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Overcoming RPA’s Critical Challenge

Stephen Booze
Aug 2, 2021 1:12:00 PM

It may seem like the value of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) goes way beyond hype with some sources quoting a potential return on investment of between 30% and 200% within the first year alone for pioneering enterprises. However, with so many major companies seeing real value being driven, it has not been difficult to convince the second wave to quickly follow suit.

Does that mean that organizations like AT&T are throwing caution to the wind with their broad shift to RPA operating models? Not if they’re smart, says Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics’ Department of Management, who advises that having “continuous improvement capability” or a Center of Excellence is a critical component of maximizing RPA after its implementation.

Maintenance is the most important post-implementation challenge,” a recent post in the Applied AI blog advised. “Changes in the regulatory or business environment will sooner or later require changes to bots.” The challenge for some organizations is that RPA essentially adds a new role for many process owners. While the technology frees up their management of live workforce activities, it adds the need to prioritize and devote time to become the process expert for bot maintenance.

Once a bot has been deployed, it might be easy to check off a particular activity as "optimized" and move on to the next RPA challenge or opportunity. However, many processes that are being replaced by bots are a result of an approach to a business need being created, trained, implemented, and then never further reviewed or questioned for the continued effectiveness, value, or need.

That’s a problem because, much like employees, bots require consistent guidance to perform ever-changing tasks. While they are programmed at one point based on specific requirements, adjustments to business strategy and system architecture can severely throw off their KPIs. “Modified data-field mappings, orphan and dangling robots, vendor upgrades, system integrations, capacity and performance monitoring, and forward compatibility considerations require attention in order to preserve the original intentions of the robot and manage the perceived brittleness of the application and RPA dependencies,” an analysis by EY advised.

Unfortunately, research shows that this type of follow-through is one facet of the RPA operating model with which many organizations struggle. In a 2017 Forrester survey of companies using RPA technology, 69% responded that they had “difficulty in managing rules that guide bot behavior.”

Knowing that the cement dries pretty quickly on a determined business process where humans are involved, this data is not surprising. To get the full benefit of RPA and ensure that the software is complementing the changes in your industry, regular business process assessments should be scheduled with each bot, similar to performance evaluation. During these evaluations, all aspects of the value and deficiencies that a bot may have needs to be examined, documented, and corrected—or in some cases, retired.

Roadmap for RPA success

Robotics Process Automation is on its way to disrupting the way almost every industry handles turnkey tasks formerly performed by members of a live workforce. Its ROI in terms of boosting labor cost savings, customer-experience ratings, and regulatory compliance is indisputable.

But without quarterly maintenance and grooming, your RPA roadmap is only as good as the last time you updated your bots to accommodate changes in your business strategy or systems.

Thoughtfully building maintenance into your RPA operating model will help your organization construct a framework for success. After all, “maintaining a ‘finger on the pulse’ of RPA risk and control across an organization represents a worthwhile investment to proactively manage the changing business processes,” consultants EY stated, “and ultimately, protect against potentially newsworthy repercussions.”

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