From Factory Workhorse to Factotum, Robotic Automation Is Evolving to Serve the Head Office

Shawn Seasongood, Managing Director Business Performance Improvement

Introduced in the 1960s to perform simple manufacturing tasks, robotic automation has evolved into a jack-of-all-trades, moving into the head office to streamline and accelerate a variety of business processes as part of a global digital transformation.

Robotic process automation (RPA) and robotic desktop automation (RDA) use software for tasks such as processing sales and financial transactions, managing data, communications between different systems, access management, monitoring and reporting.

Visionary companies plan ahead so that they can move forward with confidence. That’s why many are considering robotic automation as a way to build efficiencies in performance and cost management. Protiviti’s Business Performance Improvement Services team examined this trend in our recently published white paper, Looking Deeper into Robotic Automation: Considerations and Case Studies for Robotic Process and Desktop Automation.

The benefits of robotic process automation are clear. Robots can eliminate human error, operate 24/7/365, and complete simple tasks with minimal overhead. The level of integration of robotic automation is flexible. A robot can work autonomously (RPA), or alongside a human (RDA).

RPA is specifically used for back-office tasks, including credit decisions, loan underwriting, insurance underwriting, insurance claims adjudication, payment processing, pricing, customer service, accounting data entry, procurement, purchase order creation and the issuance of online access credentials.

RDA is used in retail operations, call centers, and other back-office activities in which each employee uses automation to accelerate tasks. Examples include automated connectivity to eliminate separate logins across multiple systems, instantaneous consolidation and display of customer relationship data, validations to ensure compliance and completion, and productivity and utilization metrics. RDA is intended to minimize the burden of manual tasks on employees, freeing them to focus on more complex strategic and value-adding tasks.

As with any worthwhile solution, successful robotic automation requires careful planning and prioritization. Companies will achieve the greatest cost savings by automating high-volume tasks that are time-consuming for humans.

The best way to begin a robotic automation program is to map a prioritized process end to end and identify potential streamlining opportunities. To determine whether a process is a good candidate for automation, first determine whether the process contains logical elements that can be programmed into a software solution. The ideal automatable process is repeatable, sustainable, and mature enough to provide ample institutional knowledge. Data availability is key. Ideally, data should be available in existing IT systems with little or no manual intervention. Finally, determine the business value of such an investment. The best processes to automate are those that would generate the highest amount of net resource savings (total expected process cost savings over a reasonable time horizon less investment). Processes can be ranked high, medium or low based on their ability to meet the above criteria and considering the risks of implementation.

Robotic automation is not immune to challenges. Some of the most common include:

  • Failure of executive ownership to drive cross-functional implementation
  • Failure to effectively manage or sustain the new system
  • Failure to effectively redeploy resources freed by automation
  • Failure in user acceptance

These challenges can all be addressed with effective program management, including a comprehensive change-management plan and user-acceptance testing to ensure that the software will perform as promised and will be utilized effectively.

In today’s fast-moving and increasingly connected global marketplace, companies need to evolve continuously to remain relevant and on the leading edge. Robotic automation is an increasingly significant strategy for achieving those goals. I’d be interested in reading about ways your organization either has, or is planning to, incorporate RPA and RDA. Feel free to share in the comment section below.

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