The House Of RPA

By: Tom Archer

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) works best when you think about it like building a house for your entire organization to live in. I’m going to go through how if you think of RPA that way, an organization will be able to achieve the full benefits of RPA.

  1. Have Executive Funding and Support
  2. Data Is the Foundation
  3. Know What Goes in The Rooms – Process Understanding
  4. Have Centralized Standards
  5. Hire a Team
  6. Plan for Monitoring – “Is This Thing On?”
  7. Plan for Maintenance – “Mow the Yard”

 

  1. Have Executive Funding and IT Support   

If everyone in an organization is going to move into a house, it doesn’t make sense for one small part of an organization to pay for it. It’s why the kids working at the grocery store shouldn’t pay for the family mortgage and why buying a new home is an entire family decision. If your entire organization is going to live in "The House of RPA", then support and drive for automation needs come from the top of an organization. 

Typically, RPA is piloted in one organization to get started. Once a pilot is completed, to maximize the benefits of RPA, it should then be spread into all facets of an organization. Should the pilot group use their resources to help other groups use RPA? Likely they are going to want to continue to build their own robots and not help new users to RPA. A centralized group supporting RPA will be needed to get all the areas of a business involved. This centralized group is typically called an RPA Center of Excellence (COE). The COE can serve as educators, standard bearers, reporters, and supporters of RPA activity companywide.   They are the experts of RPA and can help resolve any questions or issues any business units run into when working in RPA. 

Each organization can benefit from RPA, but each organization may be impacted by RPA. Groups like Information Technology and IT Security need to be engaged to ensure RPA is used correctly. Those groups need to understand that RPA is a company-wide priority. Ensuring RPA has top executive buy-in at the start will help ensure RPA gets the company-wide support it needs to succeed. 

2. Data Is the Foundation        

  When building a house, a solid piece of land is ideal. You wouldn’t want to build a large house with at least first understanding the land you would be building on. RPA processes are the same way with data serving as the foundation of any good automated process. You want your source data to be as structured as possible. Structured data is data where each piece of data can be clearly identified. Data stored in database or an Excel spreadsheet are examples of structured data. Data from personal emails, videos and images are examples of unstructured data. Pulling data from a structured data source is far better than pulling data from unstructured sources. Performing the necessary work to improve the data sources and quality will lead to better processes, automated or not. 

Technologies like machine learning and AI can be considered the 2nd and 3rd stories in The House Of RPA. If you’re building up, you want to make sure that the foundation of data is solid before going forward. Your processes will work much better when they are dealing with clean structured data.

3. Know the Rooms – Process Understanding

When building a house from scratch it’s good to think about what is going to go into each room. Think about a kitchen. Obviously, you will need space for a refrigerator, a stove, a sink, and a microwave. Do you want to have an island in the middle of the kitchen for workspace? Will you want to eat your meals in your kitchen? Then you’re going to need room enough for a table. Will your refrigerator have an attached ice maker? Then you need to ensure that a water line can be attached to the back of the fridge. All of those are processes you’ll want to complete in that room. You need to think of what items will be in each room to ensure you have the space necessary to do what you want.  

What if the answer to one of those questions is “sometimes”? You may not use the microwave in your kitchen daily, but it’s available daily. Even if the process is something that is done occasionally, it needs to be accounted for when building out the kitchen. 

With RPA, that’s all about clearly understanding the processes you want to automate. At a basic level a business process is just a series of decision points. Each one of those decision points needs to be documented, understood, and then translated into business logic for robots to run. Let’s say a process has a Yes/No question in the middle of the process. When would “Yes” be selected? That logic needs to be documented so the right choice can be picked by the robot.  

What if an answer is “sometimes”? What if the question isn’t Yes/No, but Yes/No/I Don’t Know? Each path needs to be documented, with clear answers on when each choice should be selected. You will find that the work to automate your processes will lead to a much greater understanding of the processes involved.

4. Have Centralized Standards

When building a house for everyone in your organization, you want there to be standards. Finance can’t start building a brick house while IT builds a log cabin and the marketing department builds an ultramodern penthouse with glass walls. Standards for what materials will be used needs to be established. 

The same theory applies to RPA. When each unit of a business builds their own RPA processes it is called the federated model of RPA development. However, you want to ensure that each group builds to standards that need to be set at the company level. How will credentials be handled? What are the standards for data and error handling? Will teams share RPA licenses for building and running processes? How will those standards be enforced? Those process questions need to resolved before getting too far down the path of RPA development.

5. Hire a Team

Anybody can pick up a hammer, but does that mean you know how to build a house? Maybe in time you could learn how to do it. They may be some mistakes. Some minor electrocutions and plumbing mishaps may occur. There may be some rework from learning as you go. In a couple years, a person could probably build their own house if they are willing to put in the work and time required. Most home building isn’t done that way though. A large team of people are involved in house building. They tend to be experts with experience who get the entire building process completed much quicker than a team of one or two people would. 

So many companies have tried and then given up on RPA. A recent study found that up to 50% of RPA projects fail. One way to increase success is to hire people who have experience in RPA when getting started. Most RPA software is easy to learn but to truly understand takes time.  Those companies that show tangible benefits from "The House of RPA" have dozens of processes built and running. If a small team worked at it, they could build that many processes over time. However, if a partner is engaged at the start, they can provide flexible resources to get the processes built so a smaller team can then be tasked with keeping the processes going. The sooner "The House of RPA" is built, the quicker a company can achieve the benefits of RPA. 

6. Plan for Monitoring - “Is This Thing On?”

You have a new house. You move in and your work is done, right? Wrong.  You probably don’t even think about it, but you’re constantly monitoring to make sure items in your house are working. You turn on a light, does the light come on? Does the hot water work in your morning shower? Does the electricity work to run the coffee maker? Is the grass in the front yard starting to get tall? Because you are subconsciously monitoring that everything is working, you are going to be aware when something needs repair. Monitoring that everything is still working is part of homeownership. 

RPA is the same way. Since you are building processes that the business runs on a very frequent basis, there needs to be monitoring to make sure that the processes are working. If a process completes in the background does there need to be notifications that the process completed successfully? If the process stops working does there need to be notifications to the business that the process has stopped? Can the process be resumed without causing issues to the business? These are all questions to be considered when monitoring RPA jobs. In "The House of RPA", there needs to be a plan to make sure everything stays in working order.

7. Plan for Maintenance - “Mow the Yard”

Let’s say you walk into your bathroom in your new house and the light doesn’t come on. A little bit of analysis determines that the light bulb has burnt out. You quickly replace the light bulb, the light works, and you go on with brushing your teeth. Sometimes all that monitoring of issues will lead to repairs, even if they are as small as replacing a light bulb or mowing the yard when you notice the grass is getting tall.

Maintenance needs to be a part of RPA. Screens of applications may change causing minor changes in processes. Maybe a new data point occurs that causes existing processes to fail. Quickly, an existing process needs to be updated to work with this new screen or new data. Like any IT development, maintenance is required to keep RPA processes working and providing benefits to the business. 

Thinking about Robotic Process Automation like buying and building a house can ensure a company’s "House of RPA" will be successful when starting an automation journey. Treating a company’s "House of RPA" like living in an actual house can keep RPA successful in a company for years to come. 

Tom Archer helps deploy RPA/Intelligent Automation at Capgemini / Sogeti in North America. Any questions or feedback? Please email tom.archer@sogeti.com.

 


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