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Your First Automation in RPA

If you have chosen to bring RPA into your business and are looking to implement your first automation, there is a roadmap you should follow to ensure success. It begins by choosing an RPA tool. If you are at the stage of creating an automation, most likely you have already picked your tool. However, if you still need to tackle that hurdle, you might want to check out our guide “Choosing the Right RPA Tool” to get some tips.

Before you jump straight to the automation process, there are planning and action steps you need to complete.

Start with a POC – Build your Team

When operating any tool for the first time, it’s best to start small and evaluate it – try out the most effective ways to use it. When evaluating RPA, starting with a POC or Proof of Concept is the best way to begin an assessment.

Why a POC? With a small investment, you can quickly achieve your first success with proven ROI. Since most tools have free community editions, a POC may be accomplished without any investment in the tool itself.

These editions are a good fit for building low complexity automations. The largest investment at this point should be the time for a dedicated POC team. Once you complete the POC, use this success to sell RPA within the company promoting adoption in other departments.

The first step in starting a POC is to establish a team. Your POC team should involve the following members:

  • RPA sponsor – this is most likely you, or the person who is responsible for bringing RPA into your business
  • IT member(s) – you need the support of IT in getting the tool installed, the security permissions established and access to the necessary data
  • Department SME – a subject matter expert in the department for which you are building an automation. HR and Finance are departments which are excellent candidates for simple automations, however the chosen department should be invested in promoting RPA within the company
  • RPA Partner – someone who has had experience in implementing RPA within organizations

Choose the POC Automation

The RPA Sponsor and Department SME should work together to evaluate possible process candidates for automation. The first step in identifying a candidate is to choose a process which is sound and reliable. Automating a process that is currently ineffective doesn’t mean you improve it – you just end up magnifying the errors by making them happen faster. The best candidates for a POC are highly manual processes which are repetitive, have limited human interaction for decision branching, and low exception handling. One of the objectives of a good automation is to free up time for staff, so they can focus on tasks which require a lot of human intervention.

Once you have a list of candidates, the ideal prioritization is a combination of lowest complexity with highest ROI.  Your RPA Partner should guide you with candidate assessment. Generally, a POC automation should be able to be completed within 3-8 weeks, depending on how much time your SME’s can dedicate to the process and how quickly your IT team can get the environment setup.

Build and Implement the POC

After you have chosen the POC automation, the team can work on tasks in parallel. As with any development project, it is advised to meet regularly as a team to discuss any questions or blockers which may arise.

STEP 1: Get the tool installed and grant access to all necessary objects (tool, data, etc)

  • IT Members

STEP 2: Document the process steps, including an outline for smooth process flow and for exception data. Also note how much effort (time, people) the process takes, which can be used later when calculating ROI.

  • RPA Partner
  • RPA Sponsor
  • SMEs

STEP 3: Test the process document to make all steps are recorded

  • SMEs
  • RPA Partner

STEP 4: Create the Automation, setup a Test environment

  • IT Members
  • RPA Sponsor
  • SMEs
  • RPA Partner

STEP 5: TEST, TEST, TEST!

  • IT Members
  • RPA Sponsor
  • SMEs
  • RPA Partner

STEP 6: Deploy to Production

  • IT Members
  • RPA Partner

Analyze the Results

Once you have successfully implemented your first automation and it has run a few times, start collecting data to prove your ROI.

There can be many gains from implementing RPA, ranging from increased productivity in terms of time, effort, and reduced downtime – to increased job satisfaction. 

However, the largest ROI for simple automations such as POCs is usually related to time savings. Saved time translates to cost savings and can also translate into customer satisfaction, as staff can now spend more time on the customers themselves. Make sure you include this aspect of savings in your ROI study, as customer satisfaction means repeat business and a blow to the competition.

Another important type of measurement is error reduction. Errors are inherent in manual processes, which is costly to business goals. When a process is automated, manual data entry errors disappear.

