Robotic Process Automation – Game changer or rebranded existing automation solution?

Phil Searle
Posted: 10/19/2017

I recently attended a Robotic Process Automation/Intelligent Automation conference run by the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network, in Chicago. It was a great opportunity to network with many shared services leaders who are currently evaluating Intelligent Automation's impact on their performance. I had a memorable exchange with a senior executive from a global company specializing in optics and imaging products, who complained:

“I think the industry does itself a disservice by calling it ‘robotics’. Some of the solutions might well rise to that level, but much of what I am seeing is really about ‘automation’.”

I agree that the term ‘robotics’ makes it sound a bit more manufacturing/high volume/techie like – and in truth, there is certainly some repackaging and rebranding of existing automation solutions going on. However, there is a lot that is indeed promising around RPA, which I think makes it, potentially, a game changer. But it needs to be correctly integrated around four critical success factors: people/organization; process; client; and technology.

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The use of Intelligent Automation solutions like RPA is driving enormous interest across shared services centers, and at the same time eliciting concern in outsource providers. These new automation solutions offer the prospect of fast and dramatic returns with minimal up front investments, and the ability to bring previously offshored/outsourced processes back on shore.

Intelligent Automation and Robotics is the latest evolution in business transformation and automation. What is new and exciting is that early adopters have achieved significant cost and time savings through the successful implementation of ‘bots’ to replace ‘human’ activity. Leading research groups are predicting some pretty staggering growth numbers for RPA software and services in the years ahead.

However, within RPA, the term ‘Robot’ can be considered slightly misleading, conjuring up images of shiny silver robots sitting and working away at partitioned stations where people once sat. I agree with the executive in Chicago, that RPA is really an extension of automation and some of this is simply repackaging and rebranding of automation solutions. For example, I was involved with some technology ‘packaged solutions’ development a few years back which are to some extent similar: they are bolt-ons or additions to your existing technology platform and process map, that automate specific parts of an end-to-end process, and can be readily implemented with fast and high ROI.

I believe that RPA is potentially a game changer in the sense that it can drive significant efficiencies – as long as it is implemented as part of an overall strategy and is linked with the technology infrastructure and IT. It can actually eliminate the need for ‘FTE humans’ whether internally provided or externally sourced.

The latter is potentially having some really significant impacts on the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) providers. The most effective solution occurs where processes are documented, routine and relatively simple, following standard policies and procedures, using trusted data, and are to some degree already centralized. That can be in a Shared Services Center or in a Centre of Expertise (of varying scope and sizes), or indeed within a BPO operation. 

I do not recommend using RPA as a tool to ‘fire off all over the place’ in an uncontrolled fashion. The old adage that we should not automate a bad process is still true. We should use RPA to automate a good process – or I should say elements along a good process – in a targeted and planned way, linking to all four critical success factors – people/org, process, client and technology.

Phil is the Founder and Managing Director of Chazey Partners. He has more than 20 years of experience in Finance, Shared Services, Technology and Outsourcing.

Phil Searle
Posted: 10/19/2017