Robotic Process Automation (RPA) promises a simple truth: automate manual, time-consuming and repetitive tasks. While the goal is easy to understand, achieving enterprise-wide process automation through RPA is certainly not an easy task.
Enterprise organizations have seen success through the still growing concept of RPA, however, for every human-centric process turned into an automated workflow bot, there are 10 that failed.
Why Automate through Robotic Process Automation?
As previously mentioned, RPA promises to turn manual, human run tasks into “software robots” that complete the task automatically, thus saving valuable time and money. RPA also frees up employees to focus on strategy and other projects. Additionally, RPA promises happier employees who can offload mundane tasks to the new software robot.
Driven forward by the commonly adopted business mantra, “digital transformation,” RPA and workflow automation projects have been surging in recent years as companies look to take advantage of new technology to save money, increase productivity, and support customers faster and more accurately.
For business leaders, RPA occupies a space of great optimism, yet many RPA projects never hit their intended goals. Below are several issues that can cause workflow automation projects to falter.
Common RPA goals
Issue #1: Selecting the Wrong Process to Automate
Most automation workflow projects start by selecting a candidate process to automate. This generally comes from a pre-selected pipeline of automation projects that have been categorized by the perceived complexity of the workflow (i.e. low, medium, complex).
One common issue that leads to organizations not meeting their intended results is when the business chooses the wrong process to implement. A process may not be a good candidate for RPA if it frequently changes, contains too many sub-processes or steps which create a high probability of bot errors, or if it is likely to require a high amount of editing or maintenance in the future.
If a bot is likely to require a lot of maintenance, it’s possible that any time and resource savings are offset by bot updates and editing.
Having an issue in your RPA development process early on can make it difficult to get the project back on track. The best way to ensure that you select the right process to automate is to ensure your digital process design material contains as much information as possible.
On top of that, your process design asset needs to be reviewed collaboratively and concurrently by other key subject matter experts. Reviewing each step clearly and visually before sending the design off to your RPA developer is critical when it comes to delivering a new RPA bot on time and on budget.
In short, you need to visualize and review each potential workflow design in significant detail efficiently before it is built, or you may waste valuable time and money.
Issue #2: Lack of Complete Organizational Buy In
Workflow Automation is a collaborative effort. It involves several different departments and teams, including IT, HR, Finance, the automation Center of Excellence (COE), and development.
Without full buy-in and support from the leaders of each of these teams, RPA projects can stall due to a lack of required information and effort.
Everyone at your organization (yes, everyone) needs to buy into the vision you are looking to achieve through RPA and workflow automation. One way to ensure that you receive input from all stakeholders for a new RPA project is to create a central workspace where everyone can see and collaborate on the design of a new RPA bot.
With a centralized, easy to access location for all of your workflow designs, you can significantly simplify the design, editing, and collaboration process, making it easier to bring different people onboard.
Issue #3: Unrealistic Expectations
Much like RPA’s parent term, Digital Transformation, RPA often conjures up images of a digital, bot-centric workforce completing all of your everyday tasks. However, these types of transformations rarely happen over-night.
For RPA initiatives to be successful, business leaders must paint realistic goals on what can be automated, how that automation will positively impact the business, and what tangible changes can be seen in the future.
When looking for the right automation candidate, start small, but make sure that there is a clearly defined goal to achieve.
Start by automating very repetitive and time-consuming tasks with a defined time or cost, and then re-measure that cost once the new bot is in production. Also, don’t expect to turn an entire department into workflow bots overnight.
With a proper RPA development process, a moderately complex bot could take you as long as a year to build. Also make sure that you are tracking various RPA metrics so you can measure your success. Make sure that you set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-based) goals.
Issue #4: Lack of Organizational Oversight
Given that RPA is still a relatively new technology, many large organizations struggle with “shadow deployments,” or departments implementing RPA on their own without following any common structure.
This can lead to a business struggling to scale up RPA, as they may now be supporting two or more separate RPA tools such as UiPath, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, or Microsoft Power Automate Desktop, and have many ways to build and manage a workflow automation bot. This can cause future RPA projects to suffer as there may not be uniform metrics to learn from and it can be difficult to handle of hundreds or thousands of production workflow bots.
Don’t worry if you have a disperse RPA process as there are ways to correct it. Even if you use multiple RPA tools and processes, you can still create a central dashboard that acts as a hub for all of your designs, new or old. By having a central location for all bot designs regardless of the tool used to create them, you will make it easier to manage a complex RPA structure.
Issue #5: Lack of Management and Governance for existing Bots
A lot of times, we just expect technology to work. However, workflow automation bots should not be treated like an appliance that only requires maintenance once a year.
Workflow automation bots are essentially digital employees, as they are carrying out important functions on a day-to-day basis. And like an employee, your bots require regular management to ensure that they are still effective and efficient.
Many organizations tend to overlook the governance and management phase of the RPA process, instead, focusing their time on developing new workflow bots. This can lead to issues down the road as organizations find they have hundreds or even thousands of production workflow bots and little to no process on how to manage, govern, or update them as required.
A proper process for governing and reviewing your production bots is essential. Make sure you have a simple, non-technical way to review production workflow bots, such as a central dashboard of your workflow designs or a reporting dashboard.
Without proper care for your production bots, you may not achieve the results you were hoping for as your bot maintenance costs may diminish any positive returns you gained in the first place.
Issue #6: Not Capturing the Workflow Correctly
Here is a common scenario: an HR Manager spends nearly 15-20 hours on repetitive tasks to onboard one new employee. They explain and document each step, and then a new workflow bot is created to handle this onboarding workflow in mere minutes. However, once the workflow automation bot is put into production, the HR team finds that critical onboarding steps have been missed, leading to potential compliance or security risks.
Learn More: How to Build a Business Case for Task Capture
The above situation happened because the RPA developer relied primarily on the documented workflow steps from one interaction. The new onboarding workflow then didn’t consider variations from the process for different position levels, such as different security requirements and background checks for IT employees or additional training for managers. This can be addressed by using an automated Task Capture solution that creates the workflow design by watching and recording each step of the workflow. This can capture small or minor details that may get overlooked in a written Process Design Document and will save a lot of time.
Workflow automation and RPA is the future. Within a few years, it is likely that nearly every organization, small or large, will have a significant portion of their workforce augmented with workflow bots.
Similar to any new technology, it is important for organizations to have a strong, scalable, and frequently reviewed process around designing, creating, and managing workflow bots. The faster you get ahead of these challenges, the faster you will be able to make significant organizational wide improvements.