As it stands today, financial institutions (FI) are in a race to implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology in their respective concerns. This is to be applauded as the benefits can outweigh the costs and risks. It is common knowledge that many of the rote (read manual) tasks being performed by staff can be “automated” by using bots and process automation. What I’d like to do in this piece is lay out a few facts about this journey and caution adopters of the work that must be completed before any such decision is taken. Successful RPA rollouts have only come about when organizations perform the due diligence necessary for the rollout.
For a successful launch of robotic process automation (RPA) within an FI, there are three central tenets that need to be observed:
- An evaluation of processes that are to be automated and their necessary redesign
- Ensuring that RPA is your last solution being adopted. In other words, you have exhausted all the technology available within your existing platform and the process has been re-engineered before you begin the RPA journey
- Open communication with staff to counter any backlash against adoption
When an organization is adopting new technology, one of the first tasks is to understand their current processes. What you want to avoid is automating a poorly designed process (or process steps). Examination of current business processes will help with identifying any gaps that there may be in completing tasks and in defining a set of requirements to share with a technology partner. Understanding current processes involves mapping of core activities within the organization. The “devil” is in the details of your process – how it works, why the process steps were sequenced as they exist today, who does the work, what systems are involved, how long each step takes … Your process map will serve as a blueprint of how work flows through the organization, highlighting specific areas that need improvement. When examining the process map for identification of RPA application, remember to look for highly manual, medium to high volume tasks that are repetitive and follow a well-defined set of rules or logic.
Your RPA implementation success will further depend on understanding the inter-relationships and dependencies of your processes. As an example, if your focus is to digitalize your unsecured loan process, the vendor/technology partner must also be aware of the process that follows next in the application process. If your underwriting team has specific needs from the output, this must be accounted for and included in the technology being adopted.
Another consideration for FIs as they get on this path is to remember that while there are advantages to RPA adoption – mainly gaining efficiency, eliminating errors, increasing processing speed – there may be solutions within their existing technology platforms. Those solutions may be underutilized (simply because we have never in the past looked at the process with a critical eye) or may have been mothballed for unknown reasons. To minimize the impact of change, organizations would be well-served to study what their existing platforms provide. RPA adoption should come after this exercise has been completed. Why do we think that you should exhaust all options before adoption of RPA? Because like any other application or system, in order to maintain it effectively you will have to develop its own team of experts and governance process. In order words, we may be adding complexity and cost when we don’t need to.
A most-often overlooked consequences of adopting technologies such as RPA is the cultural and organizational backlash that may accompany the initiative. When adopting tools that decrease the need for manual effort, the assumption of staff may be that their roles are being minimized. Firms must be proactive in messaging clearly the intent and outcomes of the journey. The inclusion of HR and executive level team members will help in minimizing the backlash from employees.
RPA adoption can have high levels of failure but luckily there is a formula for success: this rests mainly on ensuring that you have done sufficient due diligence and are selecting an appropriate process. Start with a pilot. Do one process. Don’t lock yourself into a particular vendor – you don’t need to just yet. Once you have a process or two under your belt, then determine your long-term strategy for automation in general and the role RPA will have in it. Eventually, start considering the best RPA vendor that will help you attain your goals. Give yourself the time needed to learn and gauge the cultural impact.