Overcoming the Challenges of Robotic Process Automation


Co-authored by Mark Davison.

Top-5-100x81For business support leaders who have been designing their shared services models explicitly to streamline, eliminate and outsource back-office processes, the plan has worked. But just as they have perfected the formula for improving quality and reducing costs, it seems the goalposts have moved. Today, these leaders are charged with a new objective: to increase agility and scalability.

And, for this, many are looking to robotic process automation (RPA). According to recent research from ISG Insights more than two-thirds of business leaders in support functions such as Finance, Human Resources and Contact Center plan to deploy RPA by 2020. It’s not surprising since RPA software “bots” can be configured relatively easily and inexpensively and can execute a business-process script to automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks as if it were an employee. RPA can be configured so easily and inexpensively, in fact, that once the software is up and running, it may be tempting to sit back and watch the efficiencies multiply.

But, like with most emerging technologies, there is no resting on one’s laurels with automation. Indeed, enterprises that are applying RPA are actively redefining their labor and location strategies. While the business case for using automation to take on mundane tasks in the back office may be clear, operationalizing RPA can introduce some fuzziness. And people and long-held practices can be slow to change.

The job of an RPA champion is twofold: 1) to help the organization transition to an automation-enabled operating model, and 2) to manage the new environment so it can easily respond to the changing requirements of the business.

Here are the Top 5 challenges enterprises face when operationalizing RPA – and how to overcome them:

  1. Siloed implementation. When a business unit configures RPA without involving IT, it risks crossing wires when it comes to IT architecture, infrastructure and security. If IT isn’t aware that a business unit is using RPA for one of its processes, then that application – and its stored information – are likely not covered under the corporate disaster recovery plan. Involve IT early and often to make the most of the investment.
  2. Unclear expectations. Managing the expectations of stakeholders – including individual employees whose jobs are impacted by RPA and their managers – will not only allow them to take full advantage of the new technology but also to take full advantage of the results of the deployment of the new technology. Consider the changes you might make to organizational design if workers are freed from recurring and tedious work.
  3. Inconsistent outcomes. Just as you would set up a way to govern people and the processes for which they are responsible, be sure to build controls and tracking mechanisms into the newly automated environment. This will allow you to measure and address unintended consequences and to celebrate the successes.
  4. Disconnected dots. Consider what an ideal structure might be for an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE). Specify the roles, responsibilities and skillsets you’ll need to best serve the specific goals of your organization. Define your service delivery methodology much like you would with a sourcing provider, and articulate how the RPA CoE will interface with business units. Taking care to tie your RPA initiatives to specific goals will pay off many times over.
  5. Technical ambiguity. One of the most highly touted characteristics of RPA is its ease of installation. Even so, the technical staff must be on the hunt for answers to satisfy technical and operating requirements for sound implementation. What is the architecture of the target environment? How are infrastructure assets protected? How will network and application access be provided? How will IT interface with the RPA team to support automation development and IT change management? Answering these questions up front will go a long way in creating the increased efficiency the enterprise is seeking.
About the authors

Mr. Furlong is a Partner at ISG and has over 25 years of experience in assisting companies transform their general and administrative functions including finance and accounting, human resources, and procurement. He has expertise in formulating strategies and designing alternative service delivery models (Global Business Services, shared services and outsourcing), transforming processes, driving organizational change, and implementing emerging technologies such as advanced analytics, mobile solutions, cognitive computing and cloud based solutions.  Mr. Furlong leads ISG’s Business Advisory Services practice and serves on the Americas Leadership team.

Mark Davison is an experienced consultant and former CIO with more than 30 years of experience in process automation, information technology, sourcing, supply chain management, transformation and acquisition integration. His consulting experience includes work for well known firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte, and AlixPartners. His industry experience includes acquisition integration, supply chain and IT roles in the banking, manufacturing and distribution industries.  He has held CIO positions for nationwide distribution, retail, media/publishing and textile firms. He holds an MBA from Emory University and BA from Cornell University.