With 72% of corporate Australia looking to start their RPA journeys in the next 12 months, according to Deloitte, how do Small Businesses not get left behind?
With rapid technological advancement, Robotic Process Automation, or more simply known as software robots, once only available to large corporations can now be accessed by SMBs at relatively low cost. The benefits most organisations hope to unlock with RPA include better compliance, increased productivity, fewer errors, happier staff, and lower cost of doing business.
In the face of rising labour costs, we know people are typically your biggest cost base. So why not maximise the potential of your workforce? Free them from the boring work they don’t enjoy, so they can focus on value adding activities that directly contribute to your business growth and bottom line
Step 1 – Getting your heads in the right place
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) doesn’t begin with the IT department but with the broader business. With the pressure on costs and people higher than ever, everyone from business owners, to senior management, to front line staff are crying out for some help.
RPA is a way to relieve some of the crushing pressure can come from anywhere in the organisation, but it often starts with Finance and Accounting team, the Chief Financial Officer or CEO. The finance and accounting department has lots of repetitive tasks just asking to be automated, and they are naturally sensitive to the costs of those tasks. In turn, the Finance and Accounting team are best placed to help build the business case, given they have a clear view of the real cost of doing business and the impact productivity improvements can make to the bottom line. Wherever it starts, it’s an idea that needs to be promoted by an RPA champion (can be self-appointed) and kicked around internally.
Two groups of stakeholders are incredibly important to involve early on. One is the workforce – the individual employees currently performing the processes that you are thinking of automating with RPA. It is their expert input you will need to make RPA come to life, by being able to develop a deeper understanding of your business processes.
Secondly you should engage sooner rather than later with the CIO and IT department. Even if they don’t need to be involved in building and deploying the RPA bots, they do manage the IT environment and network. Digital workers need to sign-in to systems and apps just like human workers, and IT is the gatekeeper charged with ensuring that happens securely.
This process should not take too long, but the groundwork should be done to ensure all stakeholders agree on the objectives they would like to achieve and are at least committed to exploring RPA further.
Step 2 – Find a partner for the discovery process
RPA is available ‘as-a-service’ in the cloud, but that doesn’t mean you should go it alone. An experienced partner is a must, to hold your hand, to make sure you obtain the maximum benefit initially and ongoing from RPA. Whilst some technology vendors make promises about low-code solutions that businesses can use to build their own bots, our opinion is that this is little more than marketing talk. Clearly, if you need to build something beyond a very simple robot, you’re going to need some specialist skills.
Your chosen partner should not only understand RPA, which goes without saying, but also business in general and, ideally, have experience of your sector. This ensures they understand the types of processes in your business, which makes the engagement that much easier.
The first activity to undertake with your RPA partner is a Discovery Process to identify likely opportunities for RPA within your organisation. Your partner will work with you to dig into your existing business processes, and identify the top priorities. This should not just seek to identify possibilities for cost reduction but also look at which processes could lead to increased operational efficiency, or improved customer satisfaction, if automated.
Each process is scored, to confirm its suitability for RPA, using parameters such as investment payback period, technical complexity, the volume of transactions undertaken daily, the process inputs, application types, its impact and other factors. In addition, the intangible benefits of automating each process should be considered – for example reducing reliance on an outsourcing partner, or improved morale from removing a tedious task. Those processes which show promise should be mapped in detail, highlighting the various systems the bot would need to access to carry them out. Therefore, the Discovery Process allows you to make a well-informed assessment of the potential of RPA and how strong the business case is.
Step 3 – Jump in and start building
Once you have a plan outlining likely processes and the potential return on investment it’s time to jump in and deploy some bots. Start small, with an affordable Proof of Concept (POC) that can deliver results and return on investment in a matter of weeks. The key here is to work with your partner to pick the low-hanging fruit. We generally suggest starting with processes that are relatively simple to automate – for example, high volume tasks with standard inputs and which involve a minimal number of applications in the automation.
The types of processes that we generally consider good candidates include:
- Finance – usually the first candidates for automation are found here as there as so many routine and repetitive transactions.
- Administration – when information needs to be copied from one place into another system or database, bots can do this faster and more accurately than humans.
- Employee onboarding and offboarding – requesting, collecting, scanning, and shuttling documents around various systems are time consuming yet routine processes.
- IT maintenance – your IT people are already used to automation server maintenance so other routine tasks like application monitoring, batch processing, and back ups could be strong RPA candidates.
To build your first RPA bot we begin by capturing the process to be automated in detail, documenting every input and output step-by-step. This includes identifying the systems and platform that the bot will need to access and defining how it will access them. The steps of the process are recreated in the RPA software following the manual process that a human user would carry out.
After extensive testing and failover checking the bot is ready to go. After around 2-4 weeks you should ideally have a good idea of how well the bot works and confirm the return on investment and what the other outcomes have been. Quick wins earn you the right to build out further automation throughout the business, and your Robotic Process Automation journey has begun.
If you want a low-risk, low-cost, no fuss way to bring RPA bots to life in your business, please contact Sherpa Works @ www.sherpaworks.com.au.
About the Author: David Barlow, Co-Founder and Commercial Director, Sherpa Works, is passionate about helping SMEs and Mid-market companies experience outrageous success with their Bot workforce.