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5 success factors for robotic process automation

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Sairam Bollapragada, Head, Global Delivery Center, Micro Focus Professional Services

Robotic process automation (RPA) is on the rise as it continues to find more applications in the enterprise. The technology promises to automate repetitive, manual tasks across the business, from the IT help desk to HR, increasing productivity and cutting expenses.

But as RPA continues to climb the hype-cycle curve, it's easy to forget that the technology is not a magic wand that you just wave to create unprecedented levels of cost savings. Business and IT leaders may want to rush into RPA projects, but the first few steps you take are critical for success.

Here are five key factors that, if baked into the planning and execution of your RPA project, will greatly increase your chances of a successful outcome.

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1. Understand the problem you're trying to solve

As you review a proposed RPA application, make sure you understand what the real problem is that the business is trying to solve. What do you expect from automation? Is it greater efficiency, and hence increased productivity, or is this a means to move your teams to higher-end activities? Is there a direct cost savings benefit? If yes, then are you weighing the return on investment and time to break even?

2. Target the low-hanging fruit first

Resist the urge to move in bullet time; start slow and keep everyone's expectations in check. Everyone is in hurry to adopt RPA, but you'll be smart to first identify the standard, stable, and most repeatable processes as your first candidates, and leave the complex ones for later.

The alternative is to get stuck with complicated project, fail, and have the business complain that RPA does not work. Initial adoption, even if slow, will build up confidence with and trust in RPA technology.

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3. Conduct a feasibility analysis

Technology is a given, but only when there is a history of success and stability. Any technology or platform going through the early phases of adoption and maturity needs to be mapped to business needs so that it is fit-to-purpose.

To ensure success, subject your candidate project to a feasibility analysis—both from a technical and business perspective—right up front. If your organization doesn't engage with IT early and go through this process, it may end up with a candidate project that's being force-fit into a program, and it won't realize the expected benefits.

4. Follow the SITO rule

An RPA initiative can be a golden opportunity for everyone to step back and look at the process for refinement by putting it through the SITO steps: simplify, improve, transform, and optimize. If you can simplify a process, you will have less complexity to maintain later. And if you can improve on the existing one, all the better. Perhaps you can transform it to include digital elements, maybe better customer experience, better quality, and more efficiency.

Take this as an opportunity to optimize processes, because with an optimized process you can drive more outcomes. Do this before you feed the candidate project into your RPA engine.

5. There is no 'one size fits all'

RPA is still on the path to maturity, and the market is flooded with many diverse platforms, tools, and point solutions. And since none of the products are complete, there is no one solution that fits all scenarios. All of the tools are still evolving, and a tool that fits for one business use may not be suitable for another—so plan accordingly.

Plan for success

The popularity of RPA is growing, and many organizations are anxious to bring in AI-based projects. But if you don't know why you need RPA, you could end up using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. And one failed RPA project could turn your organization away from the technology altogether.

So don’t rush through an RPA project as a seat-of-the-pants exercise. It’s complicated, so you should plan extensively for it—even if your plan means pursuing a phased approach—and even it if means a slower return on investment.

Persistence is key. The business may want it now, but returns will only materialize if your project is well-planned and -managed.

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