One of today’s hottest topics in business is the impending displacement of human employees due to the introduction of technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). While it is true that rules-based, “copy-and-paste” jobs are susceptible to being eliminated by the advent of these technologies, business executives have a unique opportunity to utilize these tools to improve operations from multiple perspectives.
The first thing that Fission likes to (click here for the Fission RPA approach) do on a new RPA engagement is understand the client’s goals and expectations. In our experience, most companies undertake RPA initiatives for two reasons:
1). To increase productivity and capacity by improving the accuracy and speed of completing both revenue-generating and support tasks (e.g., automating the retrieval of sales data from Fulfillment by Amazon, ensuring data transformation activities, and sales data entry into NetSuite so that an order can be quickly processed)
2). To decrease costs by eliminating FTEs or reallocating workers to value-generating responsibilities (e.g., automating the tedious copy-and-pasting of invoice data into an Accounting and Finance system by the lead accountant)
Examining the business case for RPA alone presents a strong argument for the introduction of these tools into the enterprise. However, an often-overlooked opportunity comes in the form of utilizing RPA as an accelerator to enhance jobs – resulting in financial and HR improvements. Before delving too far into this topic, let’s examine a typical RPA engagement – which is comprised of an assessment phase and a subsequent implementation phase.
RPA assessments involve multiple discovery sessions with employees performing the manual processes that have been tagged for evaluation. After asking the typical questions to gauge the feasibility of automation and the impact of an RPA implementation on financial metrics, developers generally have an idea of the processes that are a fit for RPA and work on creating a robust business case for automation. Developers are also quick to dismiss automation candidates due to either a lack of rules and consistency or because of a weak business case backing. However, further discovery can lead to opportunities for process re-engineering, enabling the implementation of RPA as a tool to automate the standardized steps of the process. Exceptions can then be flagged for manual work after RPA execution has ended.
There are several benefits to this approach to automation which businesses are leaving on the table. Financial metrics such as ROI, Payback Period, and NPV must be considered, but these deployments can also do wonders for intangible metrics such as employee engagement and team morale.
On a recent client engagement, Fission was tasked with evaluating seven processes across three different business units and subsequently configuring and deploying UiPath workflows to reallocate 3 – 4 FTEs to other value-added responsibilities. Many of the processes that made the assessment shortlist for an RPA Proof of Concept involved a lack of clear-cut rules that RPA developers require to make enterprise-wide deployments accurate and scalable. After our assessments, we were only able to find one end-to-end process that was able to be fully automated; meaning we were forced to get creative to meet the terms of the SOW.
Fission designed and deployed multiple RPA accelerators (automation that the end-user interacts with) to standardize process workflows and eliminate a majority of the workload of the employees whose processes could not be traditionally automated. These tasks involved a lot of what we coined, “investigative auditing”, which meant visually parsing relevant client documents (unstructured contracts) to analyze data and make decisions. Quotes from our assessments included, “We have to use our best judgement on most of these cases”, and, “We don’t know what we’re looking for until we get in the contract”. Couple this with Citrix access to green-screen technology and you have an RPA developer’s worst nightmare. Multiple sub-processes then ensued depending on this contract discovery. Even though these sub-processes were similar, they involved many exceptions and discretionary decision-making in the middle of the process as well.
As Sun Tzu once said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”. Fission collaborated with employees to sequence all the manual and cognitive portions of the process upfront (where applicable). After re-engineering, we created workflows to automate the standard and repeatable portions of each process based on the rules that did exist. If it was discovered in the middle of automation that the current case was not going to be straightforward, we included a “Manual” button that the employee could click to flag the case for manual completion after UiPath finished executing.
The RPA accelerator approach enabled one employee with no previous exposure to RPA to reduce her workload by 95%, while also learning the inner workings of UiPath and increasing company productivity. She also was very adamant about the mental benefits to this “job enhancement”, saying that she used to be “drowning in manual work and each day looked the same”. By deploying RPA accelerators, we were able to “make her life easier”, allow her to take more ownership of the process that she was responsible for, and increase her overall engagement.
Thus, our call to action for RPA developers and businesses considering an RPA deployment:
Developers: It’s acceptable to say no to a process if it just cannot be automated. However, always take a moment to reconsider how you could make this employee’s life easier by utilizing process re-engineering and deploying an RPA accelerator. You may be able to generate client buy-in and get a sense of satisfaction at improving someone’s day-to-day life at the same time.
Businesses: While utilizing RPA to increase productivity and cut costs is great for top and bottom-line improvement, RPA can be used to enhance much more than financial performance. Benefits to Human Resources include: Increasing the general morale of your workforce, standardizing process workflows to streamline training and onboarding, and improving company culture by giving employees more ownership of their work. As we approach the threshold of the digital workforce, it is important to get creative in the way that “robots” and humans can work together. Utilizing RPA as an accelerator is one such way to do that.
Fission assists buy-side and sell-side clients with TSA negotiations, IT carve-out planning and execution, and post-separation optimization. Please reach out to us with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.