With its ease of use and quick return on investment, companies quickly adopted RPA. But now, their RPA programs simply aren’t meeting their expectations. We share three ways to overcome your current RPA challenges.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) seems to be everywhere these days. Tools like UiPath and Microsoft’s Power Automate are launching new features at breakneck speed while teasing huge gains in operational efficiency.
RPA is a type of automation that replaces manual tasks and processes with automation ranging from spreadsheet and email handling to website and legacy application integration. It works directly with user interfaces — just like a user might — but can incorporate APIs as well as advanced features like machine learning and optical character recognition.
With the promise of easy-to-use tools and big ROI, many organizations have been quick to dive in and start rolling out their own bots. However, some now find their RPA programs unable to scale, stalling out, or just not meeting expectations.
If you’ve invested in RPA, then this may, unfortunately, sound familiar. But fear not! Chances are that RPA can still boost your organization, so before you write it off — or if you’re just starting your journey and looking for pitfalls to avoid — consider these common challenges and strategies to overcome them.
1. Collaborate with Business Users
It’s hard to overstate the importance of business users — your boots on the ground — to a successful RPA program. Even if they aren’t building bots, users should be excited to raise ideas, eager to improve processes and committed to supporting automation efforts. Your program depends on it. Here’s how to involve them:
- Invest in business engagement: If the response you’re getting from business partners is adversarial or just plain apathetic, don’t expect RPA to make a splash. Have direct conversations to explain not only the “how” of RPA but “why,” including benefits they will directly see and feel.
- Educate users to spot good ideas: Front-line business users are your best source of automation ideas. But without proper guidance, the quality and quantity of opportunities they can generate is limited. You should provide training and workshops to help users assess their own processes and support the RPA backlog.
- Encourage business ownership: When business users view RPA as an IT initiative, they are unlikely to support automations in production and may view issues or failures as someone else’s problem. By requiring users to own their automations and business outcomes, everyone will benefit from better and more valuable bots, and the workload will be more balanced.
- Empower citizen developers: If automation delivery is slow and users are getting impatient, consider a citizen developer model where they can build their own automation. To do this, you’ll need to train non-technical folks to use RPA development tools, enable the supporting technology and provide central oversight for quality and security.
2. Reduce RPA Maintenance Overhead
As the number of automations grows, so too does the effort to maintain them. This is natural and expected — until the burden becomes too great. Don’t wait until it’s too late, or you might end up drowning in support tickets, forced to add resources that cut into the program’s overall value or worse.
- Build resilient automation: When RPA code doesn’t follow best practices, automations are breakable, hard to debug and require lots of handholding. Defining and enforcing code standards helps reduce this burden. This may include detailed logging and error handling, shared workflow components, or dynamic, easy-to-change configuration values.
- Choose the right processes: Just because you can automate with RPA doesn’t mean you should. Instead, be diligent and select only meaningful processes to automate to avoid maintenance headaches down the road. For example, one RPA team settled on a process for their Proof of Concept that was easy to build but also very low impact. It resulted in automation they released and had to keep maintaining, even though it wasn’t adding business value.
- Qualify change requests: Once a bot is live, business users are likely to ask, “what if the bot could also….?”. Make sure to prioritize change requests alongside other initiatives and don’t drop everything to address minor fixes. In some cases, it may even make sense to turn off automation – and swallow your collective RPA pride – rather than complete required updates.
3. Broaden Your Automation Horizons
Perhaps the most pervasive challenge facing RPA programs is maintaining a healthy pipeline of automation ideas. Obvious use cases are often picked off early, leaving your team to scrounge for candidates after an initial RPA boom. So, what do you do when your backlog is ebbing?
- Take a process-first approach: RPA teams can be like a hammer looking for nails to hit, guided by a narrow, tool-driven mindset. To avoid excluding ideas that aren’t a strict RPA fit, shift your mentality to a broader, business value-driven approach. This means looking at processes on their own and assessing the potentials gains from improvement without focusing on solutions. The result may not always be RPA automation, but you’re still likely to find RPA opportunities and almost certain to improve business processes.
- Add AI capabilities: RPA is powerful but can’t automate most processes end to end. Rather than pick and choose parts of a process to inject task automation, you can augment your solutions with AI-based capabilities – like machine learning and intelligent document processing – which excel at the subjective tasks RPA can’t address. These tools are more powerful and accessible than ever, unlocking more automation opportunities while creating better end-to-end solutions.
- Use data-driven process discovery: If your business users struggle to identify good use cases or submit low-value ideas, consider automated discovery tools like process mining or task mining to uncover opportunities with high business value. These tools read actual data from teams performing day-to-day processes, surfacing insights that can highlight bottlenecks and make a strong business case for automation.
Don’t Just Automate Stuff
A recurring theme you may have noticed is “Don’t just automate stuff!” That probably seems obvious, but too often the pressure to demonstrate RPA’s value leads to quick wins that don’t last and bot quantity over quality. We often say, “Automating a bad process just gets you bad results faster,” which RPA can enable when not wielded properly. Instead, we encourage a measured approach to how, where and when you employ RPA. Keep short-term benefits in context, and don’t wait to build the solid foundation needed for a scalable and sustainable program.
Ultimately, there are many strategies that your RPA program can benefit from, regardless of size or maturity. And no matter where you are in your journey, it’s never too late to adjust your approach.