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Bridging the gap between RPA technology and business – the role of a Business Analyst

Nelson K J
   

A business analyst (BA) is very crucial in any RPA engagement because of the diverse set of skills that come with the role. Strong technical acumen, cognizance of latest technological advancements and trends, accompanied by cross-domain knowledge in terms of industry expertise make a BA an ideal candidate in liaising between the business and technical teams.

Since exception handling and attention to detail are of prime importance in an RPA project, a person with strong analytical, communication and problem-solving skills is expected to drive client-facing activities. Also, requirements have to be documented clearly and concisely, in a language that both business and technical teams can fully comprehend. The dynamic and agile environment that RPA creates calls for a person who is patient and at the same time, decisive to handle challenges and issues in smart and efficient ways. Based on experience from working in multiple RPA programs, here are a set of activities that revolves around a BA.

Opportunity Assessment

One of the key activities of a BA is to visit the clients to get a comprehensive understanding of the AS-IS process by interviewing Subject Matter Experts on the floor. It is expected of the BAs to closely work with the process owners and business leaders to get a higher level of understanding of issues and pain points known to cause operational inefficiencies. The following information is collected from process handlers and reports:

Critical information required for RPA:

  • Process type – manual, repetitive, semi-automated
  • Process complexity
  • Number of FTEs (Full Time Employees)
  • AHT (Average Handling Time)
  • TAT (Turnaround time)
  • Transaction volumes
  • Number of stages
  • Various applications involved
  • Number of screens
  • Variations/Scenarios
  • Input type – structured/unstructured, free text, scanned images
  • Output type
  • Exceptions
  • Number of steps which are rule-based
  • Definition of business rules
  • Need for human intervention

Feasibility Study:

A thorough assessment of all the above data points can help make a decision on the feasibility of RPA within the process. A feasibility study has to be done, keeping the following client associated benefits in mind.

  • Cost Savings
  • Flexibility
  • Quality
  • Increased Productivity
  • Customer delight
  • Improved compliance

TO BE Solution Proposal

A detailed study of the AS-IS process is performed and the entire process is explained in the form of a swim lane diagram, which should cover granular details in terms of standard operating procedures and interactions between various actors and systems. The process can now be critically examined for possible areas of improvement. It is advised that the assessment be performed with a holistic automation approach and not just from an RPA angle.

As part of defining the TO BE flow, the BAs consult with the solution architect and development lead to validate the technical feasibility of the proposed solution. The approach should be developed in such a way that the process is optimized to provide long term benefits to the client in terms of scalability and reliability. All automation possibilities need to be factored in so that the new flow gives flexibility to the client in terms of cost and technology.

From an RPA perspective, the number of Bots required to implement the solution needs to be calculated (based on volumes). An overall Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) deck needs to be prepared, with an objective to forecast the breakeven point – derived from the costs (infrastructure, licenses, implementation, maintenance) versus expected returns (like FTE savings). The solution is now ready to be presented to the client for appraisal. Feedback is taken and incorporated back into the TO BE flow so that it is useful and acceptable from an operations point of view.

Detailed Requirement Gathering

After receiving sign-off on the proposed solution, the BA gets started with detailed requirement gathering sessions with the process, so as to prepare the process design document with the complete AS-IS and TO BE flow, with step by step description of each requirement, required for RPA development. Exception handling is a key area in RPA, which has to be thoroughly analyzed and covered since the BOT cannot afford to fail without notifying concerned teams abruptly. The exception handling section of the document needs to make sure that every minute step of the BOT is checked for completion, failing which an alternate or graceful exit route is taken as designed.

Continuous Improvement

During the development and QA phases, the BA is engaged with the relevant teams to make sure that the RPA solution is developed as expected. Technical challenges and dependencies are communicated to the client well in advance, so that alternatives are deliberated and appropriate corrective action is taken in time, to keep the project schedule in green. Software product vendors like UiPath and Abbyy are also consulted if required, for quicker and optimized workarounds. Development progress is monitored and interim demos with BOTs in action are presented to the client for validation and feedback. Any new requirements or changes are captured and documented as Change Requests. In addition, a requirement traceability matrix is maintained to track all the requirements throughout the cycle. A BA also steps into the shoes of a project manager as and when required to drive the project in the right direction.

Training Users

Post Quality Assurance, the solution is moved to the staging environment for user acceptance. BA plays a key role here, where he trains and prepares the users for testing all the critical functionalities and making sure that they are meeting expectations. In an RPA solution, the user may not be able to see the steps performed by the BOT, if the processing occurs in the backend. So the BA should help the user visualize the sequence of steps, with emphasis on inputs and expected output.

We also need to instill confidence in the process owner by keeping him informed about the UAT proceedings and success rate achieved, so that he is convinced about the effectiveness of the solution, to provide sign off subsequently. A training document is also prepared, which will help the operations lead to training the process handlers regarding the new system.

Supporting transition

BA also plays a significant role in post-deployment activities to ensure a smooth transition of maintenance from Development to Support. Also, a Standard Operating Procedure document is prepared, which will help the support team take appropriate action in case of issues or failures. Additionally, the business analyst may also have to facilitate training sessions for the support team, where the development leads can transfer the technical knowledge in terms of monitoring the BOTs and handling errors and exceptions.

Conclusion

In this robotic world where technology is witnessing rapid transformations, Business Analysis is a practice that can continuously evolve and take the lead in providing thoughtful direction to the core design of future solutions. In fact, a BA is expected to be a part of the RPA COE and ROC to support the business goals and activities. The practitioners are expected to constantly update themselves with the latest trends and breakthroughs so that an adaptable framework can be developed to handle ever-changing environments and engagements. It also recommended that BAs innovate and improvise constantly, so that methodologies and practices are mended, for better customer experiences.