Business profitability is under pressure. Various studies show that global CEOs expect challenges to the profitability of their organization. Changes in customer demand and preferences are accountable for the largest percentage (56%), But changes in regulations (53%), skills shortages (52), and emerging technology disruptors (49%) all contribute to an important conclusion: Business profitability is under pressure.
To what extent do you believe the following will impact (i.e., either increase or decrease) profitability in your industry over the next 10 years?
Source: PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey
Faced with economic challenges, CEOs have acknowledged the necessity of cost-cutting measures. However, their strategies do not involve downsizing their workforce. The survey data reveals that most CEOs seek enduring methods to lower expenses, such as trimming operating costs and broadening the array of products and services. A significant portion of CEOs (60%) conveyed they presently lack intentions to proactively downsize their staff, impose hiring freezes, or curtail compensation packages.
To what extent are you considering the following options to make the organization more competitive?
Note: Percentages shown may not total 100 due to rounding Source: PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey
Technology-focused and innovation-driven investments hold significant importance for numerous global CEOs. The survey findings indicate that CEOs are keen on enhancing business agility and resilience. Notably, the results highlight that as many as 76% of CEOs are directing investments toward automating processes and systems, aiming to either maintain the current business framework or reinvigorate it for the future. Additionally, 69% of CEOs allocate resources to implement technologies such as cloud computing, AI, and other advanced solutions.
Source: PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey
“76% of CEOs invest in automating processes and systems.”
For businesses to persistently uphold and enhance profitability within the challenging economic landscape, the survey findings emphasize the inevitability of change. It is evident that a reconfiguration of work methodologies is imperative to align with the cost-cutting measures of the business while simultaneously preparing the organization to function in novel ways that cater to talent retention and the expectations of millennials and Generation Z.
The foundational underpinning of financial and operational prosperity for enterprises, irrespective of scale, lies in their back-office operations. These encompass administrative functions like finance and accounting, human resources, procurement, compliance, and information technology that sustain the operational fabric of the company. Furthermore, back-office operations encompass customer support tasks such as order fulfillment, transaction processing, and document handling, which are essential for delivering goods and services to customers. These processes are colloquially termed “swivel chair processes,” stemming from the manual repetition of entering identical data into multiple systems – an antiquated approach still prevalent in businesses.
Though swivel chair processes are manual, monotonous, repetitive, and voluminous, they are, paradoxically, indispensable for sustaining business operations. The existence of these processes is often linked to legacy software or systems that lack interconnectivity. Despite their inefficiency, they play a pivotal role in maintaining business continuity.
Swivel chair processes often act as a bottleneck in productivity due to their manpower-intensive nature. Traditionally, enhancing productivity necessitated augmenting human resources, a strategy that might not be feasible in the current economic predicament. Moreover, these tasks fail to engender job satisfaction, as they involve manual, routine actions. Therefore, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) emerges as the progressive solution for businesses aiming to reshape their operational methodologies. RPA not only elevates process quality, speed, and productivity, but it also contributes to the reduction of operational costs.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) stands out as one of the most innovative solutions of recent years. It is widely acknowledged as the next significant stride in reshaping the current work landscape. Organizations can harness the power of RPA to enhance process quality, speed, and productivity by automating monotonous and repetitive back-office tasks. Despite the term “robotic” conjuring images of physical robots, RPA is, in reality, a form of computer software designed to replicate human activities within specific processes. When referring to a company using 10 robots, it signifies that they possess 10 software licenses or, as an alternative term, “digital employees.”
RPA is a software application that can be seamlessly installed on any workstation or server, integrating smoothly with a range of other applications. The underlying principle of RPA technology is its non-invasive nature. It functions atop existing systems, whether they are legacy or modern, facilitating the transmission of data across diverse applications. RPA excels in designing workflows spanning various applications within your system, subsequently triggering these workflows automatically.
