A citizen developer model can help you distribute, decentralize and accelerate RPA delivery. We compare it with an IT-centered enterprise RPA model to help you determine how to move forward with your integration.
RPA – or Robotic Process Automation – is a type of automation software that mimics human behavior like clicks, types and basic logic to replace manual, human processes. It has experienced rapid growth in the last few years, and even more so now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and increase in remote work. We can attribute RPA’s recent rise to its flexibility and myriad use cases, coupled with the maturity of RPA software.
As companies continue to establish RPA programs, they likely face the challenge of how to deploy and govern automation at scale. Traditional RPA deployments relied on centralized management — overseeing delivery and governance within a single group of subject matter experts and developers. But vendors are advocating more and more for “a bot on every desk,” or a program leveraging citizen developers who can build, deploy, and maintain their automation.
The advent of low-code (and no-code) RPA development tools has only accelerated this trend. The RPA ecosystem will probably see a further separation between enterprise-driven RPA and citizen-driven RPA, where users deploy the same basic tools, each with vastly different implementation strategies, value propositions and software tools.
What does this mean for you? If you are embarking on your RPA journey, consider the implications of each model and how you might benefit (or not) from each.
Enterprise RPA – Today’s Standard
If you’re familiar with RPA, you’ve likely seen the traditional, centralized model typical of enterprise deployments. In it, IT (or a singular Center of Excellence) is responsible for governing the RPA program, prioritizing ideas, delivering automation and supporting the whole platform. Business users are responsible for identifying and qualifying ideas, often with further support from an RPA governing group. Everyone shares delivery and support, but these steps typically require plenty of ongoing IT engagement. For the last few years, most tools, vendors and organizations have taken this route.
A common challenge is the speed of scaling and realizing ROI due in part to IT resources, which causes a bottleneck and competing priorities across different business groups. This model has obvious benefits, though, like tighter control over deployed automations, bot standards, and security. Plus, costs for licensing, not to mention training and user support, are likely lower. And finally, central governance offers the best path towards clear metrics and understanding RPA’s actual impact across the organization. Many organizations have realized ROI, scale and success from this approach.
Citizen Development – The Next Frontier
Citizen development, on the other hand, stresses the democratization of RPA automation (and many other software and automation tools, for that matter). Citizen developers are non-technical resources within business groups who can take advantage of low-code, user-friendly tools to build the same caliber automation as IT. The goal is to resolve the IT bottleneck by decentralizing the workload and putting power in business users’ hands.
Instead of submitting ideas to IT and waiting for a lengthy review, prioritization and delivery cycle, you can generate solutions on demand. IT will still be engaged – managing the overall software footprint, providing support and, likely, providing some level of governance or best practices – but you can better distribute the overall implementation. Consider the benefits:
- RPA tools are more widely available to users who can quickly realize value themselves
- You can scale bots rapidly
- IT isn’t strained by clamoring business users to deliver value and efficiency.
With this approach, RPA might even go so far as to resemble a user-driven productivity tool (like Excel) more so than standard enterprise automation platforms like BPM or a traditional enterprise RPA model. The value proposition changes, though, as solutions focus on solving individual task needs instead of addressing enterprise needs.
Considerations for Your RPA Journey
If you’re exploring RPA, stay open to both enterprise-driven and citizen-driven delivery models, taking into account your automation goals, IT resources and comfort level with democratization. It seems that both models can drive success, but while technically similar, citizen development is philosophically divergent in terms of scalability, governance and value. Consider these points in particular:
- Governance and Shadow IT — Citizen developers will allow you to scale more quickly but introduce more risk of shadow IT and rogue automation. Although it reduces the IT delivery bottleneck, you still require IT governance to distribute software, enforce standards and support users. Consider a business user who builds a bot that quickly updates scores of data records, only to realize too late that the updates were incorrect.
- Process Improvement — One of our core tenets is “Don’t automate a bad process. You just get bad results faster.” With RPA, that typically means optimizing your process first before starting to automate. Citizen development encourages an automation-first mentality, providing a band-aid that offers short-term lift but may not consider the long-term impacts.
- Licensing Costs — With centralized delivery teams, licensing is often limited to a few developers and centrally-managed machines that run automation. Citizen development, however, requires far more licenses to deploy enterprise-wide. Consider the relative cost of purchasing and maintaining these licenses. Compare the relatively lower cost of citizen licenses against the relatively higher volume.
- ROI and Value Measurement — Being able to measure the benefit you’re getting from automation is key to any deployment. It’s much easier to track transactions and success rates with centralized architecture and compare them to each process’s business case to calculate the overall program ROI. In a distributed model, you may be aware of the automation out there but not understand the value your employees are getting from it.
- Tool Selection — Many RPA vendors offer similar suites of tools, including IDEs, robots and an orchestrator or command center. However, some tools are specifically geared towards citizen developers, while others include enterprise governance capabilities out-of-the-box. Make sure the tool you select aligns with the delivery model.
- User-Friendliness — RPA is still pretty new, meaning most employees don’t have pre-existing knowledge of the tools and will need to learn software that can be technically complex to implement. RPA vendors are working hard to simplify their tools and offer low-code or no-code interfaces, but still have a lot of progress to make in that area. Some vendors even license different versions of their development tools for technical and non-technical users. Non-technical users may jump at the chance to learn a new tool but may struggle with adoption.
Suffice it to say, RPA will keep grabbing market share and find its way into organizations – and citizen developers will have a hand in realizing that. Low-code RPA platforms will become more prevalent, further enabling widespread use and making it easier for business users to manage.
Before you jump straight into a democratized approach, though, remember that there is merit to both centralized and distributed RPA programs (as well as tradeoffs with each). Furthermore, vendors and tools will continue to enhance offerings that service both approaches. The key, then, is selecting a delivery model and software platform that aligns best to your organizational needs, business requirements, technical constraints and culture. The result might be that you license a governed RPA tool, a decentralized tool or both.