Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an important topic for companies seeking to transform themselves by doing ‘more’ with ‘less.’ As with other technology capabilities, the trick is to know when and where to use this tool. You don’t want to fall into the trap of having a RPA ‘hammer’ where every use case looks like a ‘nail.’ RPA is a great tool to have, but it may not always be best suited to a particular use case.
First off, you need to determine the goals and objectives for the RPA program. There are many different benefits to be gained from using RPA to automate manual tasks. Reducing cost and increasing employee productivity are the main benefits that come to mind. But there are other benefits that can be realized from having an RPA automation perform a task instead of a human. Error reduction, improved compliance, increased customer and employee satisfaction are just a few. Based on our experience, it helps to develop and use a scoring model to evaluate processes based upon the key objectives set out for the RPA program.
TARGET-RICH AREAS FOR RPA AUTOMATIONS
There are many departments that are target-rich, with a large number of use cases where RPA can provide improvement. Generally, you want to look at departments where there are manual processes performed by multiple resources, and that involve multiple, non-integrated systems and a high use of spreadsheets. Finance and Human Resources are just two examples of departments likely to have many use cases that RPA can help solve, especially if the company has had recent M&A activity and is still running multiple systems from each entity. RPA candidates should also align with overall company goals, as this will help direct you to areas the company is looking at as key to their success.
Some examples of good use cases for RPA in Finance include processing customer orders, ensuring timely vendor payments and managing period ending financial close processes. These all typically involve some data entry across multiple systems. For Human Resources, some examples include employee onboarding, time tracking and leave of absence management.
A specific process I previously automated that had a major impact on both employee productivity and customer satisfaction was dealing with applying customer payments. The process was completely manual and involved reviewing files from the bank and matching them up with customer invoices to apply them against. A significant number of payments needed further investigation as it wasn’t always clear which invoice or customer was associated to the payments. The person doing the work was so busy trying to get the ‘obvious’ payments applied that it didn’t leave much time for investigation. Further, these processing delays caused customers who had made their payment on time to get late payment notices, greatly impacting customer satisfaction. To resolve this, we created an automation to read through the payment file from the bank and find the invoice to apply it against. The automation was able to accurately process almost half of the daily transactions, which freed up the person to do more investigations to apply the remaining payments correctly. As a result of the automation, employee time was optimized to focus on the payment exceptions, customer satisfaction increased due to the elimination of the overdue payment notice, and the company avoided hiring a second person to perform this process. Payment volumes had been increasing, and the work was becoming more than one individual could manage with the original process.
OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF GREAT RPA CANDIDATES
It helps if the data is in a digital format, though with advances in Intelligent Document Processing, many types of documents can be transformed into digital files. A second thing to look for is if the process follows straightforward business logic that can be described in ‘If’, ‘Then,’ ‘Else’ statements. Additionally, the best use cases also tend to have relatively high transaction volumes. The volume helps with the ROI of the automation, as it typically takes more time to process more records…and time is money. Other things to look for are processes with a high error rate – RPA automations can help eliminate errors because they never deviate from their programmed tasks. Since RPA automations tend to be very efficient at moving data between applications, good process candidates can also be found where staffs are in swivel-chair positions (i.e., copying data out of one system and pasting it in another).
Processes where human judgment is needed are not appropriate for RPA since RPA automations rely on clear, consistently applied rules. With recent advances in AI, ML, and Generative AI there is the potential that these technologies combined with RPA could help enable automation of use cases with these types of issues. Many of the major RPA vendors are working to incorporate or partner with AI companies to improve their capabilities. This is definitely something to stay on top of as it will quickly become a critical component of all automation programs.
You may already have a process (or many processes) in mind that you think are good RPA candidates. Find out more about Konica Minolta’s RPA offering online, where you can also contact the RPA team directly for assistance with assessing your idea’s feasibility, complexity and value.