Over the last decade, automation technologies have become generally ubiquitous across almost every sector and field. A 2019 study co-led by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that more than 90% of private-sector organizations around the globe are replacing manual tasks with machine-operated ones, using automation technologies to improve operational spending and encourage higher-value creativity and productivity from their people.
We’re seeing more and more possibilities for automating simple, repetitive, and more complex IT tasks previously managed by people. Robotic process automation (RPA) technology, in particular, has reached an impressive level of sophistication while retaining ease-of-use. RPA works by using software robots (bots) to automate “high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform.” In effect, the solution creates a digital workforce capable of optimizing business processes by mimicking the manual paths human use when interacting with digital systems.
[An] organization can maintain its legacy system(s) as it builds buy-in and confidence around RPA, gradually transitioning to a fully automated solution.
RPA works well at the crossroads of affordability, usability, and productivity. It also can be customized with careful and measured integration. This is key—it means that an organization can maintain its legacy system(s) as it builds buy-in and confidence around RPA, gradually transitioning to a fully automated solution.
With RPA’s flexibility, the low technical barrier to entry, smooth deployment, and ability to operate seamlessly alongside legacy systems, it’s no surprise that growing numbers of government organizations are eager to leverage RPA for reducing costs, streamlining painstaking manual tasks, reducing errors, improving processes, and freeing employees to perform higher-value work.
The capacity to “increase accuracy, improve compliance and automate work in a fraction of the time and cost of typical IT software deployments” has made RPA the fastest-growing enterprise software category. In 2018 alone, RPA implementations increased by 63%.
The process of determining whether RPA is the right solution for your organization and building a plan to integrate it into legacy and human-driven systems begins with understanding why and how it works.
The Potential of RPA
The performance and opportunities related to RPA are significant in and of themselves. Its versatility allows it to be bundled with legacy systems and advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Doing so amplifies the potential to take on even more complex tasks.
- Handling large amounts of data: The connection allows for automatically sharing information between programs, informing business decisions, and streamlining operations.
- Interacting with data across multiple applications: RPA automatically performs tasks like forms processing, data extraction, automated responses, report generation and delivery, and monitoring data integrity.
- Improved business processes and operational efficiencies: Most organizations have numerous manual tasks. By implementing RPA solutions, organizations can improve the speed, accuracy, and compliance of work, while potentially reducing costs.
- Improved employee/customer satisfaction: Because RPA solutions can automate repetitive, manual, often mundane tasks (particularly in labor-driven legacy systems), employees can be assigned to higher-value, more fulfilling work.
RPA is distinct from other automation solutions in two main ways. First, it has the intelligence to decide if a process should occur based on data and logic parameters set in place by the developer. It also can be integrated into any platform with minimum disruption, given a careful and measured approach.
These distinctions make RPA user-friendly, non-disruptive, and agile enough for non-technical users to expand and update in real-time as business needs change and confidence grow around the solution.
What to Know for Success with RPA
Even as organizations rush to take advantage of RPA’s benefits, some confusion remains about the technology and its realistic outcomes. If you are considering RPA implementation, begin by articulating the primary business goals.
The Human Element
Many organizations erroneously over-focus on reducing labor spend. Gartner Research has shown that this myopic view results in a limited impact on top-line growth for 50% of businesses because they end up moving employees to other higher-value tasks, which may improve innovation but likely will not cut costs.
The Operational Element
The real power of RPA lies in its ability to streamline the evolution from human-driven processes to technology-driven processes, to optimally productive automation. On its own, RPA is not equipped to fix poor processes and faulty practices. Disappointment can stem from “using RPA to fix bad practices, which should and could have been dealt with in other ways, such as buying a dedicated piece of software or service or even eliminating the process.” Keep in mind that, like most technology, the ultimate functionality of RPA is dictated by the human process on which it’s based. Proper implementation is critical. Although RPA is non-invasive, applying it at the wrong point in your business process or designing a solution that limits its ability to access the right data won’t alleviate process frustration.
Successful RPA implementation requires a deep understanding of the process or processes that are being enhanced. Consider:
- What is the desired outcome of this implementation?
- Does it truly require an RPA or software solution, in general?
- If so, what technologies are available and will it work with existing systems?
