Robotic Process Automation (RPA) promises to free up humans from mind-numbing repetitive tasks such as copying data from one place to another and allow people to spend their time on more satisfying tasks. Bots are configured to do the tasks the same way humans do, but much more quickly.
If you believe the RPA vendors, it is easy to configure these bots and let them loose on repetitive tasks. However, many companies only implement a few bots, achieving only the “low hanging” automation benefits.
Nevertheless, the potential benefits are large for companies who embrace RPA automation as a strategic competitive weapon. For instance, one of companies we work with not only transformed their operating model using RPA, they became disruptive in their own marketplace.
HR should play a key role in de-risking implementation and maximising the benefits of RPA for employees as well as the business. To understand this, imagine HR is dealing with two types of resource:
· Bots who can do the simpler tasks, but faster and more cheaply
· Humans, who are often currently under-utilized and are capable of much more sophisticated activities, but are tied up doing repetitive tasks
To see how HR can contribute, we need to debunk 4 RPA myths.
Myth 1: Any business person can configure a bot
If you believe many of the RPA vendors, most business people could configure a bot. However, the reality is that such “bot builders” need to be technology savvy and be capable of structured, logical thinking (much like a programmer). These people do exist in the workforce, outside of IT, but they need to be identified and trained.
This is a clear role for HR, along with setting up a Centre of Excellence and organisation structure for bot building. In the example mentioned above, some of the staff whose repetitive tasks had been automated were identified and transformed into bot builders, so automation could be accelerated.
Myth 2: All you need to do is build an army of bots and automate
Bots are like humans – they need managing. Again, de-risking their use and maximising their benefits needs HR thinking – for example:
· Identifying automation opportunities. This is akin to managing demand for resource competencies
· Engaging internal and external bot builders to address the opportunities – the RPA equivalent to recruitment
· Making the bots operational – this contains a lot of the same tasks as for on-boarding humans, for instance providing system credentials and access rights and deciding where the bots will reside (which servers rather than which desks)
· Bots need to be scheduled, much like humans, to get the best performance for the resources they consume
· The tasks bots perform don’t stand still – as with humans, bots need continual performance monitoring and training
· Once bots are no longer needed, they need to be exited, and the impact of that needs managing
Myth 3: The more tasks you automate the more benefits you accrue
So, why is it that most RPA customers only install a small number of bots? The truth is that without a more transformative approach, the benefits of RPA automation are not scalable.
There are normally some tasks that can be automated simply – the “low hanging fruit”. This is where so many RPA customers stop, achieving only a small proportion of the opportunity from automation. The next area to tackle is automating tasks which continue to need some human input. Either there are some cases that can’t be automated, or the bot can remove some of the repetitive work but still needs the judgement of a human. This requires the HR activity of matching roles to processes.
The biggest opportunity comes from redesigning the business process with automation in mind. For instance, there’s not a lot of point speeding up the reading and analysis of CV’s, if all that results is the bottleneck is pushed further down the process – in this case the process needs to be redesigned from the ground up.
What we’re talking about here is designing processes to optimise interaction between bots and humans – clearly something HR can add a lot of value to.
Myth 4: RPA benefits come from cost savings
Many RPA vendors tend to focus on cost saving benefits, and clearly there are. The real opportunity with RPA is much bigger as it can enable operations improvement, business transformation and even marketplace disruption.
As mentioned above, one company achieved all three through a creative and visionary approach. They improved their operations by making use of the human resources freed up by automation. Some moved into bot management – creating and managing the performance of bots and the servers they sit on. Others took up analytical roles, adding analytical value to the data the bots were handling.
Their business was transformed because they were able to increasingly cut the price of their base products as they developed more and more bots. In fact, they could even add new products to their portfolio that would have been cost-prohibitive without automation. The newly formed analysis teams then created premium value-added products including analytical input.
Overall, they have achieved marketplace disruption, significantly undercutting the competition in standard products, adding new base products at affordable price points and creating a whole new level of value-add premium products.
An HRD’s role is to help the organisation envisage what could be achieved by embracing automation, in conjunction with redefining their employee’s roles to achieve the disruptive transformation.