The process of automation closely mirrors human activities—capturing and manipulating data, initiating appropriate actions based on the data, and facilitating interactions between humans and software. RPA outperforms humans in executing repetitive tasks with greater speed, accuracy, and tirelessness. Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey in 2018 demonstrated that RPA not only meets but also surpasses expectations across multiple dimensions, including heightened compliance (92%), improved quality (90%), enhanced productivity (86%), and cost reduction (59%).
By proficiently handling manual, mundane, and repetitive tasks, RPA liberates human capacity and attention for more intricate undertakings demanding human qualities like emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and customer interaction.
How will Automation impact your business?
As per a survey conducted by The Economist , over 90% of respondents concur that automation has played a pivotal role in initiating digital transformation within their organizations. Automation stands out as one of the most accessible catalysts for the overarching process of digital transformation. This technology has reached a level of maturity that renders it relatively straightforward to implement, following a comprehensible process. Whether it involves scanning invoices, automating approval workflows, or seamlessly delivering services through backend automation, the array of diverse use cases spans nearly every department. This is the chief reason why automation is rapidly becoming a mainstream practice.
In the past, automation was largely confined to the realm of the information technology department or IT in general. However, with the advent of advanced technologies and the heightened ease of use, the landscape has shifted. Today, it’s entirely feasible to initiate automation processes within domains such as HR, finance, and even areas where extensive technological expertise is not a prerequisite.
The impact of automation had been proven positive, including:
1. Saving time
One of the most noteworthy benefits of automation is its potential to save hours of labor previously spent on swivel chair processes. This liberation of time can be redirected towards more demanding tasks, such as data analysis, crafting marketing strategies, or engaging with customers.
2. Reduce manual errors
Errors are almost inevitable when humans are tasked with performing repetitive manual tasks. For instance, inputting inaccurate information into the system can significantly impact the company’s decision-making process, potentially resulting in failure. The act of automating such tasks substantially diminishes the occurrence of errors. Consequently, companies benefit from an elevated level of data accuracy and quality in their databases, serving both internal and external needs effectively. Additionally, with the presence of RPA logs, one can conduct necessary quality and audit checks once the task is concluded.
3. More efficient and faster process
The automation of business processes significantly enhances their efficiency. For instance, an automated business process can accomplish a task in approximately one-fourth of the time it takes for a human to execute the same task. Moreover, robots do not experience fatigue, meaning they can operate according to any predetermined schedule, including around the clock.
4. Streamline workflow / Reliable, consistent and transparent operations
Automating business processes significantly enhances their efficiency. For instance, an automated business process can complete a task roughly one-fourth of the time it takes for a human to perform the same task. Additionally, robots are not susceptible to fatigue, enabling them to function according to any predetermined schedule, even operating continuously, 24/7.
Typically, companies that prioritize automation from the outset are the ones that emerge victorious in their respective marketplaces or industries. Prime examples include industry giants such as Amazon, Uber, and Netflix. These enterprises have comprehensively automated the majority, if not all, of their operations, enabling them to achieve unparalleled levels of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Their operational sequences, interactions with employees, payment systems, rewards mechanisms, and even service searches have all been seamlessly automated. Such businesses experience notably accelerated growth compared to their competitors, which can be primarily attributed to the strategic integration of automation. When you can execute your processes or manage your daily workload with heightened efficiency and reduced errors, you’re positioned for success in a fiercely competitive market. This is precisely the transformative impact that automation can deliver.
What can RPA Robots do?
A robot constitutes a digital workforce capable of performing tasks akin to those executed by a human. For instance: By devising an array of automated processes and tasks, it becomes effortless to craft, tailor, and implement them in a manner reminiscent of a human workforce.
Benefits of RPA
Robotic Process Automation proves notably effective across several domains, namely Internal Operations, Technology Enhancement, Accountability and Audit, as well as Data Analytics & Reporting. Should you have a specific use case within any of these domains, there is a strong likelihood that RPA will offer a significantly more efficient solution.
