Earlier this year, Gartner claimed that the worldwide Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software market grew 63% in 2018 and expected RPA software revenues to reach $1.3 Billion in 2019. Yet, although process automation is no longer a ‘new’ technology, and significant improvements in recent years have supported wider access to benefits, the rewards can still be worryingly elusive.

In this article, I will discuss why so many organisations are still failing to deliver even part of the promised benefit from RPA and Intelligent Automation programmes, and why, in the worst cases, businesses are simply adding cost to their operations in the form of license fees.

 

I firmly believe that Intelligent Automation is worth the effort. Success can release value from operations with greater accuracy, improved customer service and tighter compliance at a fraction of the cost. So, what makes a company, team or project a good fit for Intelligent Automation or a disaster waiting to happen?

Let’s start with some success stories. Large corporate examples of best practice such as GSK moving to a centralised delivery model and securing significant benefits for its business units or Nokia with over 60 ‘digital workers’ active across operations support and their supply chain rightly inspire admiration and interest. Both these firms, and many others, have built effective internal capabilities that more than pay for themselves.

However, there are also many large and well-established organisations that have not seen the return on investment they expected. I recently visited the RPA Centre of Excellence of a huge US-based company that had invested just over $900k in their Intelligent Automation capability; building an extensive team of developers with a solution architect, IT BRM and so on. Their ‘return’ on that investment? The c.$130k of ‘released’ time estimated in the business case? None of which had been realised.

In that case, there were many reasons for such a large disparity, but when I arrived as a trusted advisor on that project, I also realised the causes I was seeing weren’t unique to this organisation.

 

So, below are several reasons Intelligent Automation and RPA programmes often aren’t delivering the value they should be:

 

1. The wrong processes are being selected for automation.

Companies can often focus on ‘quick-wins’ and the ‘low-hanging fruit’, but in reality, the true benefits come from automating complex end-to-end processes with significant labour requirements.

 

2. A business engagement model that isn’t fit for purpose.

In which case, often senior support is required to re-state the value of automation to the business and encourage their active participation.

 

3. Development work that is not to the requisite standard.

This means more resource is spent on maintenance and exception handling than it should be. This is a people issue and requires additional training, effective knowledge management within the Centre of Excellence and behavioural change management to address.

 

4. The vanity project hangover.

It’s likely that many of the Intelligent Automation capabilities and projects you’ve experienced or are in the process of running started as POCs or vanity projects. While there’s no reason why they can’t mature brilliantly and deliver substantial business benefits, they must be thought of and planned towards alignment with the business’ wider IT and business strategy. They might also be a great POC. They could scale effectively, move towards more robust standards and be deployed to tackle a business’ wider issues that would in turn dramatically increase their impact.

 

What can you do if your Intelligent Automation project isn’t delivering what you expect?

The reality is that nobody is doing this perfectly, even good companies can improve. Programmes lose their way for a wide variety of reasons, but they will always require the same things to get back on track:

  • An appropriate and relevant strategy; aligning with and supporting the needs of the wider business, rather than automation for the sake of it;
  • A strong value proposition; clearly articulating the benefits that they can bring to the business and the case for automation;
  • The right skill-sets, being aware that these can change over time as a capability becomes more mature.

One way to address all of these remedies is to work with external experts. The right external firm can inject dynamism and different perspectives while supplementing your team to regain lost momentum and can help re-align a team to strategic objectives. After a period of disappointing returns, a team including external experts will almost certainly find it easier to engage with the business and re-build the pipeline of developments with high-value processes. This process of re-affirming the value to the organisation that an automation capability brings is critical.

 

Intelligent Automation as a competitive advantage

The analysis above is based on my experience of Intelligent Automation, both as a customer and consultant. While fixing issues is an obvious priority, even if everything is going very well, most businesses and Intelligent Automation  / RPA functions won’t have looked beyond the medium-term. Yet leading businesses need to think as far as what happens when everything suitable has been automated.

What is the appropriate way to decommission automations as and when they become redundant?

What resource base does the organisation need to keep internally to provide maintenance and support?

What can they look at outsourcing to an ITO firm who can provide a managed service?

 

Finally, the Intelligent Automation landscape is changing, and new tools offer new opportunities. For instance, UiPath recently brought out its computer vision capability which allows the tool to interact with applications hidden behind a Citrix (or other RDP) layer. That could dramatically change the scope of processes available for automation by an internal capability, and it also requires a little upskilling. There are examples like this emerging all the time, and it’s worth keeping abreast of them through connections and expert sources such as HFS research, Forrester and Gartner’s recently published Market Share Analysis: Robotic Process Automation, Worldwide, 2018.

 

Joe Wheatly

Practice lead, Automation and AI

Triad Group Plc