In our earlier book ‘Service Automation Robots and The Future of Work’ we highlighted successful RPA deployments and how organizations were achieving triple wins for their shareholders, customers and employees alike. In our new book we extend our research to cases of cognitive automation and to less successful RPA journeys. In practice automation success is far from guaranteed. Service automation—like all organizational initiatives—emerges from our research as fraught with risk. We have been able to identify these risks, but also the management actions lower the risk and seize the opportunities inherent in the automation tools becoming available. We see significant risk –probable, impactful, and needing to be managed – appearing in eight areas.
RPA strategy risks. The greatest strategy risks involved missing the triple-win value of RPA by thinking too small, such as looking at automation as a tactical tool to cut costs on specific tasks within a department. Misunderstanding what RPA can do or burying the RPA initiative in a remote division also resulted in missed value for some companies. Not thinking strategically at all about automation, and seeing it as a tactical, even worse ‘one-off’ solution seriously inhibited RPA potential.
RPA sourcing risks. Clients risk leaving value on the table or incurring excessive costs by choosing the wrong sourcing model. Some organizations tried to do everything themselves, but they lacked the needed skills to govern, develop, and execute robotic operations. Some organizations picked the wrong advisors or partners who claimed RPA expertise. Some organizations relied on their traditional BPO providers for automation, but, often too little value was passed to the client.
Tool selection risks. Because of the hype and confusion in the market place, clients risk choosing the wrong tool(s), too many tools, or bad tool(s). In 2016, about 39 tools were being sold as “RPA” and about 120 tools were being sold as some form of cognitive automation. Because the space is relatively new to many clients, it is difficult to assess the actual capabilities and suitability of these tools. Clients must be wary of hype and “RPA washing”.
Stakeholder buy-in risks. RPA initiatives require stakeholder buy-in from IT, employees, and customers, both internal and external. We found organizations often failing in two areas – not considering the broad range of stakeholders, and not communicating in a clear, sustained manner
Launch/project risks. Some companies picked projects in areas with the most headcount because they thought it would generate the most savings, but launch failed because the processes were constantly changing and required a lot of exception handling; it turned out those few hundred people were there for a reason. Failure also resulted from unrealistic project estimates, particularly for business cases that too aggressively aimed for immediate FTE savings.
Operational/execution risks. Operational risks happen when robots are moved from development into operations without proper verification or a proper operating model. In the worst cases, the robots stop working or execute processes incorrectly.
Change management risks. These link strongly with strategy, stakeholder buy-in, launch, as well as operational risks. Poor communication of the strategic intent, not actively seeking stakeholder buy-in, and not managing operational dynamics – together these build cumulative multiple change management risk. More operationally, who’s in charge of the robots?
Maturity risks. When the previously identified risks were mitigated, companies frequently experienced the triple-win value from their first RPA deployments. Companies next aimed to expand RPA across their enterprises. However, a sustainable enterprise RPA capability can be impeded by a number of risks. And some organizations were fixated still on RPA, and not the bigger picture of preparing for other automation advances and the next five years.
In summary, there are many risks in any program of substance, including RPA programs. We aimed to provide a realistic view of RPA by profiling these risks. Many organizations in our study certainly learned to minimize and even avoid these risks, even after they had initially charged down the wrong path. Organizations that eventually achieved the full promise of the RPA triple-win followed the practices we will detail in our presentation at the August 2017 event in Finland.
Leslie Willcocks & Mary Lacity
Software Robotics & AI 2017 / Clarion Hotel Helsinki , Helsinki
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