In other words, the process needs to start with a clear understanding of the need, potential, and ability for the RPA solution to solve real demands.￼￼ The potential of this $1.7 billion RPA market is tremendous, and organizations like the General Services Administration (GSA) are piloting programs like the RPA Community of Practice (CoP) to help agencies learn and implement RPA activities through collective efforts of industry and government.
Case Study: RPA Advances the Process from Human-Driven to Operationally Automated
A government agency partnered with NT Concepts for a long-term project to digitally transform the organization. With dramatically increased demands and outdated processes, the Agency was struggling to meet its users’ needs and expectations.
Like many government entities, the organization was limited by manual, often siloed, processes that left employees overburdened with repetitive tasks and slowed the decision-making process. The goal for this digital transformation was to enable people to perform higher-value jobs, smooth out workflows, and signal review needs to improve agency performance.
To reach this goal, the Agency needed a solution that was highly customizable, user-friendly, scalable, and quick to implement. Offering versatility to scale, integration with AI and machine learning for enhanced functionality, and low barrier to entry, RPA was a stand-out choice.
To power the implementation, the Agency chose a leading software platform designed to aid organizations with digital transformation. The platform was chosen based on its:
- Low-code environment that offered faster delivery and easier integration with legacy systems
- Unified platform to provide standardization
- Flexibility for incremental implementation to make adjustments quickly and keep pace with Agency changes to serve its users, without disrupting day-to-day operations
- Customizable design and out-of-the-box functionality
To ensure that the RPA solution matched the Agency’s desired outcomes, processes had to be outlined in great detail. NT Concepts’ deep experience with the organization’s processes and RPA was essential for smart design and planning.
Working with Agency and other vendors, NT Concepts helped define a comprehensive set of scenarios and the technology needs to support them. This unique upstream and downstream view kept the project moving and made sure the team never lost sight of the overall landscape in which the solution needed to operate.
With the assistance of RPA bots, the Agency gained efficiency by re-allocating 66% of the personnel hours that had once been used on manual tasks to other higher-level functions that required humans. In the process, those employees benefited from performing more meaningful, higher-level work. Helpful notifications signal exceptions or areas of concern, allowing employees to allocate time and resources more effectively. Improved workflows also make processes more engaging and simpler for the customer, improving their experience with the Agency.
With their flexible and user-friendly design, workflows can be adjusted and updated without the need for costly IT intervention, making the process more nimble and efficient. In addition to these immediate results, the modern user-focused design will provide a seamless experience by unifying formerly disparate systems into a single environment. The solution will assist the Agency with planning using historical and real-time data automatically interpreted to identify trends, opportunities, and projections.
How RPA can Facilitate Progress Toward Full Automation
You’ve carefully considered the business scenario and determined that RPA is the right solution to move your organization further in its digital transformation. What’s next?
Decide which use cases could be best solved by RPA. Identify and quantify the opportunities where RPA would have the most impact. As noted earlier, avoid focusing RPA goals on reducing labor costs. Instead, target the ways in which the solution moves the organization away from manual, paper-driven, human-contingent activities and toward automated processes.
Build your automation roadmap. Identify processes in your existing systems that can be realistically enhanced by RPA. The processes should have the following characteristics:
- Rule-based and standardized
- Cross multiple systems
- Require non-intrusive automation
Swivel chair integrations, for example, offer a great opportunity for streamlining processes. Leveraging bots to move data between systems provides an efficient solution to a process that often suffers to meet the delicate balance between speed and accuracy.
Consider all the solutions. The popularity of RPA has given way to a variety of automation solutions. Evaluate the solutions and decide if RPA alone will solve the business problem or if a hybrid solution, such as an AI-based option, would be more effective.
With its non-intrusive nature to flexibility, scalability, and efficiency, RPA’s popularity shows no signs of slowing. If you’re ready to take the next step in your digital transformation, contact us to discuss ways that automation can improve your business.
In this blog series, we take a closer look at the journey from paper dependency to paperless success using continuous process improvement, inserting RPA, implementing AI and machine learning (ML) solutions for analytic augmentation and prediction, and managing a productive and happy distributed workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about the impact information referenced in this article, or have questions about how NT Concepts helps agencies to realize these high-value efficiencies, please reach out to us!