If your robotic process automation (RPA) projects are not delivering the benefits you hoped for, it could be that your business processes themselves are too “human”. This is typically a throwback to legacy systems thinking, when solution design focused on helping computer operators be more productive by making data input easier. Any automation was merely aimed at maximizing user performance.
For a time, business process automation amounted to simulating all the keystrokes required to enter a transaction into the company’s business system, a practice that fell considerably short of the promised returns. Ultimately, its purpose was simply to speed up typing, minimize human error or reduce the number of staff needed to keep business records up to date.
Unfortunately, human-driven business process design has become ingrained in corporate IT systems and keeps enterprises from enjoying the full benefits of total digital transformation, of which RPA is an inherent part.
The new paradigm
Today, RPA must start with outcomes-based thinking, and how your RPA project ends will depend on where it originates, which should be in the boardroom. Digital transformation projects cannot be driven by compliance requirements, cost savings, higher profits, project budgets or any other siloed concern. Instead, these should be happy side effects of your design choices because without a deeper strategy, they won’t bring lasting change and enduring returns.
Your ultimate purpose is to create an agile, data-driven business model that can rapidly meet the on-demand expectations of an always online market. This doesn’t just require a different approach to classical data input-output systems design. It needs to be viewed as an obligation to innovate every part of your business. It should also avoid adopting whatever seems the best technology to get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Have you ever bought something because you were attracted to fancy features it offered that, after the first week, you never used again? I certainly have. So do many enterprises, especially when it comes to technology solutions.
In reality, organisations shouldn’t even think about the best technology to employ until they’ve developed a clear vision of how their digitally transformed business will look and act. RPA has the potential to provide authentic automation and operational agility, and can empower employees to concentrate on delivering high-quality services and products to your customers. However, it will never achieve its full potential if you continue to embrace technology-first thinking.
Avoid the human roles design error
Designing business processes in terms of what actions a human would take and what technology could best simulate their work severely restricts your options. Instead, you should remove humans from the equation entirely. That doesn’t mean you need to get rid of all your employees, but when thinking about the best way to achieve the outcome you want from a business process, it’s better to exclude human operations as an essential design element.
How does that change the dynamic? Can you build a more effective process with an AI, IoT devices, or by directly integrating two or more systems? Could you develop business rules to reduce unnecessary approvals or draw available data from the Cloud instead of compiling it by hand?
No doubt, there are business functions that cannot succeed without human involvement, but employees shouldn’t be the factor around which all system design decisions are made.
Reengineer, then automate
The fundamental lesson is that you first need to reengineer business processes by considering how machines can interact without human intervention. Only then should you think about automating them. This approach will reveal a whole new set of possibilities that can turn a doomed RPA project into the best investment you ever made.