Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is moving into the mainstream. Gartner estimated that global RPA expenditure would reach $680m by the end of 2018 , marking a year-on-year increase of 57%. What’s more, the analyst house also predicted that by the end of 2022, RPA expenditure would hit $2.4bn – and the picture in Europe is no different. One study conducted by Information Service Group (ISG) looking at the state of RPA adoption across Europe estimated that by 2020, 92% of European businesses will have adopted RPA to some extent. Despite this, there are barriers to RPA that are holding back its adoption, and robot-as-a-service could help.
RPA software market grew 63.1% in 2018, says Gartner
But amongst all the hype, automation technologies, including both RPA and artificial intelligence (AI), have been met with some caution, with many European organisations still uncertain on how to get their RPA initiatives up and running. Some of the barriers to RPA implementation include:
- Getting staff on board with automation initiatives
- Lack of budget to begin
- Choosing the right processes to start automating
This article will look at some of the ways in which European businesses have overcome these barriers to RPA and unlock its true value.
Overcoming the barriers to RPA adoption: realising the value of automation to the workforce
It has been commonly misconstrued that automation technologies, such as RPA and AI, have been designed to replace humans and the inefficiencies they are known to produce. In its survey of European RPA adoption, ISG found that one of the most pertinent barriers to the growth of RPA was ‘organisational resistance to change’ with 33% citing this as the main obstacle to expanding RPA use.
In reality, the opposite is true. The best business results are achieved when people, AI and robots are used in conjunction with one another, complementing each other’s capabilities. Automation is about enabling humans to fulfill purposeful work; work that is creative, innovative and strategic. On the other hand, AI and robots are best off put to use for mundane, data-intense and repetitive tasks.
A great use case of how this enablement relationship works in practice can be seen by looking at the example of the Finnish healthcare system. A recent study of nine healthcare districts in Finland found that half of the work time of the healthcare professionals surveyed was spent on computer-based knowledge tasks, and away from patient care. The study found that automating certain data-intense processes had the potential to save nurses an average 31% of their shift time, while doctors could save up to 34% of their shift time.
Implementing RPA enabled purposeful work by giving the doctors and nurses more time to fulfill their specialist tasks. This not only increased each individual district’s overall productivity, but also enabled each district to deliver better patient care and by giving doctors and nurses more time to focus on their specialist tasks, implementing RPA led to an average increase in job satisfaction.
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Working with a limited budget, employ robot-as-a-service
The ISG report identified limited budget for RPA projects as another main obstacle or barrier to European RPA growth. One third of the business leaders surveyed identified having a restricted budget as being the main reason their organisation would not be able to expand their use of RPA. This is where implementing a robot-as-a-service model could make a vast difference.
The robot-as-a-service model is the latest iteration of the software-as-a-service model, where businesses only pay for what they need, meaning they can scale up and down quickly and cost-effectively. The model provides organisations with all the necessary tools to begin implementing digital workers, while also being the best way to scale RPA projects to meet budgetary requirements.
Amongst the various sectors looking to implement RPA across Europe, manufacturing companies have been quick to adopt the robot-as-a-service model as it allows them to begin implementing automation with small-scale projects and then scale up through their operation. Norsk Stål, Norway’s leading steel and metal provider, is one such example. The company began by automating its Sales Draft process, which included evaluating the amount of material needed to fulfill a customer order. The service was managed on a robot-as-a-service model and has led to the company scaling up by automating a planning production request.
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Choosing the right processes for automation
However, in order for the robot-as-a-service model to work as effectively as possible, it is essential that businesses choose the right processes to automate. Implementing RPA must be aligned with the company’s overall vision. Born-digital companies operate this way automatically, but for many older businesses the regeneration process is comparatively slow.
Research has indicated that one of the leading causes of failed automation initiatives has been due to a poor choice of pilot processes. One report from The Shared Services & Outsourcing Network found that 38% of automation initiatives that did not live up to client expectations were due to the wrong processes being chosen for automation. Choosing to automate a specific process should only be done to try and gain a strategic business advantage and should come with defined business objectives and metrics for success.
Many businesses have experience of one-off, single and ad-hoc automation projects without a clear connection to the company’s vision and strategy, and these projects can end up being very expensive. Automation initiatives must be managed and developed holistically, not individually to get the best possible business results, and they must be aligned to the strategy in order to unlock the potential business value of RPA.
Nordea, the Nordic’s largest financial services group, overcame this challenge by giving all oversight of its automation projects to its Centre of Excellence, a group that aids successful automation implementation. It developed a clear automation pipeline strategy to ensure all of the company’s projects met the overall organisational objectives and are run as efficiently as possible.
RPA has the potential to drive business productivity and increase organisational efficiency while also working to reduce cost and improve the nature of human jobs – but it must be implemented correctly to do so. This means that businesses must onboard their employees so that they understand the true value of the automation project, they must choose the right processes to automate based on their business objectives, and they must ensure that they can scale their automation initiatives to meet their every requirement.
Jukka Virkkunen is one of Digital Workforce’s trio of Co-Founding Partners. Jukka has over 25 years of experience working across the IT sector including having previously worked as Head of Technology Services for Capgemini in Finland.
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