Besides ROI, analyze the RPA tool itself. Make sure that all involved were able to easily use and interact with the tool when necessary. Remember, at this point – you have not invested in the tool itself, you have invested in the RPA process. So, if you would like to change the tool, now is the time to do that – before you invest heavily in bot licenses.

Presenting successful results for your first automation is an important step in gaining the support and trust of companywide RPA sponsors. However, they will be interested in more than just a success story – they will be looking for a plan on how this process can be repeated in multiple departments. Hence our next action step…

Build a Roadmap for the Next Steps

Since you have completed the first process automation, you understand some of the basic steps in the development process needed to ensure success – evaluate the automation candidate from multiple perspectives, document the selected process in detail to design the automation, involve the whole team in the development cycle, thoroughly test the automation before moving it to production. However, your plan needs to address how you will scale this operation for many intra-departmental processes as well as inter-departmental processes.

Moving from your first automation to a full-scale implementation is akin to taking a show on the road. You start in a small venue to work out the stage production and the audio/lights kinks. Then you work your way up to larger venues which require coordination of many moving parts. Before you open up the RPA process to more departments, make sure you have the plan and the infrastructure in place. This will include building some form of a Center of Excellence or COE to carry out the plan. However, for now you need to know the types of investments you will need to make to move the plan forward.

Roadmap Should Include:
people showing growth

Time Investment

The general structure of the POC team will remain, however it greatly expands when planning to scale up the RPA implementation. Your company needs to know that a time and effort investment will be needed from key people in each department as processes within those departments are automated.

Department level sponsors as well as SMEs will need to dedicate time and their expertise to work with RPA Partners in the efforts of documenting processes, answering questions and testing automations. This cycle can require 3-12 or more weeks, depending on the size of the process being automated. These resources will not be required full time, however if these team members don’t treat this development cycle as a priority when needed, then the automation process may fail due to a poor design or lack of progress.

IT Infrastructure

The IT team is integral in properly configuring the RPA infrastructure. This requires purchasing licenses, installing software, setting permissions, possibly getting cloud access and setting up development and testing environments on a larger scale. The investments here are software and possibly consulting costs, in addition to time and effort. It also needs to be said that automating processes means there are more processes for IT or a consulting partner to maintain. The company will incur costs in the form of support hours, although if the process is written well with proper error handling and logging – the cost of support is minimized.

RPA Sponsor Support

If the upper levels of the company are not championing the implementation of RPA, then integral team members will not be given the authority and support to invest enough effort to progress. This is true of any project, but especially applies to RPA because expectations are generally that automations will happen quickly and have large impacts in many areas of the company. And this can all be true, but the right support and structure needs to be present to make this happen.

5-10 Other Small Candidates for Automation

Using the process which you followed in building a POC, evaluate 5-10 other small automation candidates and their potential ROI. This will give you a starting point and let your sponsors know where efforts will be dedicated when full scale implementation starts.

Keep in mind that when you begin to ramp up to full scale automations, you will need to include functionality for sending notifications where needed, comprehensive error handling, detailed logging, and data capture supporting ROI metrics.  These areas of functionality are generally beyond the scope of a POC, but they should be present in production-ready automations as you move forward. These features will make a large difference in automation maintenance, support and measurement of ROI.

Conclusion

Once your company realizes the potential for success in cost savings and the investment efforts needed to get there, they will be well prepared for the steps necessary in moving the RPA needle forward. And the best news – in detailing your roadmap, you have already laid the groundwork for building a Center of Excellence, the next step in your RPA journey. Coming soon, look for the next article in our series – Implementing RPA: Choosing the Right Level Center of Excellence.

About SphereGen

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SphereGen is a unique solutions provider that specializes in cloud-based applications, Intelligent Automation, and Extended Reality (AR/VR/MR). We offer full-stack custom application development to help customers employ innovative technology to solve business problems.

Learn more about what we do in RPA: https://www.spheregen.com/robotic-process-automation

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