Simplify how you use robotic process automation with the easy-to-remember USA acronym.
Put on your best Forrest Gump impersonation and repeat to yourself, “Process is as process does.” Of course, this isn’t the exact line from the movie, but you get where I’m going. How does Forrest Gump apply to robotic process automation (RPA)?
Sit back, enjoy a box of chocolates, and let me explain.
Process Is as Process Does
Automation uses technology to carry out tasks without any human intervention. RPA is a specific type of automation that mimics how we interact with our keyboards and mouses to carry out specific, often shorter, tasks. RPA is programmatic: it functions by following specific instructions in a specific way, which means it has the power to simplify processes if it’s programmed to do so.
I can count the times an organization reviewed its current processes before deciding to automate. When that happens, all I can think about is Forrest whispering in my ear, “Process is as process does.” Without understanding the process it wants to automate, an organization puts itself in a tricky situation. As one of my colleagues likes to say, “When you automate a bad process, you get the same bad results, faster.”
When you automate a process, you’re moving the work from a human actor to a digital worker. But if the process already had issues, the work would end up with the human actor for cleanup. Automation without proper planning does not simplify processes, nor is it a very efficient use of your resources.
So, how can you avoid automating a bad process? Repeat three simple letters: USA, USA, USA!
I first learned the USA approach to RPA from a colleague I met at a speaking event. We met months ago, but I mention our conversation whenever I speak with customers, prospects and even our internal resources. While USA can’t solve every automation issue, it will always provide you with an effective use of your time and resources.
Does anyone truly understand the intricacies of their processes? Probably not, and that is why it is so important to understand as deeply as possible its execution, its touchpoints, its failings and its results. Without spending time with the people who use this process every day, you cannot make an informed decision about whether you should automate this process.
When you conduct a discovery session with the process’ users, you can record your discussion and the work done on the user’s desktop. In some cases, a discovery session reveals the potential exceptions to the process’ execution. All of this information is essential as you move to the next step: simplification.
Simplifying the process is nearly impossible without understanding how it works once executed. You can either make assumptions to attempt simplification, or you can collect more data.
However, simplifying the process too much could diminish the overall quality of its output. Instead, lay the process out step-by-step and determine how RPA can achieve the same level of quality but in fewer or more refined steps. Once you reach that desired quality, you can move to the final step: automation.
Once you understand and simplify the process, it is time to automate. Or is it?
Many organizations jump into automation without evaluating whether they should automate the simplified process. In some cases, by simplifying the process, the company improved it enough to no longer require automation. Sometimes, an organization can even repurpose its current tools to simplify the process, forgoing the need for RPA.
If you are still unsure about automating the process you improved, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there no more than five decision points in your current process? Can you define and provide objectives for each of those decision points?
- Do you use no more than five integrations or applications in your process solution? (These include internal applications, external websites and internal sites like SharePoint.)
- Are there no more than fifty clicks in the process?
Even if you don’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, your process can still be a good candidate for automation. Review the overall process again and decide if you can automate certain pieces and keep others in the hands of human actors. Automation best covers specific and straightforward tasks, which allows your non-digital staff to handle the more complex pieces.
Understanding how to simplify business processes with RPA can reduce costs, reallocate resources to more value-added activities, and enhance customer and employee experience. However, RPA alone isn’t the solution. You need to evaluate each process for its merit, and during that process (pardon the pun), you may find that simplifying is all you need.
As Forrest so eloquently put it, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You’ll never know what you’re going to get.” I believe we can say the same thing for processes. You truly do not know what you have until you take the time to dig a little deeper, and once you have, you will feel empowered to make an informed automation decision.
When I think of Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan’s voice comes to mind, whispering, “USA! USA! USA!”