Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence for Enterprises
I recently attended the dual conference on ‘Robotic Process Automation’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence for Enterprises’ held in Melbourne. Presentations were held concurrently in both streams, and attendees could choose where their interest lay at any time. This report primarily follows the RPA stream, and is reflective of presentations, round tables, and discussions held with attendees who came from all over the country. Despite being the relative newcomer on the block RPA technology is clearly being employed more widely than AI. However the two technologies are complementing each other in some organisations with RPA doing data crunching to facilitate intelligent analysis.
Many of the early adopter organisations have now been employing RPA technology for 12 months or more. These organisations have established centralised process automation groups who are developing increasingly expert staff and capability. Banks, Financial Services, Utilities and Insurance companies were reporting the most uptake, reflecting their legacy system infrastructure and over capacity IT departments.
Despite the progress many organisations reported ongoing challenges and setbacks. Defining governance and support frameworks was problematic for most; varying from lean and agile implementations to adoption of the traditional IT methodologies. There was also recognition that many organisations were still grappling with technical implementation issues and not focusing enough on process improvement, customer experience, or new and innovative business ideas.
A consistent theme involved avoiding raising unrealistic expectations at the c-level that could lead to long-term disenchantment. Some organisations espoused an under the covers approach until there was a success story worth sharing.
There were very few cases where implementation of RPA technology was driven or even endorsed by members of the C-suite. This is surprising given the potential strategic value of automation. It's possible to surmise that this reflects a lack of technology appreciation at this level, and also the risk adversity of CIOs.
Most organisations have moved on from the head count justification model, and are now actively deploying freed capacity in greater value adding areas. Fear of job loss was acknowledged as a major impediment to RPA roll out if not addressed early and actively by senior management.
The conventional wisdom espouses process improvement as a precursor to automation. However most organisations were failing to tackle holistic 'end to end' process improvement, instead implementing 'quick wins', and thereby failing to realise the wider transformational benefits available. Some justified this approach by claiming that poorly implemented process automation could be readily re-designed at a later time.
Not surprisingly organisation’s that embed use of RPA technology within wider business improvement frameworks such as Lean, Six Sigma, BPM, Design Thinking, etc reported better overall results. This facilitated a more strategic approach and alignment with business goals and objectives. It was also more likely to create a better customer journey and synchronise back office functions.
Representatives from the top three-toolset vendors (Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, & UiPath) attended the event. Automation Anywhere was a main sponsor for the event.
There were also a number of local suppliers, demonstrating exceptionally innovative thinking in their solution offerings. Mindfields have developed an Automation as a Service (AaaS) offering, CIGen have robots for hire and Innovior have developed a methodology based on Lean thinking principles.
Training remained a problem space for many Business Users, and still proves to be best suited to the more technically capable. Organisations with more RPA maturity have adopted a component approach so that Business Users were shielded from excessive complexity.
A consistent RPA theme involved avoiding process variation. Getting a majority of instances automated, without taking on exception processing, typically represented considerable savings. Further automation dealing with increasingly complex variations generated less return on investment.
‘Ease of automation’ adds further to the compelling benefits of process standardisation that already includes operational efficiency, reduction of deviations, ability to scale, brand value and speed of learning
The following are some of the future RPA directions being canvassed at the conference:
- Focusing on using RPA for enhancing Customer Experience outcomes rather than back office processing.
- Merging of Artificial Intelligence and RPA into Intelligent Automation platforms. (IPA)
- Adopting traditional process improvement methods (Lean, BPM, etc) as a pre-cursor to automation; leading to ‘End to End’ process automation.
- Wider roll out of RPA / IPA by organisations with runs on the board.
- Further Training and Empowerment of Business Users to do their own automation; independently from IT.
- Automation for SMEs.
- Cloud based automation services, and industry based automation services