Mysterious Robotic Process Automation

Happy Halloween everyone!  What a better topic to talk about to get yourself in the mood than robotics?  Those scary, eerie, mysterious bots…

Unlike the picture above, we are not talking about physical robots.  We are talking about robotic process automation or RPA for short.  Have you heard about this?  My advice for you – get educated and get ready for RPA, if you have not already.  It is wicked – in a good way!

What is RPA?  
The easiest way to explain RPA is like a slightly more sophisticated macro.  It is a software program that you “tell” to do repeatable, high volume, logic or rule based steps that are performed in a system.  And when I say “tell”, you are really recording the steps within the software so it can repeat those same steps over and over again without much human intervention.

Why is it Wicked?
Most of us have found macros to be a huge help to our organizations.  In fact, when we hire talent, we sometimes ask if they can write macros because we find so much value in those skills.  RPA removes the limits because you can use these robots on any system.  Think highly transactional, repeatable processes within Procurement or AP that are performed in a system.  Those could be recorded so the bots can perform repeatable tasks, so teams can focus on more value added tasks.

Bots do not take vacations.  They do not get sick.  They work all hours of the day.  They are super productive.  I have heard that 1 bot is equal to 3-5 traditional FTEs.  They also do not commit fraud, forget steps in the process, or try to avoid the correct, standard process.

And, they are somewhat cheap compared to a fully loaded headcount.

Feeling a little freaked out?
The first time I was introduced to RPA, I was freaked out.  This is a game changer.  It changes how we think about talent, for we need to start thinking about managers who are capable of managing bots.  They need to know the process, how to train them, and how to manage the quality of the results.  We also have to think about how to train and build capability for talent performing the repeatable tasks today because they will be shift to more value added tasks.

It changes how we make decisions about transforming our organizations.  Does it change if we should outsource?  Does it change the need for large scale ERP implementations?  Does it change how we integrate systems together?  The great thing about RPA is that you can apply it even if you are not on a ERP, even if you are not considered world class in your processes.  If applied correctly, your organization could leap frog quickly with much less investment.

They are still eerie to most.
There will be several people that are scared about this change.  There are real concerns about this functionality.  IT security is going to need to get onboard related to the risks and controls in place.  For instance, what protections are there from hacks?  A hacked bot could do a good amount of damage.  Internal Controls / Internal Audit will also need to get onboard with the amount of controls in place and that what you tell the bot to do is correct.

Lastly, Procurement and AP leadership, above all else, will need to get onboard.  Given this has such game changing potential, we might get in our own way (remember we naturally like our comfortable existence.)  I truly hope that more and more unicorns consider the new potential to transform their processes and organizations through using RPA.

Ready to be scarily awesome?
If you are geeked out about this, there are things to start working on to prepare for this change:

  • Document what is actually occurring today in these repeatable processes.  It is important to be as accurate and detailed as possible when documenting these processes.   This will help determine where to apply the bots and how to tell them what to do.
  • Build your business case.  The business case could be about reducing headcount – but that is a small part of the opportunity.  Think about what you could get after as a result of the RPA implementation.  For instance, could you gain more discounts because your processes are more efficient?  Could you drive more spend under management because of the implementation?  What are the results of what your team can do for the company because of this new technology?
  • Think about the process and organization to support this change.  As you might know already about me, technology is only the enabler.  If you do not have the process and organization to support the tech, you are not going to get very far.  It is time to start thinking about how you would perform QA, do you need bot managers, how do you audit the processes that the bots are supporting?
Anyone now dressing up as a robot on Monday??  Again, Happy Halloween and enjoy the possibilities!



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