Last week, a long-standing prospect asked me, “How does my organization go about developing our RPA strategy. We want to make sure we get it right from the beginning.” Mind you, I have had this same conversation with this prospect for at least the last twelve months and he has yet to move on anything. I think it’s fair to say he is suffering from strategic analysis paralysis. He has identified three processes that are ripe for RPA. The processes are complimentary to each other and if done right, could have in his words “strategic implications” for the organization. And therein lies his challenge. He is afraid to implement a technical solution that may have strategic implications without the backing of a global strategy devised by a smart and sanctioned authority who knows more about integration than he…or so he thinks. If waiting for such a divinely inspired, fine-tuned RPA strategy is significantly delaying his organization’s ability to improve its processes and leverage new business opportunities, that in and of itself is not a good strategy?
I don’t see RPA as an offering that requires its own strategic plan (though it probably depends upon how one defines “strategic”). I see RPA as a tactical solution with strategic implications. Organizations are better served focusing on updating strategies impacted or enable by RPA rather than devising new strategies linked exclusively to RPA.
While I’m sure there are more, the four most organizational strategies I’ve seen impacted by RPA are as follows:
- Information Technology
- Compliance (corporate and regulatory)
- Business Channels and Models
- Human Resources
Although RPA is touted as an operational user driven solution, (usually because that is the point in the organization RPA is first sought and embraced), IT has an important role to play for two reasons. First, IT can help ensure the following:
- ensure solutions are consistent with organizational standards (security, asset reusability, systems integration, certification, etc.)
- coordinate purchases in order to maximize purchasing leverage
- provide development assistance (RPA worth doing is rarely something end users can do on their own regardless of what the vendors say).
Second, IT needs to ensure it can accommodate the rush of RPA implementations coming on line in terms of network bandwidth, VM licensing and configuration, and core systems’ licensing. For example, if an organization wants to run a hundred bots simultaneous involving the same core system, the organization must be licensed appropriately for that system. Application vendors don’t care who or what is doing the typing – hands or no hands, a seat is a seat.
Compliance (corporate and regulatory)
In addition to IT standards compliance, RPA is all too happy to mess with an organization’s corporate and regulatory compliance strategy. Bots get to see every piece of data on every screen they traverse so it is important to make sure all disclose and insurance agreements cover them as well. Are they logging transactions in a compliant fashion? Do the bots rollback incomplete transactions as well as humans do or do they leave a mess behind when things do not go as planned? An organization needs to ensure that it’s compliance strategy includes the work of these busy bots.
Business Channels and Models
Process improvement is a noble RPA goal. However, RPA can also be used to help transform an organization by enabling new business channels and alternative revenue models. The strategy masters for marketing, business development and sales should be keenly aware of the new capabilities RPA can deliver as they seek new partnering relationships, establish new distribution channels or seek deals that previously could not be cost-effectively transacted.
Contrary to popular belief, office workers are not being shown the door by their highly-productive digital counterparts. At least not for now. Workers displaced by bots are now being freed up to perform higher order, more value-added tasks. Human resource professionals involved in staffing and succession planning need to factor into their plans the kinds of tasks and the speed with which they can be shifted to bots. In addition, HR can also play an important role in managing the public relations aspects of introducing RPA into the workplace by calming the fears of affected workers and explaining how RPA will remove some of the more mundane tasks from their job, not replace their jobs.
I am by no means claiming that RPA should implemented rashly or haphazardly. No technology should be implemented without a plan. However, that does not mean an organization should sit on the sidelines waiting for the powers that be or the powers that are bought to devise a global RPA strategy. RPA is not about grand plans, It is about applying it when and where it does the most good (which is quickly, and initially, towards less complex problems), all the while updating the operational and business strategies that will be impacted by RPA.