Fundamental RPA Technologies
Every RPA platform or software solution is based on the combination and integration of 3 fundamental technology capabilities:
Screen scraping is a data retrieval technique used to extract information displayed on a screen or within an application, which can then be stored for future use. This method can gather visual data encompassing text, images, and web browser content from contemporary and older applications. This technology proves valuable in simulating the actions of human workers, allowing the extraction of information from one interface and transferring it to another. Within the realm of RPA, screen scraping plays a pivotal role as a recorder, capturing a user’s interactions within an application through keyboard and mouse inputs.
Business Process Automation
Business process automation involves leveraging technology to perform repetitive tasks or recurring processes within a business, thereby replacing the need for manual intervention. This approach is adopted to achieve cost reduction, heightened efficiency, and the streamlining of operations by establishing well-defined business rules.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence in the context of RPA technology solutions pertains to the replication of human intelligence within software. These solutions are designed to emulate human thinking and actions. This term can also encompass machines with characteristics akin to human cognitive functions, including learning and problem-solving abilities.
3 Steps in Starting RPA
Step 1 – Strategy Alignment
An organizational strategy is a comprehensive plan that outlines an organization’s objectives, growth strategies, and corporate goals. Department heads and Line of Business Leaders then devise individual departmental plans and strategies that align with the overarching organizational strategy. This process involves cascading the organizational strategy into specific areas such as IT, HR, and finance strategies. A critical initial step in establishing an RPA program is to synchronize the primary objectives of RPA with the fundamental organizational strategy.
For instance, in the realm of IT strategy, a key goal might be to deliver heightened service accuracy within a restricted cost framework – a prime catalyst for embracing RPA. Similarly, if the HR strategy aims to enhance talent retention and bolster job satisfaction among staff, this becomes a driving factor for RPA adoption. A clear understanding of how RPA can contribute to fulfilling the broader business strategy enhances the likelihood of a successful RPA initiative with unified stakeholder alignment.
From this strategic alignment, several potential automation opportunities can be identified. Everyday use cases within finance, such as the procure-to-pay, order-to-cash, or record-to-report processes, occur across almost all organizations and are primary targets for RPA adoption. These tasks are characterized by their manual, repetitive, and transactional nature.
Similar scenarios arise in other departments, be it supply chain, IT, HR, or customer services, where numerous repetitive processes are integral to daily business operations.
Following this identification, the subsequent step involves designing the automated solution for the chosen use cases. Notably, it is recommended to begin designing one or two automated solutions at a time, considering available resources and the assumption that the organization is newly adopting RPA with limited automation design capabilities.
Step 2 – RPA Maturity Model
The RPA maturity model depicted below illustrates the progression of the RPA program as it commences and evolves through various stages of implementing automation solutions.
Typically, an organization goes through four distinct phases or levels when embarking on the journey to integrate and execute the RPA maturity model.
Level 1 Start-up RPA Program: In this initial phase, the RPA journey begins by building knowledge and identifying use cases for quick wins. Several pilot bots or production bots are usually in operation (typically fewer than 5 bots). As stability is achieved in this phase, the organization can move to level 2.
Level 2 Emerging RPA Program: In the emerging RPA program phase, other aspects come into play. With more bots in production (estimated 5 – 20 bots), security and information privacy policies are initiated. This phase also involves developing program management, reporting, and process improvement across deployed bots used by different departments.
Level 3 – Impactful RPA Program: This phase signifies the maturation of several aspects. Policies, such as security, information privacy, program, and operations management, become more comprehensive compared to the policies introduced in phase 2. Some bots may have evolved to work across multiple functional areas, and a robust pipeline of future automation opportunities is established. Level 3 also sets the stage for scaling up the entire RPA project.
Level 4 – High-Performing RPA: In this phase, the RPA program scales up significantly, with several bots deployed each month. The program reaches a level of maturity where each business unit takes responsibility for deploying its own bots and managing the RPA program.
