Robotic process automation: Part V (conclusion)

Part V: Managing your backlog of automation opportunities

Setting priorities is critical in a successful implementation of RPA. Here is a proven strategy for making it go more smoothly.

So you now have an RPA product and you implemented an automation strategy (or Center of Excellence). This means you should have a change control process. With it, you can plan changes to your automation solution before they actually occur.

This also means you have a strategy for identifying and prioritizing automation opportunities. You see, most people feel pretty good about their automation strategy — until multiple business units come into the mix. Then, the number of opportunities on the table increases to a level that makes prioritizing more difficult. You can easily end up having to tell one business unit that it will have to wait longer than expected because another, higher-priority opportunity came in.

Worse: when you prioritize by committee, your automation team can become a scapegoat for business units that aren’t meeting financial goals. You can also have some very uncomfortable meetings when you discuss the priority list.

Make sure you have a strategy team (sometimes called a steering committee) with executive involvement. This ensures that all decisions are based on the overall company needs, not just because one group “yelled” louder than the others!

You could also put in place a standard way of measuring the opportunities. This greatly increases the probability that everyone involved will agree on the priority list.

Let’s explore these various ways to identify and prioritize your opportunities.

setting priorities

Strategy team

A strategy team identifies and prioritizes automation opportunities. It does so by working with the various business units; each unit proposes potential automation opportunities with the unit’s respective priorities. The strategy team should consist of at least one executive, one or more members of the automation team, and one member from each business unit. This team will put all of the various groups’ opportunities in a single prioritized list. The team should meet regularly — once per week or once per month, depending on the number of business units and opportunities.

This approach works well if you have a strong strategy team. Members of this team must be able to say “no” to a business unit if the opportunity isn’t a good fit. They also have to manage the expectations of each business unit and explain why that unit’s highest priority is well below that of other business units. Communication is key, and a well-documented, well-thought-out process is vital.

Problems occur when a member from one business unit constantly fights for higher priorities for that unit’s opportunities. A scoring system can help eliminate this infighting, but the system has to take into account each business unit’s key attributes. The scoring has to make sense for everyone.

Estimated cost savings

Another approach is to use the estimated cost savings as your key measurement. You can require each business unit to provide the potential cost savings for each opportunity it provides — but it has to show its math! One of the biggest problems organizations have is business units’ overestimating their cost savings just to get their project to the top of the list. They should be required to show the real numbers.

You can provide each business unit an Excel template that has fields for all of the data points required. The resulting spreadsheet can then be submitted to the automation team for review and inclusion in the backlog of work. The template will calculate the potential cost savings based on the time it takes a human to do the work and the potential automation success rate. You can estimate the cost of the work to be automated by first calculating the total human time spent in a process. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Multiply the time it takes for a human to execute the process by the number of times your company executes the process each year.
  2. Divide this number by the productive hours expected for each employee, and you get the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) your company requires to do the work.
  3. Multiply the FTEs number with the all-in cost of an FTE to get the total cost of the process.
  4. Using subject matter experts, calculate the percent of the work that can you can automate successfully.
  5. Multiply that by the total cost to get your estimated cost savings.

This arms the automation team with hard data to help prioritize the backlog. It reduces the infighting and helps the process run more smoothly.

Workforce/process analytics

Another approach is to use analytics to identify and prioritize automation opportunities. With the resulting data, you can then present your findings to the various business units. That way, you can get their buy-in and cooperation, instead of relying on them to provide the information. Depending on the analytics solution you use, you might also get additional benefits such as:

  • Workforce productivity improvement
  • Process improvement
  • Eliminate self-reporting of work/time

When choosing an analytics solution to use to identify automation opportunities, look for one that can measure workforce activity. That capability should allow you to capture the time it takes each user to execute processes. Then, compose a list of processes in which you sort them by total time spent, which is the same as cost. Process improvement products that measure the details of a process can also help in prioritizing. More importantly, they can help in identification of the process steps. This can help you automate more quickly, because RPA robots take the same steps as humans.

OpenConnect’s approach to process automation

OpenConnect has developed an approach to process automation that includes both workforce and process analytics tools to help identify and prioritize automation opportunities. We developed this approach nearly a decade ago, and many large customers have validated it. I have personally worked with many of these companies and have seen how powerful the combination of analytics and automation can be. If you follow the suggestions we have made in this series, I believe you will have similarly impressive results.

This is the conclusion of a five-part series about robotic process automation. The previous articles in the series are:

  • Part I, “What is RPA, and why should CIOs care?”
  • Part II, “Creating a process automation strategy”
  • Part III, “Choosing the right process automation solution”
  • Part IV, “Pitfalls in implementing process automation”

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