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Intelligent Automation – Future of RPA

Adoption of emerging technologies across industries is rising at a break neck speed. Besides digital transformation, organizations are pushing into digital optimization initiatives like Machine Learning, AI and automation to become more competitive, resilient and efficient.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been one of the most successful and widely adopted automation tools. According to the latest forecast from Gartner, Global RPA software revenue is projected to reach $1.89 billion in 2021, an increase of 19.5% from 2020.

Over the rest of the article, we will focus on how we help enterprises with:

1. Facilitating RPA implementation

Over time, having worked with various clients across the industries, one of the most important imperatives for successful RPA implementations has been management buy in.

Getting started with RPA

In this step, you will lay the foundation needed for successful RPA implementation. At the end of this phase, you would have a completed a pilot to show the benefits of implementation.

Opportunity discovery

We work closely with your teams to identify gaps, savings potential and ROI as compared to the peers and industry benchmarks. This includes data collation, workshops with your team and value stream mapping. Study data collated to confirm on the opportunities identified.

Platform selection

Once you have identified the opportunities for automation, the next step is to pilot the process. Having worked with leading automation software providers across the ecosystem, we help you identify the right tool for automating the identified opportunities. This includes considerations ranging from no code/low code platforms to cutting edge automation using computer vision, NLP and AI.

POC execution

Build automations, technical flows quickly for the identified automation opportunities. Collect the results, evaluate the feedback and build score cards to measure long term success and focus on creating an opportunity pipeline.

Scaling across the enterprise

To scale off on the back of successful pilots, organisations need a team responsible for opportunity pipeline creation, automation governance, process assessment and enterprise-wide support. This team ensures efficient usage of RPA resources, increased integration/access to new technologies with in the enterprise and increase in the throughput capacity.

We work with you to build teams/capabilities to support continuous improvement, identify cross enterprise opportunities, help you reengineer the processes and track the results after deployment, to ensure you realize the full potential of your automation effort.

2. Challenges and strategic navigation

While RPA adoption has been gaining significant attention in some industries, there have been a plenty of failure stories too, exceeding the implementation time, cost and overall ROI. According to Gartner, “By 2021, 50% of RPA implementations will fail to deliver a sustainable ROI.”

Below are some of the most common challenges you will likely face if you and your company choose to implement RPA.

a. Process Issues

It is recommended that you map your automation journey, identify gaps across various departments and saving potential before you set out on your automation journey. While most enterprise’s successfully implement pilots, they lack a clear opportunity pipeline to scale the efforts.

Tasks that are repetitive, rules-based, high volume, and that do not require human judgement are the ideal candidates for automation using RPA. This can include activities involving moving files/folders, copy & paste data, scrape data from web, connect to the API’s, extract and process structured and semi-structured content from documents, PDFs, emails and forms. RPA implementation might be difficult with the process that are non-standardized and require significant human intervention.

Redefining business process for efficient use of bot’s time or modifying the business process itself might speed up implementation. For example, it might prove to be efficient, if you could get all the data first, feed it into the application and then call the next flow instead of calling the next flow after every single data entry point.

It is easier to reach automation levels off 70-80% for most applications and the remaining 20% might require significant investment of time and cost due to the complexity, throwing out the whole purpose of automation. Hence it is crucial to make a cutoff between desirable level of automation versus efficient level.

b. Organizational pitfalls

From getting the management buy-in, it is important to rally support from IT department to successfully execute RPA projects. IT department plays a crucial role in speeding the RPA implementations with resource allocation, exposing API’s or even building certain custom scripts over components. Some of the other IT support functions that play a key role include RDP access, network stability, bot run context and issue resolution time.

c. Technical Issues

It is advisable to choose low code/no code RPA solution over some the outdated solutions available in the market. It is easier for your internal teams to adopt or transition later, should you work with an outsourced service provider to develop the initial components. It also helps you keep the development costs under control.

Some of the other best practices include:
  • Initialising certain applications before hand
  • Implementing best practices like modularity, re-usability and efficient looping into the code
  • Securing credentials using orchestrator

d. Post implementation adoption

Scalability, Maintenance and de-commissioning the process are the three most important post implementation challenges. We have covered scalability in the earlier part of the article (RPA centre of excellence is most important to address scalability). Changes in business processes or applications require the components to be modified. Since most the bots are programmed using best practices it is relatively easier to re-configure and change as per changing business needs. As the process evolves over a period of time with the changing business needs, we should also be able to analyse when to de-commission a certain process based on the complexity and effort it takes to maintain and bot’s run time.

3. Future of RPA

RPA market is expected to grow at double digit rates through 2024 as per predictions from Gartner. Here are the trends that are expected to shape up the RPA market in the short term.

Non-IT Buyers/Low Code and No code Platforms

The RPA adoption is over 90% in certain industries and most of these revenues has been coming from the IT buyers. Over the course of the time, business buyers are expected to drive the revenue growth for RPA players given the complex business landscapes and for simple reason there aren’t enough programmers around the world to meet these demands. By 2024, half the new RPA revenue is expected from non-IT buyers.

While the existing pure play RPA leaders like Ui Path, Blue Prism & Automation Anywhere are working on simplifying their platforms, some of the tech giants like SAP, Salesforce, Oracle, ServiceNow, Google and AWS are focusing on low code RPA platforms. There also has been some of the innovative starts ups that are already making some big success stories in the no code RPA space.

Cognitive Automation

Leveraging NLP, AI and ML with RPA enables enterprises to expand the scope of process it can automate. While some the tools provide these features by default, some of them may require custom coding or installing certain plugins from the RPA market place.

