Is RPA Always the Right Solution?
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA for short, is an enterprise technology that emerged in the 90’s and is currently trending globally. Why? Because all businesses are trying to cut spending in these uncertain times and RPA offers an automated version of routine mundane tasks performed by humans. Let’s also be clear that this is not about replacing human value. RPA allows businesses to deliver better customer experiences faster and cheaper— and frees up employee time to focus on more creative and strategic work.
With the rapid growth and adoption of RPA around the world, new use cases have also emerged. What’s more, we see software vendors (ISVs) building plugins and extensions that can add onto or attach into RPA tools which can additionally solve niche customer problems.
Some RPA experts tend to give the impression that almost all technology problems can be solved with RPA. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But is that the right approach?
If you are just starting out with RPA or considering scaling your current RPA implementation, then consider the following aspects before deciding whether RPA is the right solution for your current tech challenges:
RPA is a Quick Fix or Hack, Not a Permanent Solution
In the frenzy of adopting RPA, many enterprises quickly jump into concluding that RPA is the right solution without evaluating RPA against application integration and purpose-developed software. Many tend to forget that RPA merely puts software in place of humans to mimic the same activities. It does not provide a digitized solution nor does it optimize the process. Though RPA can often be quick to implement, it is important for a business leader to keep in mind that RPA might be acting as a hack or a workaround, instead of a permanent solution, such as integrating and building software capabilities into existing enterprise applications or introducing new tools and software where manual processes exist.
Compare Cost Over a Time Horizon
While RPA solutions can be built and deployed faster than a typical application development or system integration, it also has a recurring licensing and cost model to be considered. Therefore while RPA may seem attractive in the short term, when you project your total cost over time, you may find that buying a custom off-the-shelf (COTS) software, building a turnkey solution, or performing an application integration project is much more cost effective in the long run.
What’s more, RPA solutions work best when the underlying process is stable and consistent and when macro environment factors, such as the external systems that the RPA bot connects to, are also consistent and constant. If the underlying process changes periodically or the macro environment factors are in flux, then more time and money will go into keeping your RPA solution continuously in sync with the systems and processes it is designed to work with.
Have Clear Objectives and KPIs
As an organization you need to have a clear objective as to why you need to use RPA. Is it the destination or just a step in the journey? Is it the end solution to the manual process, or is it merely a way to verify whether a manual process can be streamlined with a custom application development that will be implemented in the future?
The strategic direction you take with RPA will vary based on your objectives. There are many enterprises that use RPA as a proof-of-concept for long-term digitalization due to RPA being a fail-fast, fail-safe approach. Moreover, an RPA solution lets enterprises gradually condition their workforce to a digitization initiative instead of pushing a big bang approach to application engineering which might meet with resistance from your staff. This is why it is important to have a clear objective for your RPA solutions and have KPIs to measure its success or failure over time.
Implementing Only RPA Might not be Enough
While RPA solutions automate manual tasks, this alone may not be enough. For a proof-of-concept, a simple task automation capability may meet the need. But as an enterprise scales and applies automation to more processes, it will become clear that an RPA solution isn’t sufficient to get everything done.
- What if the process you need to automate relies on various systems and those systems expand over time?
- Or what if the system needs to support multiple ingestion channels?
- Is there an active hand-off that needs to take place between people and automation?
All of these suggest the need to pair your RPA solution with other capabilities such as data capture, business process management (BPM), and analytics.
How Scalable is the RPA Solution?
Finding the right RPA solution takes focus and buy-in from the right stakeholders. It’s also important to choose an RPA platform that scales easily and supports your existing IT infrastructure and IT assets easily. Each RPA platform, such as UiPath or Automation Anywhere, has its own marketplace for third party add-ons, which extend the capability of the core RPA tool. Since these add-ons typically come at an extra cost, it’s important to know what the total cost will be when you want to scale your RPA implementation with new capabilities. As such, merely factoring the cost of the core RPA tool is insufficient.
The RPA ecosystem is a rich landscape with a host of general RPA solutions, industry-specific and process-specific solutions, and third-party tools such as plugins for additional customization. Therefore it’s vitally important that you first evaluate and pick the right RPA solution that fits your current and future needs by choosing a product that has an integrated platform and that supports extensibility, scalability, and flexibility.
“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”