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RPA journey doesn’t have to be hard – the 4 phases you need to know

Raghavendra Achar
   

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is the latest technology trend which almost all large organizations are looking to invest in, for increasing their operational efficiency/throughput and reduce costs. According to a Deloitte survey, organizations that started their RPA journey as an experiment are now stuck and are suffering from IT issues, process complexity, unrealistic expectations and a piloting approach. Maximizing the impact of RPA requires a committed shift in mind-set and approach from experimentation to transformation.

This article focuses on identifying RPA readiness and various planning stages that lead to successful RPA implementations. Awareness of these stages will help large organizations to reap the desired benefits in their RPA initiatives.

Setting the stage

Automation initiatives need to be carefully planned from Change Management perspective. Technology and business leaders need to have equal commitment and ownership for these initiatives to be successful. So, the initial step is to ensure business and technology leaders are working in tandem towards the common goal of the program. Senior executive leadership of the organization plays a critical role to facilitate the same. Identifying a Point of Contact (Program Manager) to drive the initiative is crucial in getting the action kick-started.

Proof of Concept (POC) phase

Program Manager, along with his technical and functional teams need to identify and find out several factors before starting the RPA initiative. Here is a set of questions that need to be answered to start the POC stage:

  • Which RPA tool to use for automation?
  • Do we implement with in-house team or out-source it to external vendors?
  • What about the Infrastructures? Are we hosting on cloud or on-premise?
  • Are the internal applications/products deployed compatible to support automation using RPA tool?
  • Do we need auxiliary tools like Document extraction tool in our automation journey? If so, which is the best suited for us?
  • Do we have a Governance model including policies/procedures in place for implementation of the program?

The primary objective of the POC stage is the SWOT analysis of RPA tools and vendors. The implementation partners are chosen based on the capabilities to implement large Enterprise RPA projects. The small end-to-end workflow is identified and automated with various RPA tools and vendors. Evaluation of an RPA tool with its benefits and challenges, in consideration with its license fees and operational costs, are vital for success. The POC phase ends after shortlisting the RPA tools and vendors for implementation. Also, by the end of this phase, the initial draft of the RPA Governance would be in place with the respective RPA implementation policies and procedures.

Preliminary phase

In any transformation projects, it is always advisable to start-off cautiously in a specific area. This allows organizations to identify opportunities and to implement learnings or feedback early in the program life-cycle. At the preliminary phase, the focus is to ensure small end-to-end production implementation. Like any software delivery project, RPA also undergoes Software Development Lifecycle (though lean in nature) to ensure the quality and sustainability of the solution. Many companies fail to acknowledge the same and end up in not meeting the program objective.

RPA Implementation needs to undergo verification in one or more lower environment other than development before it is sent to production. Also, the BOT monitoring process should be in place, before the BOTs are sent to production.

Program managers, sponsors, and organization’s executives need to monitor the progress closely and have a clear communication channel established to report/rectify issues as they occur. Advice is to keep patience and tolerance for some delays in this phase as most of the activities of this phase would be first-time/one-time activities which will smoothen out in future projects of the program.

The preliminary phase is a very critical phase, and success and learning of this phase will benefit the RPA program a great deal. At the end of this phase, the RPA tool is set up in environments, with well-written policies and procedures in place, which includes a mechanism for BOT monitoring, post-production.

BOT monitoring readiness phase

The most critical factor to be considered in change management of RPA projects is the BOT monitoring readiness. During RPA project implementation, it is highly crucial to ensure that design reviews are in place, and enough log/notification mechanisms are built-in for effective BOT monitoring. Today, organizations keep expanding their business with mergers and acquisitions. One of the Key benefits that RPA provides is a quick turn-around for scaling operational needs by just adding software BOTs into production. This can happen if scalability of BOTs is a non-negotiable design goal which needs to be adhered/reviewed during the RPA Project implementation.

A dedicated support and maintenance team, which has adequate knowledge of business process and technology, should be allocated before BOTs starts operating in production. In my experience, a single primary concern of the business leader would be the preparedness of BOT monitoring teams as we come close to Go-LIVE. So detailed plan and readiness should be in place to provide comfort to business leaders to embark on the RPA journey.

Steady phase

Always anticipate and be prepared that the success of the POC and the preliminary stage will generate much interest and push from the business teams to embrace the journey. RPA governance needs to be fully operational by now and should have put forth a detailed process of prioritizing the upcoming projects for the RPA program to cater to business urgency. A set Cost-benefit-Analysis (CBA) mechanism can be one of the criteria which can help the organization prioritize its pipeline projects.

After the initial phases, organizations would be in a much more controlled zone in terms of delivery and implementation. All unknowns like infrastructure challenges, a mechanism for successful change management, arriving and tracking CBA, monitoring BOT in production would all be in place. The organization can go aggressive in implementing more projects during this phase.

Embark on your RPA journey

The organization needs to anticipate that the number of BOTs can grow exponentially as each successful BOT implementation roll out occurs. Preparedness of institutionalizing a BOT Operating Center would be crucial for success.

RPA has great potential to bring in efficiency in operations. It also can lead to failures if not planned well. Key to the journey is to acknowledge that the first couple of phases are very crucial for program success and needs close monitoring. Teams should show agility to implement learnings soon and correcting in these phases. After this, subsequent steps will reap benefits quickly to the organization.

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