Robotic Process Automation: Setting the Right Expectations

by Josh Biggs in Tech on 26th July 2021

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a game-changer. It allows businesses to automate certain repetitive, rule-based processes using software “bots,” thereby freeing up time for human employees to focus on more valuable, rewarding jobs. RPA can also greatly improve efficiencies, reduce errors, assist with compliance, and generally speed up processes. After all, RPA bots will work around the clock without requiring time off or losing concentration.

But, like any technology, it’s only as good as it’s allowed to be. To get the most out of RPA solutions, it’s important that the human side of things (in other words, all the steps before you hit “go” on the RPA bots) is carried out correctly. Making errors at this stage will not only cost you money, but could actually embed problems in the tools you develop and deploy; turning human mistakes into systemic problems. 

What are some of the mistakes users can make regarding RPA? Read on for four of the most common.

Making errors about your processes to automate

RPA tools don’t make decisions by themselves in the way that a human does. Instead, they will follow the step-by-step processes laid out for them, performing them rapidly and efficiently. While it’s not quite the paperclip maximizer threat some engineers worry about with superintelligent AI (simply put: that an AI asked to build as many paperclips as possible could prove to be a catastrophic disaster for humanity), RPA that’s asked to perform an inefficient, fundamentally broken process won’t question it. It will just perform the steps as laid out. 

To get around this, ensure that you examine processes before automating them. This is a great chance to look at how tasks are being carried out and to streamline them where it’s possible to do so. Cleaner, simpler logical steps for your RPA bots will mean more efficient work and easier maintenance. 

Furthermore, ensure that the processes you’re selecting are ripe for automation to begin with. RPA excels at tasks that unfold the same way every time, typically carried out in high volumes. Select the wrong tasks and RPA will not deliver the results you hope it will.

Not knowing how to measure success

Asking what your personal measure of success in life would be is a complex philosophical question. Asking what KPIs you want your new RPA tools to deliver should not be. You may want to reduce response times to customers or fulfill orders quicker. You may be looking to reduce errors made, the cost of carrying out certain tasks, compliance with certain regulatory requirements, or employee happiness at no longer having to carry out certain mind-numbing tasks. RPA can help achieve all of these. 

But it’s a good idea to know which of them you want to achieve up front. Not only will this dictate which processes you choose to automate to begin with, but it will also give you the means to know whether the RPA solutions you’ve selected are working out as hoped. Awareness of what RPA tools can mean for your business is also important because it can open your eyes as to what it can do. 

For instance, you might assume that RPA means just carrying out a particular task at the speed and accuracy that it is already being performed at — only without needing a human in the loop. In some cases, that level of speed and accuracy may be all that’s required. In others, you may want to aim for considerably more or different outcomes.

Failing to get colleagues on board

RPA can run without human input once it’s set up. But ensuring it gets that far requires humans on board. In order to get the RPA initiative off the ground will require strong leadership. That may mean getting both business and IT leaders’ support within your organization. They will need to champion the initiative, help build a business case, and then make the required resources available. 

You will also have to sell the value of RPA tools to other employees who may view the prospect of automation skeptically, worried that this is about replacing them, rather than giving them the opportunity to better spend their time on other tasks. Communicating the value of RPA is essential here too: requiring you to explain why your human employees remain more important than ever, and emphasizing factors like regulatory compliance, which RPA can assist with. In some cases, RPA tools can even sit on users’ desktops to offer contextual recommendations as they work.

Taking the time to test

Everyone that’s into gadgets has had the experience of immediately wanting to tear open the box of a new toy, power up their latest piece of hardware or software, and let it rip. Much the same is true for RPA. But make sure that you take the proper time to test your bots before pushing them live to change the workflow in your business. Development of bots is an iterative effort, and you may be faced with unexpected challenges along the way. This is normal stuff for system deployment. However, make sure that you’ve left enough time for this testing and teething process. 

That way, you can iron out any glitches before they potentially cause you challenges that are harder to roll back.

Categories: Tech