Don’t be an RPA tourist, implement effective change management

With their eyes to the future, enterprises are buying into RPA and other forms of intelligent automation at an exponential rate. But spurred by hopes of improving productivity, reducing inefficiencies and saving money, are they failing to see the wood for the trees?

While many vendors and service providers market RPA solutions as being low-code and easy to instal, they’re simply not.

According to a report by KPMG and HFS Research, there’s a significant gap between expectations and reality in the RPA space. While enterprises understand the benefits of RPA, the study found that many are not yet ready to implement it effectively, with only 13% of enterprise RPA initiatives achieving scale across the entire organisation, according to their survey.

“The stage is being set for an RPA disaster and that enterprise must act now to prevent it,” warned Maria Terekhova, a Senior Research Analyst at HFS Research, in a recent blog post, reflecting on the report’s findings.

“In other words, until now, RPA projects have been nascent and exploratory,” she explained. “But now, as they begin hitting the one-year mark, more enterprises are trying to take RPA organisation-wide. At this juncture, the lack of experienced talent both within client organisations and among their service providers will become painfully apparent.

“As more enterprises start trying to scale RPA without the requisite talent, the 77% average satisfaction score given by clients in our RPA services study will start dropping, costing clients investment money and service providers contracts. In other words, a major RPA disillusionment and reckoning is coming for both sides of the market.”

“RPA tourism”

Speaking with Information Age, Elena Christopher, research vice president at HFS Research, expanded on the report and its findings. According to her, the difficulty around scaling RPA is multi-faceted.

Number one, for Christopher, is the whole host of challenges around change management. She feels many enterprises are simply not adhering to the necessary protocols needed to ensure RPA can be effectively rolled-out.

“The notion of creating a whole new digital workforce that needs to be integrated and able to work well with your human workforce is gigantic,” she warned. “An organisation is going to need a whole raft of procedures in place to just digest it.”

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She added: “It does not suffice to introduce RPA under normal IT protocols. At HFS Research, we jokingly call this RPA tourism.”

For Christopher, if an enterprise truly wishes to scale RPA it has to be more than an experiment.

“Enterprises need to think more broadly around how RPA is going to affect them, from a junior level to the senior level,” she said. “RPA initiatives need sponsorship and ownership; the senior suite must be supportive. They need to build the business case and proof of concept, and they need to do it with scale in mind.”

Lack of RPA talent

Echoing Terekhova, Christopher argued: “Despite what the marketing hype might suggest, you do actually need strong technical expertise within your organisation to implement RPA; you need good engineers and developers.”

For her, this notion of just simply retraining non-technical professionals as RPA experts is a tall order. As such, business leaders ought to coordinate RPA initiatives with recruitment in mind.

But it’s also important to understand that the IT and technical staff only implement RPA, they don’t primarily use it.

Indeed, on a day-to-day basis, RPA solutions are used primarily within business operations — functions such as finance and customer service. Therefore, there has to be a business user understanding.

Christopher added: “You have to help employees be willing to use RPA and not be scared of it. The concept of automation anxiety is a real thing. I always say ‘the sooner we stop showing all these photos of robots in articles and blogs the better because it’s scaring the heck out of everyone’; plus, it’s not a realistic depiction of what RPA is. RPA is software. (Duly noted — ed.)

But still, with any RPA development employees will need to adjust.

Depending on the process, shifting from a manual task to one run, or partly run, by software could be rather complex.

New technicalities may arise, appropriate training, therefore, is essential.

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future