Robotic Process Automation (RPA) strategy: How to create a successful plan

Today’s robotic process automation software lets you quickly launch a bot to handle a repetitive process. But RPA needs an overarching strategy as you scale it
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Usability is a key battleground in the heated competition among robotic process automation (RPA) software vendors. And it’s not just a website look-and-feel thing. Rather, the idea here is that RPA adoption – which multiple signs suggest is about to soar – will depend mightily on non-programmers being able to create and deploy bots to automate common business processes.

[ See our related post, How to explain Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in plain English. ]

There’s a push among RPA vendors to create “low-code” or “no-code” development tools.

That’s led to RPA software vendors offering drag-and-drop tools for creating bots and other features. Companies can do a pilot, or even a longer-term project, without necessarily heaping new requirements onto their software developers’ plates. There’s a push among these vendors to create “low-code” or “no-code” development tools so that business analysts and others more oriented to process than to, say, Python or Go, can do the hands-on work of using software to improve efficiency.

Why you need an RPA strategy

Prince Kohli, CTO at Automation Anywhere, says that RPA implementations can be a matter of weeks, not months or years. He attributes that to the growth of RPA platforms designed for business users, as well as preconfigured bots for commonly automated processes, which can also trim lead time to deployment.

Automation Anywhere is one vendor with a “bot store,” the RPA equivalent of an app store that includes preconfigured bots for common tasks and use cases. It includes, for example, a free finance and accounting bot with an inarguably simple raison d’etre: Remove blank rows from Excel spreadsheets. If you’re looking for a choice example of a task that’s “so mundane as to tread on boring” – another way of saying it might be a suitable candidate for RPA – your search is over.

Think measurement and optimization: RPA success depends on sustained, serious attention to your goals.

That said, most experts consider automation a long-term journey. Yes, you can get up and running quickly with many of the RPA software platforms, but don’t confuse the ease of use that multiple RPA vendors strive for with plain easy. Just launching a bot doesn’t mean you’ve already crossed the finish line. As with other forms of automation, RPA needs an overarching strategy.

Ongoing measurement and optimization are key. As Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at Kofaxtold us recently, RPA success depends on sustained, serious attention to the goals and results of your efforts. The Excel example above was deliberately straightforward, but even that begs the question: Why did you automate this, and what has doing so achieved?

“RPA at scale should receive the same continuous process improvement attention that manual processes receive from Six Sigma analysts,” Huff says.

8 parts of a long-term RPA strategy

On that note, Kohli from Automation Anywhere shared with us an eight-step framework for thinking about a long-term RPA strategy:

1. Discovery:Assess organizational fit, appetite, and readiness for RPA and research available RPA tools and begin to sketch a vision for organizational transformation,” Kohli advises. “It’s important to bring in HR early to keep people at the center and establish an open, pragmatic approach from the start.”

2. Readiness: “Choose your RPA sponsor and project lead to champion the rollout and coordinate across diverse teams, identify business processes to first automate, and define success criteria.”

3. RPA vendor engagement: “Select the right vendor for your needs, based on long-term goals, user experience, security, and scalability.”

4. Proof of concept: “Put RPA to the test for your unique business context and needs – a PoC will put your business-case assumptions to the test and validate your implementation model.”

5. RPA pilot: “This is where businesses put an automated process into everyday operation and evaluate impact based on the predefined success criteria.”

6. RPA center of excellence: “Establish a hub for RPA implementation and adoption, concentrating expertise to all business functions along with a fine-tuned development environment, to help scale RPA across your organization.”

7. Expansion: “The CoE will communicate RPA implementation successes and goals, optimize the digital workforce, and identify additional processes for automation. Preconfigured bots and digital workers can help rapid scaling.”

8. Digital transformation: “RPA becomes part of your organizational DNA, as automating increasingly complex processes changes the nature of work for your people and business.”

How do you know when you've hit the boundaries of RPA? Let’s explore where it does and doesn’t fit, as well as its relationship to other automation tools:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.