer service, then picking a process that scores well in customer experience, even if it doesn’t bring the biggest money return, is a compromise worth taking. In a few quarters, you might have the finance team saying: “That was great, thank you, now let’s choose some proper money-saving processes this time”. The vision has changed, so you can change with it.

You can then roadshow those success stories across the company. Teams are far more likely to embrace robotics if it’s their colleagues who talk them up, rather than the robotics squad. People are often proud to give demos and talk about the difference a robot has made to their everyday roles. These internal change agents and champions create the momentum behind robotics far quicker than an external supplier ever could. We often invite other teams to have a play over a lunch-and-learn session. A bit of friendly competition about who gets the robotics team next is to be encouraged.

A quick word of warning though. Sometimes teams just want to get rid of a mundane task they loathe doing. It’s a mistake to shoehorn RPA into a process for the wrong reasons. Robots can’t do everything (yet).  

4. Optimising automation

Once you have chosen the priority process, the next question is: should you optimise before, during or after automation? I get asked that a lot. The problem is that there’s no definitive or wrong answer. Some processes can look so messy that you might choose to optimise it prior to automation. It would prove too tricky for the robot in its current state. But then you might say, look, let’s automate straightaway, even if it’s a little bit messy. There will be plenty of immediate benefits. Within a couple of weeks, we will start to see a return on investment. We always do. Then we can add steps or change the data source once we discover the major hiccups. The robot can show us where they are.

I feel nervous when people say they want to get a process in the perfect shape for automation. Let’s fix any potential issues first, they advise. The truth is, you’ll never fix them all, so you just risk kicking the robot down the road. However, a little bit of optimisation prior to automation can make it more efficient.

The Future of Work:
An Analysis of Process Automation

In our latest report, The Future of Work: An Analysis of Process Automation, we look at the latest developments in Process Automation across five key territories, including drivers and barriers to adoption, and the best ways to engage with your workforce through the implementation process.

Find out more about how Process Automation can help you harness your full human potential.