Process Modelling Automation

One of the top priorities for RPA research is auto-extraction of process knowledge from logs and videos. The workflow creation and process definition acts as a bottleneck in the creation of opportunity pipeline and is manually intensive. Automating the process modelling can speed up RPA implementation and deliver substantial ROI.

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Are your Values Aligned?

One of my professors, during my days at Northwestern, asked if my personal values match with my company’s values. The point was that if there is a mismatch in values, maybe it is best to part ways with the company.

I have since started looking at values of different companies and almost all of them seem like good values. Why would a company choose “Bad Customer Service” or “Employees Last” or “Dishonesty to the Core” or “Less Quality” as their value?

Even more, what percent of employees know their company’s values? Probably a small number (I’d like to know if there’s a precise number from a reliable study). Assuming a vast majority of employees don’t know their company’s values, why even bother defining values? Are setting values on minds of founders of start-ups.

On a more practical note, I think vision, mission, and values should be at the fingertips of leadership team. Their every action should reflect company’s values and should encourage all employees to align to the same. What if employees don’t align to the same? What if employees’ personal values aren’t aligned with your company’s values? How do you identify them? How do you deal with them?

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Being Prepared

I went trekking couple of months ago in the Himalayas, and we all know that the air gets thinner as we gain altitude and our body can’t operate at same efficiency. Apart from lower oxygen levels, trekking includes physical activities that we don’t usually make part our fitness routines.

I was chatting with our trek leader, as we were walking uphill on rugged path, on how one could prepare better for these kind of treks (as a lot of us were struggling with every step we take.) He bluntly said “One can never be prepared for these kind of activities. You just get here and do it.” I was taken back by his statement.

We spend a lot of time planning and preparing for a project. Past experience, skills, training, discipline, etc. are what I see as preparing to execute a project well. Does that guarantee success? Maybe that’s what the trek leader meant when he said that once can never be (100%) prepared.

If that’s the case, how much preparation is needed?

Experts suggests a workout program to be “prepared” for the trek. Every project manager brings in a team with right skills, training, and experience to be “prepared” for the project. Every trek in different. Every project is different. Apart from the evident attributes (for trek, these would be altitude, number of days, sleeping conditions, etc. and for project, these would be budget, timelines, scope, etc.) there are several other attributes that may not allow us to be 100% ready.

A sudden snowstorm during a trek can throw all plans out of the window. A team member with key business knowledge being unavailable unexpectedly may put the project in jeopardy. Sudden changes in exchange rates because of political instability can ruin the budget plans on a global project. There could be several reasons why things can go out of track.

In spite of “one can never be 100% prepared”, we still need to prepare with the information we have in hand and anticipate some of the challenges (risk management). 80% preparation will give us the drive and motivation to push it to 100% during execution. A mere 20-30% preparation will not give us a chance to make it over the hill.

With enough training, our bodies adjust very quickly to lower oxygen levels and our lungs will be able to work efficiently in thin air as well. Similarly, we can get our teams can adjust quickly and get the project back on track if we plan and prepare well.

A well prepared individual/team can face those risks/challenges and execute the trek/project, in spite of unexpected challenges.

A well prepared individual/team can face those risks/challenges and execute the trek/project, in spite of unexpected challenges.

While we may never be 100% prepared, give it your best shot (genuinely) at training/preparing and executing and the chances of succeeding will be high.

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Acclimatization

I was trekking in the Himalayas recently and one word stood out clear and loud:

Acclimatization

Initially, it seemed like an overused word that sounds good in high altitudes. Science says that air gets thinner as we gain altitude and hence the body needs to work harder with limited supply of oxygen. I ran into lot of people who were on their way back from the summit and kept saying to drink lots of fluids (water) and acclimatize with every step (whatever that meant).

Every day, we would gain altitude of few hundred feet and rest for the night. This was supposed to help the body get used to lower oxygen levels, fewer oxygen percent points each day. Some bodies adapt faster and some slower. The slowest ones needed to be evacuated in a helicopter to lower altitudes as soon as possible. I saw a lot of helicopters making rounds and it usually wasn’t good news.

Every time one starts working on a new job, there is an in-built acclimatization process. I broadly classify new job acclimatizing into three categories: Technical, Cultural, and Political.

“Technical” is the skillset that’s needed to complete tasks effectively. These are the skills that got you inside the door. Demonstrate the skills; keep improving; share; grow.

“Cultural” is more about the “fit”. Every company’s culture is different and unique. People come to me and say “We used to do it like this at my previous company. It is so different here (I’m not liking this)”. While corporate culture is a broad term, ask yourself if your values and company’s values align well. Are your Values Aligned? Does the company culture giving you the flexibility and room for creativity that you yearn for? It is very hierarchical or it is more flat structured (and which one suits your working style better)? Would a Netflix culture fit you better or do you like a more traditional by-the-book culture?

“Political” is not necessary bad politics. While no company takes pride in admitting that internal politics prevail within the company, it does exist to varying extent in all companies. Understanding the company’s powerhouses and long term goals is key to ensure you’re getting acclimatized. Who are the key decision makers, their thought processes, getting buy-in from key people on various initiatives are some of the areas that needs attention during the acclimatization process.

Is there a preset duration for acclimatization? No, there isn’t. Some adapt faster and some slower. The slowest ones end up hating the job and eventually will leave (helicopter evacuation).

While every company expects a new hire to bring in new energy and ideas, it is important that the new hire acclimatizes well before proposing and implementing drastically new ideas. It is very important to understand the current processes and situation before proposing a radical idea that might have worked well at a different company in the past.

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