So one of your IT team has come to you claiming to have found the answer to doing all of the manual repetitive tasks around the office.
Things like staff onboarding, inputting sales orders into your system, invoice and cash reconciliation… but this new person doesn’t need food or even a desk, and they are not a contractor.
Let’s talk robots. If, like me, you are fond of the R2D2’s of this world, you will understand the resourcefulness of droids, however you probably think of robots as ‘things’ first and only as powerful software later. While droids are still mostly relegated to fiction, today’s technology provides us Robotic Process Automation, or RPA - these are not the cute helpers around the house (think vacuums), but the programs behind the scenes in business.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
RPA is the term used to describe a process or task being performed utilising software that acts like a human. A script is built that mimics every mouse click, every action otherwise performed by us, in whatever software we use.
Some popular areas where RPA is being utilised is taking complex PDF sales or purchase order from your client, checking stock levels, emailing your client back, and entering dozens of rows of line items into your ERP for ordering. It is with such repetitive and not very complex tasks that RPA is easily deployed. An added benefit is that the robot does not get bored and does not make mistakes, but similarly to an employee, it does need attention from time to time!
Where RPA comes into its own is processing larger, complex projects, like data conversions. This is where your robot comes in as it can work non-stop, even over the weekend. Simply put, RPA can help with repetitive tasks in volume, either simple or complex ones, where accuracy and/or speed are of importance.
The Business Case
A robot, much like an employee, is not free, and it also requires maintenance. It will have to be created specifically for your situation, for your processes and your software. Then again, a license for RPA software that will let you build scripts (bots) yourself is not all that expensive and once you have the expertise you can hire (re: build!) your own easily…the sky is the limit, right? Well. Maybe not.
You may think this obvious however you do actually need to know how much time and therefore money ‘your’ human would take to input the data in question, or how many mistakes employees make and what that actually costs is the company (the material risk), to write a business case for RPA. Unfortunately I know many businesses where this kind of information is not readily available. We can calculate this for you.
Let’s say we have our time and motion data for our current process. Now, I’d like you to picture this; a meeting, people are coming in, getting seats, chatting, looking for the coffee…. Got It? In walks the boss, and with a smile on his face he raises his hands and says: “Good day everyone, I have just met with the guys from XQ-soft and their stuff is great, just what we were looking for to increase productivity!” He sits down and is met with a lukewarm murmur of a response. Familiar? I have seen this scenario play out many times and you may have seen similar.
And if this is not uncommon with regular software, why would it be different with robots? Very few people actually, actively, get excited by the new, by change. In fact, it is pretty scary to many people. And robots? That really is scary stuff – ‘what about my job?’, ‘If I make mistakes so often, why didn’t you say so?’ ‘You mean to say the work I do is not important?’ These are all things I hear employees say as a reaction to the introduction of RPA.
One approach I recommend you take is this. If and when you decide to automate parts of your processes, introduce the robot as a new employee. Give it a name. Hank sounds good! “Hank is going to take over the most boring and inconvenient tasks to free us all up for the more interesting stuff.” It works. I know. I worked with a company where Hank is talked about as if it is a colleague and people actually ask if Hank could do this or that task for them.
Of course, that opens up the topic of robot management – keeping Hank, on the task, focused on the information they are only allowed to work on, and making sure they perform to their KPI’s… an issue for another post!
In the meantime, if you want help with building a business case for RPA, process business benefit analysis or tips and tricks on implementing RPA, we are just a call away.
Broderick Smith @brogga
Principal – Transform LogiQ
p: 1800 512 214
Broderick Smith is Principal of Transform LogiQ and Founder of Onetick. Broderick specializes in digital transformation, business process re-engineering and systems thinking to make business more efficient and increase productivity and profitability.