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How to Select the Right Processes for Robotic Process Automation

4 min read
Apr 6, 2020 1:00:00 PM

The potential for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks so enterprise talent can focus on higher-value deliverables is undeniable. As is the benefit of making those mundane tasks more reliable, faster, and with higher-quality results.

With such stark benefits, it’s hard not to become overzealous with automation, but jumping in blindly can pose significant consequences when trying to scale or evaluate your ROI. Large enterprises are still struggling to scale RPA (only 3% of bot deployments reach scale). The business processes they choose to automate may be part of the problem. Even though the opportunities and candidates for Robotic Process Automation are ample, the truth is, RPA isn’t right for every process. We’ve continually advocated that one of the keys to scaling RPA, is choosing the right processes to automate.  

Below are ways to identify the optimal use cases for RPA at your organization, helping you to not only drive scale, but also time-to-value and your return on investment.

Understand your processes

Completely understanding any process that you’re thinking about automating is paramount. That means fully understanding every step of the process, the process’s objective, and most importantly, its business context or how it fits into the big picture.

A common mistake many large enterprises make when implementing RPA is to hasten their approach and automate processes that are flawed to start with. A basic principle of process automation is that only clearly defined, standard, and precise processes are fit for automation. Most large organizations don’t have clearly defined, standard processes. If you take something as simple as processing an invoice, I’d wager there are several different ways your organization processes invoices. Automating the same process six times in six different ways is a waste of resources and will only add barriers in any attempt to scale. Understanding your processes is the first step to standardization and then optimization, which lends itself beautifully to automation.

Define your RPA criteria

When defining automation candidates, you should ask yourself the following questions when considering any business process:

  • Is it a common process? Is it executed repeatedly (at least once a week) and in some cases daily?
  • Is it repetitive and mechanical? Are the same steps completed every time the process is executed?
  • Is it based on a clear set of rules?
  • Is it manually executed and therefore error-prone?

If a process fits every element on that list, odds are it’s an excellent candidate to be automated. But even then, it’s important to do some due diligence and ensure the process is a right fit for RPA by posing some further questions:

  • Is the process executed digitally by an employee using applications?
  • Is the process tied to regulatory guidelines and constraints (like the handling of personal information which is better suited to bots because compliance can be ensured and never under risk due to human error—a common challenge and reality for heavily regulated industries like healthcare, insurance, and financial services who stand to benefit the most from RPA)
  • Does it involve tasks that are mechanical and require very little critical thought?
  • Is it a standard universal process or are there variations of it across the organization?

It may seem simple, but asking these questions is fundamental to identifying the right processes to automate and set a foundation for scale.

RPA Process Assessment and Candidate Checklist

Define your RPA objectives

Everyone has the same RPA objectives: to eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks so your workforce can focus on higher-value efforts, while making those mundane tasks more reliable, efficient, and with higher-quality results, to deliver business objectives and customer satisfaction.

To get there, it’s important to whittle down your objectives by being a bit more granular and again, asking some key questions:

  • Are there any processes creating bottlenecks?
  • Are there processes that need more resources in order to be scaled?
  • Are parts of your talented, knowledgeable workforce executing tasks that require no critical thinking skills that consume their time?
  • Have operations suffered from error-prone data entry?

Build an automation framework

When you’ve defined your RPA criteria and lower-scale objectives, then you can easily create a systematic framework to follow and evaluate any process that’s an automation candidate.

A combination of your RPA criteria and objectives gives you the qualifiers to validate any process that’s a candidate for automation and can be as simple as defining a checklist resembling the following:

  • Standard
  • Common
  • Repetitive and predictable
  • Rule-based
  • Currently manual and prone to human error
  • Tied to regulatory constraints or enterprise standards

You can also assign each item a weight, thereby providing a means for prioritization as soon as you’re ready to ramp up.

Understand where others have seen success

By the end of 2022, 72% of Fortune-1000 companies will have adopted some sort of business process automation. A good practice is to perform a benchmark test and understand which areas of the business other large organizations have realized value when automating processes.

In their analysis, this is where Gartner has seen the most traction for enterprises:

  • Human resources – filtering applicants, employee onboarding, and payroll
  • Finance and accounting – checking if invoice or order entry data is the in the correct fields and the collation of month and year-close
  • Customer management – customer onboarding, web chat, collating data from various systems for customer service, orders, quotas, and delivery
  • IT – password resets, password backups, etc.
  • Banking and Insurance – moving data for claims processes, card management for lost or stolen cards, reversal of card charges, mortgage processing, and the resubmission of failed payments

The potential for RPA is boundless, and that in itself can be an impediment in realizing the value of automation and scaling it, but defining your criteria, objectives, and a framework for success can be the differentiator between a shaky attempt and a solid implementation set for scale to realize the value of RPA and the return available.