Overcoming the Iceberg Effect
How to build RPA initiatives that look beneath the surface to discover deeper business value
[London, 13th March 2019] At first glance, the case for investing in robotic process automation (RPA) seems incredibly strong.
In practically every business, no matter how large or small, employees spend many hours of their week on basic manual tasks—copying and pasting data from one system to another, capturing and rekeying data from customer letters and emails, and so on.
“It’s obvious,” we say to ourselves. “If we can automate those processes with RPA, we’ll save thousands of hours, and we’ll be able to focus on much more interesting, important and profitable work.”
But there’s a catch. Among companies that have already started adopting RPA solutions, very few are currently achieving the full benefits that a well-rounded RPA strategy can deliver. When Softomotive talks to clients of other RPA vendors, the most common complaint we hear is that their RPA project has stalled, and they don’t know how to move forward.
Why RPA initiatives stall
There are many reasons why RPA projects can go off the rails, but in most cases, there is a common pattern.
RPA immediately resonates with most decision-makers because almost all businesses have a few processes that are so laborious and inefficient that they are already on senior management’s radar. These are often the processes that are easiest to automate, because it’s obvious what needs to be done to streamline them.
The RPA initiative therefore starts strongly—the company sets up an RPA Centre of Excellence (CoE) that has a clear idea of the first few problems it needs to solve, and the RPA team usually delivers these quick wins within the first few weeks or months.
As the afterglow of that success fades away, however, a difficult question arises. Now that the initial challenges have been solved, what should the CoE team tackle next? The lack of an innovation pipeline of automation opportunities makes it difficult to maintain much-needed momentum.
What lies beneath
The problem is what could be referred to as the Iceberg Effect. Like an iceberg which only has about 10 percent of its mass visible above the waterline, RPA has only a small percentage of potential use cases that are glaringly obvious to everyone in the business. The remainder glide silently beneath the surface, grinding down productivity and sinking morale without ever making enough noise to alarm the higher levels of the organization.
This lack of visibility is reinforced by putting the entire burden of driving RPA adoption on the CoE team. To extend our iceberg metaphor, the CoE is like a ship’s engine-room: it does most of the hard work that powers an enterprise-wide RPA initiative, but it doesn’t necessarily have as clear a view of the requirements as the people up on deck—line-of-business employees who spend their days trying to steer themselves out of the iceberg’s path.
Finding a better way
Process discovery tools can provide a partial answer, but they have limitations. What we’ve learnt from helping dozens of clients reboot their RPA journeys is that successful RPA initiatives don’t rely on the CoE for everything. Instead, they look to the people doing the work “citizen developers” throughout the business—to kickstart the discovery and development of RPA opportunities.
The solution is to give these end-users their own “digital assistant” to help them automate the tasks that they find most tedious or time-consuming. Once these digital assistants begin to proliferate, it becomes much easier to identify a wealth of RPA opportunities that are normally hidden from the CoE’s view—even though they may seem obvious to the people who are in the midst of the action.
By examining the patterns created by these small-scale automations, the CoE team can then start to join the dots—integrating individual tasks into larger, more sophisticated and robust RPA processes, and delivering greater business value. In short, successful RPA places as much focus on empowering citizen developers as providing advanced software for the RPA experts in the CoE.
Empowering line of business users
This key insight has informed Softomotive’s People1st strategy. We aim to put people before robots, placing the power in the hands of the end user to help them discover and implement process automations quickly and safely, without having to write a single line of code.
To learn more about how the Softomotive People1st approach can guide you to a successful RPA strategy, or help you get your existing RPA initiatives back on course, download one of our new guides today: