A few years ago, I was leading a small conference at UCLA for IT leaders. My primary qualification to lead the conference was not being an IT person. The theme of the conference was “How do IT leaders become seen as valuable business leaders?” Here’s the key point for an IT person or anyone else: Don’t have a narrow focus on solutions. Focus on business objectives and outcomes.
Fast forward to 2018 and the challenge is the same. RPA is not a strategy, objective or outcome. It’s a solution. And like anything else it’s a solution that needs to go with other solutions to drive an optimal objective or outcome.
Fortunately, the possible objectives or desired outcomes for RPA is simple: Reducing the cost of a process. And perhaps using that reduction to refocus the organization on more valuable tasks. Or perhaps it’s to simply increase the reliability of a process. Regardless, the desired outcome isn’t complicated. Actually achieving it is.
If you want to optimize the outcome of your RPA program, there are 4 interconnected non-technology requirements:
- Governance - Think about who owns both the cost/delivery of the solution and the realization of the benefit. Does the delivery side sit in an IT silo and the benefit side in a functional silo like finance? And the point of convergence / accountability is your CFO? That’s a challenge. Connect benefit realization to solution delivery. Avoid the IT silo. RPA itself doesn’t deliver any benefit. Yes, you automated. But it's the organization change you make because of the automation that actually delivers the benefit. Therefore, an RPA program needs to be led by the person in charge of organization responsible for delivering the benefit. Here’s a simple test: Ask the person in charge of your RPA program to define success. If the answer is “on time and on budget!” you have a challenge.
- Process Simplification -Eliminating work is more effective than automating it. Plus, fewer variables means faster, lower cost, higher impact RPA deployment. I’ve worked with many companies over the years to reduce the cost of a process or refocus an organization. The hardest and most overlooked solution is to simply eliminate work through changes in a process or policy. Before diving into automation like RPA take a quick step back and look at a process holistically, and follow a 3-gate process:
Gate 1: Eliminate: Change your process or policy to eliminate work (simplify!)
Gate 2: Automate: RPA fits here
Gate 3: Organization: Recalibrate or refocus the organization doing the work.
Remember, the target outcome is lower cost or more focus, not automated process.
- Scoreboard - I compare the scoreboard situation with most companies to trying to drive fast in the fog. You have a general feel for cost and efficiency. As you make progress driving down the RPA road, you generally have a feel for the benefit you are realizing. But are you measuring, evaluating and tracking and therefore driving with the clarity you need to move fast and arrive at the best destination? Remember, the goal is a lower cost process, and therefore you need to measure that. For most companies, measuring the cost of a process involves pulling resource data from ERP or HR systems, which is high level and not structured for measuring/managing process efficiency. The inspiration behind Connected Insight is to provide an easy way to target and drive improvements with clear vision. Don’t launch RPA while driving in the fog.
- Continuous Internal Benchmarking - Before launching an RPA investment you must set informed priorities and targets. Benchmarking is a powerful way to do that. If it’s done correctly. I’ve worked on many benchmark engagements where the goal is to gather some high-level data (see #3 above), and throw it over the wall to an external benchmark provider so you can compare yourself to all the other companies who are obviously way ahead of you (topic for another day). The second to last step of any external benchmarking is the benchmarked organization throwing rocks at the benchmark data when the report arrives. The leaders who commissioned the exercise are in paralysis…they like the idea of closing a gap but do not have the visibility to determine how (again, see #3 above). The final step is to bury the report and never refer to it again. The answer? Benchmark yourself internally by comparing your processes within your regions/countries/business units/divisions/location types etc. Where are you leading and lagging? The external benchmark is a supporting data point, not the only datapoint. By using continuous internal benchmarking, you not only have a way to set informed priorities and tagets, but also a foundation for driving benefit realization.
RPA is an opportunity every company should embrace. It’s proven to be effective as a solution. But don’t take your focus off of the objective.