As we discussed in the first article of this series, our processes keep evolving over time as we find ways to make them more efficient. It is the quest for increased efficiency and productivity that has been the cornerstone of the industrial and indeed the digital revolution. As we create and evolve new tools, we tweak our processes to suit them and extract the next set of efficiencies. Take something simple as invoice payment or payroll processing and think of all the tweaks that were done to make them ‘automated’ by using the first few generations of computers. Most of these tweaks will even resonate with something more complex as settling a trade. So processes evolve when efficiencies come along!
Now we have another such tool – the software robot. I would argue that in its current form it is probably at a very rudimentary stage of development and will see several rounds of evolution in the very near future. Let us call it the first generation bot. Even so, these gen 1 bots can still be applied, fairly successfully, at a variety of business processes and significantly reduce the human interaction aspects of these processes. So, much of this hype about the promised land of automation seems to be a perception and information problem. What is required is a thorough understanding of the RPA tool and its capabilities and map them against the nuances of the processes that exist in an organization. Once this exercise is done successfully several things will emerge from it. Firstly, it will accurately tell you what can be automated using the current set of tools. As it often happens, this set turns out to be much smaller than you expected. Before you write off this tool completely, take a pause and take a look at the map again. There will be a lot of processes which can be automated provided they are tweaked and massaged a little. This is where the hidden value lies.
The next logical step would be to spend some time and effort on these ‘should be tweaked before automating’ processes and arrive at an ROI decision. We’ll spend some time on this in one of the future discussions but for now, let’s assume that we do indeed find a strong business case to modify some of the processes. This essentially substantiates the business case for implementing the RPA tool itself. In such a case, the bot becomes an agent of change within an organization.
Now that’s not bad at all, is it? Well, I have heard people say – “Why should I change my processes just so that a bot can run with it? After all the bot won’t be there for long.” Yes, Mr. Soothsayer, you are right; the bot won’t be there for long but do you know what will be?