In Now is the time for RPA, we looked at what RPA is and gave examples of how finance can harness it to their advantage. Now it's time to get into the details of beginning your automation journey.
Before you set-off on any transformation, take the advice given by Judy Romano (CFO, IHG) in her recent interview for The Shift and find out as much as you can about the subject. Then set a vision of RPA within finance. What processes can be automated? Does the high-level cost and benefit analysis stack up?
To realise the full potential of RPA, you will need to think beyond efficiency and productivity gains. Think about how you will use the time created to add more value using the team you currently have in place. Can they be upskilled? If so, how would this work?
As RPA may be a relatively new concept for many, it may be necessary to demonstrate that it will work for your organisation. A Proof of Concept (POC) approach is perfect for this.
As most RPA solutions are cloud-based, you can quickly deploy a platform by the vendor to facilitate a POC. As a result, you can demonstrate that the idea works without a commitment to investment at this stage. This is vital as creating a business case without experience of the technology in question can be very difficult.
A POC is one of the situations where working with someone with experience, alongside internal staff, is recommended. At this point, you do not want to commit your team to learn a new solution until you are confident that it works. This may mean paying a supplier for the POC, although you may be able to negotiate terms that would allow this cost to be set-off against future consultancy costs should you proceed. A POC should be at a level of cost that it goes under the CAPEX radar and the red tape that goes with it.
“When deciding on the process to perform the POC, look for one that is simple, of low complexity and high volume,” says Manish Sharma from Servicetrace, a leading RPA vendor. “This will be low risk and easy to understand both within finance and outside – critical when seeking investment authority. Also, consider the ease of identifying the costs and benefits which will help you build a solid business case.”
We know from recent research that the desire to invest in digital technologies is strong. But failing to present a compelling business case can be a major barrier to obtaining a commitment to investment. This remains a challenge for most finance teams, regardless of the technology genre.
If you have followed the POC approach, you will have gathered demonstrable results of productivity improvements delivered by RPA. These will be quantifiable and can apply to other processes that you have identified suitable for automation. You may also be able to show and quantify other benefits that have accrued, such as error reduction.
The difficult part is quantifying the intangible benefits that may accrue and presenting these in the business case. This is vitally important; depending on the vision, we may not want this to be seen as a cost-cutting exercise. How can this problem be addressed? Rather than trying to quantify the intangible benefit of, say, adding more insight, quantify the cost or lost revenue of not doing so. If you already have business partnering in place, you may have examples of this in practice.
As always, the CFO has a crucial role to play in influencing support for a business case for RPA.
Follow the principles of the POC when moving to the deployment of RPA. Automate the simple processes first to gain confidence in the solution and increase adoption.
“It is critical to evaluate and prioritise processes,”says Sharma. “We highlight this as an integral part of any RPA project. In this way, we increase the chances of success and a high ROI. And this ensures you utilise your valuable internal resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
The successful and effective implementation of process automation requires several disciplines. Knowledge of a process is key to understanding the logic and rules, along with technical expertise to model this in the solution. A word of caution, while each process may require only a small amount of work, ensure you apply an appropriate level project management and governance.
At this stage, RPA must be recognised as a de-centralised solution managed within the finance team that perform these processes. Build knowledge and capability of the RPA solution internally through knowledge transfer, reducing reliance on external expertise as you implement automation.
After each process is automated and bedded-in, monitor the benefits and compare with expectations. If necessary, re-evaluate your processes based on reality.
On successful completion of the project, communicate the benefits of RPA to the organisation. This will help elevate the finance team, always a positive message.
Where to next? “Expand the scope of automation from individual task automation to whole process orchestration”, says Manish. This will invariably take you outside of finance and into other departments, increasing exposure and elevating the strategic role of the finance team.
An ‘RPA centre of excellence’ might be your logical next step; consider whether this should be centralised or de-centralised. I will leave this subject for you to discuss the pros and cons.
If you want to go to the next level, there is hyper-automation, a term created by Gartner. They describe it as “…the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment humans.” Another article beckons!
Finally, this is a rapidly changing technology so try to keep up to date with developments in the RPA. Any good solution provider will be a valuable source of information, as will articles and reports on RPA written by independent analysts such as BARC.