RPA: Promising, but Still a Work in Progress
By Keith Woedy, VP of Research & Practice Lead, Madison Advisors
One of the hottest buzzwords in business circles nowadays is robotic process automation (RPA). In the communications area, RPA is attractive because it allows organizations to fix problematic data in their legacy systems, automate processes, expedite master plans of delivery, lower the error rate and free up knowledge workers to do things that are more mission critical.
For all the above reasons, we are seeing many companies compartmentalizing certain aspects of RPA by investing in point solutions that turn unstructured data into structured data. For example, thousands of filled-out forms may come into one department of an insurance organization, some of them typed and standardized and some of them handwritten with any number of content forms and with little room for predictability. Currently an organization must deploy a point solution or robot to put the unstructured data—data that doesn’t conform to fixed rules or constraints—into a structured format by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Natural Language Recognition (NLR). Then the insurer can deploy RPA robots to “read” and manage the data from the forms to assist in the execution of a host of mission critical processes including invoicing, customer requests and quality assurance checks. This is a single, relatively simple RPA use case.
To extend the example, while this solution resides within one department of the insurance company, its benefits and impact most likely have not been shared across the organization’s lines of business. It’s even more likely this solution has not been integrated within the organization’s overall strategic direction due to the challenges companies face with cross-functional communication.
With the attention RPA technology is getting and the real potential it offers, several RPA vendors have gained significant funding to continue their R&D and come up with an ever-expanding range of applications. It’s partly for this reason that we suggest some caution before adopting the simpler, single-purpose RPA technologies that are currently available.
If RPA development follows the typical path of technological development, the relatively small, but expert, development firms likely will be acquired by larger firms with a broader array of related offerings. In the near future, RPA solutions may be more effectively implemented for use on an enterprise-wide scale, integrating with the processes of many or all of the business units in a large organization. We’re all familiar with “data silos”—isolated and disparate islands of information within an organization—and how difficult it can be to combine and use the data from these various sources. By investing in multiple single-use RPA solutions, as we’re seeing in many enterprises today, organizations may be missing the bigger opportunity to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and improve both customer and employee satisfaction. By taking a step back and evaluating the automation opportunities that could be integrated across all lines of business versus deploying one process at a time, customers can leverage RPA’s benefits exponentially.
While RPA technology can reduce error rates, improve efficiencies, positively affect time to market, and improve customer satisfaction at the business level, we’d like to see enterprises focus on the idea of creating a Center of Excellence that takes full advantage of all RPA has to offer. A Center of Excellence team, comprised of internal experts, can help define business objectives across the enterprise, standardize on the framework for deployment, and provide overall leadership. We see this as intelligent business process management or an integration platform as a service. We recommend the use of best practices during implementation and the adoption of governance over how RPA can be used to benefit the whole organization, not just one business unit.
Look at how your customer communications processes are handled end-to-end and how they interact with the adjacent processes within your company; and then partner with an organization that understands your business and has the process capability to deliver an RPA solution that works across the enterprise.