Successfully implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and landing the organizational change required to make it stick demands strategic planning and intentional effort. In early summer 2019, R-Path Automation, i-Realise, and Signavio partnered together for first a virtual and then a live event to share a dynamic presentation about how organizations can effectively leverage RPA to improve their business (see the virtual presentation here.) During both events, the audience asked great questions of the expert panel, and their responses are presented below. Please note that the responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why Should Business Leaders Care about RPA? Isn’t this IT’s job?

Simon Puryer, Managing Director, i-Realise

We need to stop thinking about “bots” as a piece of technology. Instead, we need to consider them an extension of the team, perhaps even as another employee. They need to be managed and supported just like everyone else. A bot should help to eliminate the mundane and repetitive tasks that your employees spend their time doing and allow them to focus on what they enjoy and are ultimately employed to deliver. Therefore, bots will make a real difference to your business if they are integrated and managed effectively. This is everyone’s responsibility, not just IT’s!

Is RPA About Replacing People to Save Costs?

Chris Collins, Chairman, i-Realise

Certainly, it is possible to achieve significant ROI by automating some tasks. McKinsey has reported that 45% to 50% of tasks could be automated with existing technology (see video below). Yet seeing that ROI reflected in the bottom line is not usually that straightforward.

It has also been reported that only about 5% of whole jobs can be automated. So if we automate only part of a person’s job, what do they do with the time saved? If there are several people doing the same set of tasks, then it may be possible to concentrate the unautomated tasks amongst fewer people. However, this is rarely the case. Typically, realizing benefits from automation means redesigning the overall operating model – reorganizing work and processes.

When companies think this through carefully, they often realize larger opportunities than just saving costs by being creative about what they do with the time saved. One company we work with used the saved time creatively by creating two new roles! More on that later.

What Kinds of Things Does a Bot Do?

Andrew Woessner, CEO, R-Path Automation

Bots are excellent at performing routine, rules-based tasks. In other words, if you can describe an activity in a way that anyone can perform it, then a bot can probably do it too. The types of activities regularly performed by bots include opening and closing files, reading information, opening and closing applications (both web-based and desktop), entering data, performing calculations, making if-then decisions, and detecting errors. Bots work 24/7 and perform the task the same way every time.

In general, it’s only cost-effective to automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks. If something only takes a minute a month, it’s probably not worth automating. If it takes an hour or more a day, however, it probably is. Companies might automate a task to drive down quality problems or to mitigate issues with peak load. In other words, if you have a seasonal business, and a task only takes 30 minutes a week most of the year but takes four hours a day for two months, it might make sense to automate the task to mitigate the disruption to your business.

Are Bots Specifically Programmed for Set Tasks?

Andrew Woessner, CEO, R-Path Automation

It’s helpful in this context to separate the task from the bot. Think of a task as a set of instructions. The bot can run any set of instructions, but it can only run them one at a time. When you run the automation, the bot “wakes up” and starts executing the task by following the instructions. In the case of a high volume, repetitive task, you can assign the same task to multiple bots, and they will perform the work in parallel.

Can Bots Learn? How Are They Different from AI?

Andrew Woessner, CEO, R-Path Automation

There are three levels of automation: Basic Automation, Enhanced Automation, and Cognitive Automation. RPA is part of Basic Automation, so RPA bots cannot learn. Enhanced Automation systems (e.g., intelligent document scanning, etc.) and Cognitive Automation systems (e.g., machine learning, deep learning, etc.) can learn. The strength of RPA is that it is much less expensive and can be used to readily solve real business problems like connecting data between disparate systems. That’s why most companies start with RPA and, if necessary, migrate to more sophisticated options over time.

What’s the Biggest Opportunity RPA Presents?

Chris Collins, Chairman, i-Realise

There are two levels of opportunity beyond simple cost-cutting – Process Reengineering and Operating Model Transformation.

As an example of Process Reengineering, one of our customers targeted the new employee onboarding process for automation. They automated some tasks and reduced the time needed by the centralized HR team supporting the process. However, the overall time required to complete onboarding was hardly affected. This was a problem as they were losing potential employees because the process was taking too long. Ultimately, they reengineered the process by visioning it as a pipeline. The “happy path” through the pipeline was completely automatic, requiring no human intervention. The pipeline allowed side flows to escalate a minority of special cases for human review. This approach enabled a halving of the overall onboarding time.

An example of Operating Model Transformation involves a data provider company that automated the data sourcing and curation process. Automation allowed them to reduce the cost of their products. Process Reengineering allowed them to reduce the time to market for the data they provided. The biggest wins, however, came from changing their whole operating model. Some staff who had time freed up by automation became bot makers. They accelerated the automation process and created new products that would have been cost-prohibitive without automation. Other staff became data analysts that could create more value-add, premium products through data analysis.

I’m Not a Very Technical Person. Where do I Start?

Andrew Woessner, CEO, R-Path Automation

If you haven’t already, do some basic research. McKinsey Global Institute has an excellent report on the Future of Work. Gartner has studied the topic extensively and recently determined that RPA was the fastest growing segment in the global enterprise software market. After that, I’d recommend that you talk with a practitioner; someone who has done this before and can help you understand how this might work in your company. i-Realise and R-Path Automation would be happy to provide this advice without commitment or cost.