I sat down earlier this week with one of my colleagues to discuss the possibilities of RPA that we, here at Protiviti, are really excited about – listen to our conversation below and let us know your thoughts.
Kevin Donahue: Hello, this is Kevin Donahue, enior director with Protiviti, welcoming you to a new installment of Powerful Insights. Today, I’m really happy to be having a conversation about robotic process automation – a topic that’s certainly generating a lot of interest these days, but also a lot of questions as to what, exactly, it entails. I’m joined today by Tony Abel. Tony is a managing director with Protiviti, a leader with our Business Performance Improvement solution and a global leader of our robotic process automation capabilities. Tony, thanks for joining me today.
Tony Abel: Thanks, Kevin, happy to be here.
Kevin Donahue: So, Tony, to get started, let me ask you this: There are a lot of definitions about robotic process automation today. How would you define it, exactly?
Tony Abel: Yes, well, great question, and frankly, I’ve heard many people describe robotic process automation, or RPA, in many different ways. I will say I do believe that the level of awareness around RPA is slowly increasing and that those descriptions are becoming more and more similar, more and more accurate. The way I would describe it, simply put is, RPA is a use of a light software application that can be easily downloaded and then programmed or told what to do, working across multiple applications to perform really basic tasks that, otherwise, humans would perform.
Sometimes it’s helpful to provide a quick example, and let me give you one related to IT user provisioning. I think we can all relate as somebody joins an organization – maybe they are promoted within an organization, or moved to a different role, and their system access rights adjust with the role, and this is a use case that we see very commonly being supported by RPA, whereas when somebody moves across the organization into a different role, a robot can very easily look at their role title, what area of the business they sit within, maybe their level, and go into multiple applications and provide the proper user access rights very, very quickly.
Kevin Donahue: Thanks, Tony. That certainly offers a pretty good, clear benefit when you talk about IT user access, the example you just provided. More broadly, why is RPA being viewed as such a benefit to organizations? What do you see them getting out of it long-term?
Tony Abel: Well, simply put, bots can work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They don’t make mistakes, and they can do what we ask them to do at a fraction of the cost that human beings can otherwise do. So, really, the benefits of RPA are substantial in the areas of overall process efficiency, quality – essentially, no error and cost. They perform the same tasks that humans otherwise do at somewhere in the ballpark of 25 to 35 percent of the cost of a human being performing the same task.
Kevin Donahue: And what are you seeing thus far in the early stages of where RPA is going? What have you seen as some of the challenges that companies have with regard to designing and implementing it? And, kind of related, what are some of the roadblocks they’re facing on this journey?
Tony Abel: Yeah, that’s a great question, Kevin. A lot of what we’ve seen is that there’s a reasonable amount of uncertainty about what RPA is, and so many organizations just haven’t been well informed, and therefore they’ve been, frankly, very slow to move. As I mentioned earlier, I think that’s changing pretty quickly, and as RPA continues to receive significant attention, more and more organizations are becoming familiar with how it can be applied and the significant benefits it can provide. We’re seeing a shift in that, but, that has been a roadblock that we’ve seen – awareness about what this is and the benefits it can provide.
In many cases, because there’s such a business benefit associated with robotics, a lot of times, the interest is with business leaders. They’re looking for ways to drive some of the benefits I mentioned previously around efficiencies, quality and cost reduction within their own business unit of responsibility and therefore not connecting well with the IT department. And we here at Protiviti certainly sponsor the position that robotics plays very heavily in the process side of any organization. There has to be a strong partnership with IT because there still is an underlying software component to this solution, or this capability, and so, having not made that formal connection with some of our clients presents somewhat of a roadblock. So, as we help bring those two organizations together, we see that being the way to get around the barrier that was initially challenged by not connecting the dots with IT.
Kevin Donahue: That’s really interesting, Tony. Thanks. Let me remind our audience now that, for those interested in additional information, you can visit the Protiviti website – specifically, our digital transformation and business performance improvement sections and pages, to find more information on RPA.
So, Tony, in your experience, what would you say are the functions and processes in an organization that are, at least today, the best candidates to consider for RPA to implement as an option?
Tony Abel: The greatest thing about RPA is that it can be deployed very easily to perform any fairly basic task, and therefore the use cases are somewhat endless. That said, a great place to start with many of our clients is the accounts payable area of business: invoice matching, invoice processing, vendor setup and vendor decommissioning. In HR, it might be employee setup or even benefits administration. Or you take RPA to the next level, employee help lines, as we think about chatbots and what the capabilities there might be. I also mentioned the user-provisioning example in the IT space, as well as reviewing segregation of duties and access rights.
So, valid use cases exist throughout any area of business, and the interesting thing for us, at Protiviti, is that in addition to some of those use cases, we’re helping our clients establish their RPA capabilities and generate efficiencies in the business areas using some of the examples I just mentioned. We at Protiviti are also focused on how we use robotics to deliver the work that we do for our clients.
Examples include in our internal audit solution group. We’re introducing robotics in the way that we test controls for our clients in the internal audit space – or, similarly, in the risk and compliance solution group, where we get involved with a lot of organizations that may have challenges adhering to regulatory requirements. In some cases, we’ve got to do pretty substantial lookbacks. An example might be looking at tens of thousands of mortgage statements for a large bank. We’re deploying RPA to help us perform that work in a much, much more efficient way than we have been historically with, in some cases, large rooms full of people thumbing through mortgage statement documents, for example.
Kevin Donahue: That’s truly remarkable – just in your brief description there, the level of time savings we’re talking about long-term. Tony, on the flip side, how do we control this? How do you know RPA is working as it’s supposed to be?
Tony Abel: Another good question. The quality and the reliability of a bot is 100 percent. They really just don’t make mistakes. The way a bot doesn’t work as intended is, frankly, in the way it’s built by humans, or if the data is unexpected and it’s not structured data. So, in either case, bots do produce exception logs, and those exception logs need to be maintained and administered. That is essentially how you identify where, maybe, it’s not working as intended. The great thing about that, though, is, as the exceptions are addressed and the bot is further enhanced to subsequently address that situation that caused the exception, they only get better, they only get smarter.
Kevin Donahue: Tony, this has been great information. Thank you. In our time remaining, let me throw you one more question here. And I’ll ask you to put your supply chain hat on, because one of your other roles in our firm is as one of our supply chain leaders. As you’re working with companies on improving, enhancing, their supply chain functions, how does RPA work with the supply chain function in an organization, or become integrated with it, if at all?
Tony Abel: Well, definitely, there are opportunities in supply chain, and every area of every company has numerous use cases for the application of robotics. But a few examples in the supply chain space might include transportation-lane identification or carrier selection. We’ve evaluated an opportunity to implement robotics in the area of inventory-quantity reconciliation and/or the min/max inventory-order placement. Earlier, I alluded to invoice processing, but take that a step further to the three-way matching of a purchase order to a receipt and an invoice – certainly a prime opportunity to deploy robotics – and supplier screening and vendor setup. There’s a long list of areas where robots can play a critical role in driving efficiency, quality and cost reduction in an organization.
Kevin Donahue: Tony, this has been a great conversation. Thanks very much for joining me today to discuss some of your insights regarding robotics process automation and the benefits it can deliver to organizations. Again, I’ll remind our audience to visit protiviti.com, specifically our business performance improvement and digital transformation pages, where you can find more information on RPA.