For organizations new to RPA implementation, the primary focus should be on Level 1 and Level 2. These levels are critical for laying a solid foundation for the RPA project. All components within each level are measurable, and it’s recommended to measure and review current capabilities periodically. This helps identify potential gaps, such as knowledge deficits, lack of process documentation, or unclear understanding of specific workflows. By recognizing these gaps, organizations can take steps to address them and evolve in accordance with the RPA maturity model.
Step 3 – Start Building Capability through Use Cases
In step 3, the focus shifts to cultivating capability through use cases. When we refer to capability, we encompass both the technical and human elements required for RPA success.
To commence this process, the initial task is to identify suitable use cases and proceed with constructing the robotic solutions. This entails pinpointing processes that can be automated, such as the repetitive invoice processing workflow. This task involves extracting invoice data and inputting it into the system for payment—a recurring process.
To construct such a robot, a set of capabilities is necessary for designing and building the automation solution. These capabilities pertain to education and knowledge about RPA. While the first few robots might yield immediate successes, it’s more common to encounter areas that necessitate improvements down the line. Thus, it’s imperative to integrate the lessons learned from previous implementations into the design and deployment of subsequent robots. This constitutes an ongoing cycle of development and learning as the organization tackles more use cases and gains additional capabilities in the process.
Measure and Monitor Results
A critical aspect of RPA implementation is the ability to demonstrate the performance of robots based on the tasks they’ve undertaken. Most RPA solutions incorporate an informative dashboard that can display various metrics, including the count of active robots, their usage, and the average duration of processes. Additionally, you can monitor the status of processes, whether they are currently running or encountering errors that need attention.
However, it’s important to note that while setting up a robot is a crucial step, ensuring its consistent operation demands ongoing vigilance by implementing analytics and data analysis.
“Setting up a robot is just one part ensuring its continuous operation requires constant attention.”
RPA Best Practices – Key Lessons
Drawing upon our years of experience in RPA implementation, Cybiant has compiled a summary of the most valuable best practices:
1. Just Start Begin by simply initiating action. Starting with a trial license, you can build your initial robot or create some for your specific needs. To truly gauge the benefits, it’s important to implement use cases that hold potential value for the organization.
2. Collaborate Identify significant use cases and foster collaboration between the team responsible for RPA implementation and the CIO office. CIOs play a pivotal role in cultivating an environment conducive to successful RPA development.
3. Deliver Set ambitious targets and deliver tangible outcomes. To showcase the capabilities of RPA, it’s advisable to build an actual use case that can be presented to the entire organization. This can involve live demonstrations or conveying the technological benefits through slides. As people witness the ease of robot setup and the promise of returns on investment, their interest in the solution is typically piqued.
4. Process Invest in capabilities for assessing and improving processes. Bolstered by robust process assessment and enhancement capabilities, RPA has the potential to revolutionize business operations.
5. Prioritize Strike a balance between governance and productivity. Establishing a Centre of Excellence or similar management structure helps maintain equilibrium between efficient robot design and automation governance.
To ensure sustained profitability and operational efficiency, businesses are placing a paramount emphasis on deploying automation. While implementing RPA demands effort and investment, its outcomes extend beyond enhanced efficiency and reduced errors. This initiative also offers organizations the prospect of reshaping work processes and gaining momentum in their broader business transformation endeavors.
At the outset of the automation journey, aligning strategies is a crucial step. This establishes a robust groundwork and directs the automation’s trajectory for long-term scalability within the business. By adhering to best practices and adopting a strategic approach, businesses can effectively implement RPA and harness the manifold benefits of automation.
Cybiant, an experienced vendor in RPA implementation, stands ready to assist. Whether you seek to accelerate your RPA adoption journey or engage with our consultants, we invite you to email firstname.lastname@example.org or chat.
 FY2023 PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey FY2018 Deloitte Global RPA Survey FY2019 The Economist – The Advance of Automation
Mike is an RPA Consultant and automation enthusiast at Cybiant who likes to share his knowledge about RPA best practices.
Jan-Willem Middelburg is the Managing Director at Cybiant and the author of the Service Automation Framework.