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    Avoiding the pitfalls


    Avoiding the
    Pitfalls of RPA


    Pitfall was released by Activision in 1982

    1st October 2021

    Robotics Process Automation (RPA) has been hording the headlines for over ten years. From unadulterated fears about losing jobs to robots to outlandish fantasies about RPA delivering 100% ROI.

    Both are hogwash, but with the right structure and governance in place, RPA can achieve phenomenal return on investment. Just one example: RPA has helped one of our clients achieve a 10% cost take out in their middle office area, led to processes running 70% more efficiently and avoided costs of up to £5 million.

    RPA can also be used to speed up adherence to new regulations, avoid regulatory fines, tax liability and reduce team costs for low-skilled tasks on a short-term basis. Furthermore, it can help with talent retention by releasing employees from menial tasks.

    But RPA is not – despite its name – an automatic process to get in place. It takes careful planning, strategising and re-structuring. Get it right, and you’ll blow your competition out the water, get it wrong, and RPA might just blow up in your face.

    1. Pitfall: No top level buy-in? You’re going to bottom out.

    Convincing high-level executives is critical when it comes to implementing RPA. How to go about this? Most people immediately turn to the bottom line: convince an executive that RPA is financially viable and the battle is won! This categorically isn’t the case.

    Clear the Pitfall: Numbers out. Vision in.

    When it comes to RPA, Proof of Concept will only get you so far. You’ll never get your whole company to sign up to RPA without leadership buy-in. No wider vision means no executive sponsorship, which means your project is not getting off the ground.

    Numbers are obviously important – but clarity of thought is priceless. Ask yourself these questions before you push RPA or even begin to think about your budget:

    • Why are we considering using RPA?
    • What will it mean for our revenue stream, our operating models, our cost base, regulatory requirements, overall efficiency and employee satisfaction?
    • How will we ensure its long-term success and maintenance?
    • How do we build capability and change hearts and minds?

    Answer these questions and you’ll gain the trust of senior management and ensure a streamlined and stress-free implementation process.

    2. Pitfall: Unrealistic Expectations? Expect Disappointment.

    Innovative new concepts almost always come hand in hand with unrealistic expectations. You might have heard that with the relevant partner, RPA can help you achieve an 80% ROI within a few months. You need to interrogate those numbers more closely.

    Clear the Pitfall: Understanding Brings Belief

    Some of the potential returns quoted in the early days of Automation are simply unachievable. The initial ROI is always a work in progress and can be improved with tweaks and changes along the way. When making your ROI calculations you need to take into account the business exceptions, which still require human review.

    Be realistic about the complexity of your processes. If a process is extremely complex or requires frequent human intervention, it’s unlikely to work well with RPA. Look to other tools, methodologies or product changes first and substantial benefits can still be gained.

    3. Pitfall: Shaky CoE? Your Business might just Topple.

    Have you built an RPA CoE multiple times over? Do you know the difference between Centralised, Federated and Hybrid RPA Operating models? Has your company been re-designed to embrace RPA or has RPA simply been tacked on? If so, your RPA will fail. Integration is key. Without it, disintegration is a distinct possibility.

    Clear the Pitfall: Start with Structure

    Many organisations underestimate the importance of the RPA CoE. It’s in everyone’s interests that RPA is managed centrally. As with any software rollout, after go live there is always on-going maintenance, Incident management and technical changes required, which somebody needs to own. The CoE is the most efficient way of managing this.

    Another symptom of a poorly functioning CoE is when a cottage industry develops around the tech used. This often means that business and IT are not properly integrated into the new system. Take your time to make sure every department is on-board and interlinked or your will suffer later down the line.

    4. Pitfall: Short-term thinking? Long-term pain.

    Many believe it makes sense to start with the processes that employ the highest number of people in order to get the best ROI. This is lazy and harmful thinking. Don’t fall for it.

    Clear the Pitfall: Think First. Automate Second.

    RPA works best with functions that have already been optimised. Automating the wrong processes or processes that haven’t been thoroughly optimized is a common mistake.

    Streamline the right processes first. Start with smaller, less complex processes whilst scaling the CoE in the background. RPA is just one tool that can be used for automation and it’s critical to implement it with the right processes at the right time.

    5. Pitfall: Dodgy design? Where’s your Architect?

    Automation is something that’s just laid on top of existing structures, right? So to save cost why not just leave out the Enterprise Architect?

    Big mistake. With so much focus on rapid implementation and benefit realisation, the design can sometimes take a back seat when implementing RPA. However, this can have a huge impact on the ROI of RPA within a company.

    Clear the Pitfall: Design First. Build Second.

    Design should be one of the first considerations. From a coding re-usability standpoint and better longer term ROI, design is critical. Focus on one particular area: discover all you can about the processes, then automate and move forward. Trying to discover everything in one go will only lead to large backlogs and widespread frustration.

    Patience and control is key. Speed and automation – and all the benefits it can bring about – come after you’ve done the hard thinking. After that, it’s as easy as pressing a button.


    Laura Robertson
    Practice Lead & Head of Process Automation at First Derivatives


    Laura Robertson heads up the Process Automation Practice at First Derivative. A leading expert in Robotics Process Automation (RPA) with a decade of delivery experience, Laura helps organisations design, develop and implement streamlined processes for revenue generation and cost savings using RPA, Intelligent Automation and Citizen Development tools.


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