Figures from investigators working at The London School of Economics (LSE) show that Robotic process automation (RPA) can deliver a return-on-investment (ROI) around 200%, writes Faisal Iftikhar, VP Global Head of Automation at Ciklum.

200% ROI? Yes - and that’s after one year and just 25% of the business process being automated.

It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate these figures to an RPA roll-out scaled across an entire organisation. The payback time of an RPA programme is significantly quicker than traditional business investments, even if only a subset of business processes are automated, allowing businesses to realise benefits and achieve business goals.

The benefits of an RPA programme are not limited to the ROI, however, but can also be seen in improved process efficiency and customer satisfaction.

A report from McKinsey shows one insurer cutting one particular business process - handling premium advice notices - from two days down to thirty minutes. We have implemented countless examples of automation that have reduced processing time from days down to minutes. This improved processing time and subsequent improvement in responsiveness to the customer can be the difference between a satisfied or unhappy customer.

Who is RPA for?

Currently, firms which are mature organisationally and operate highly defined business processes are the ones reaping the most significant benefit from RPA. The early RPA adopters included utility organisations and financial firms, such as banks and insurance companies. However, even if your firm isn’t systematically process-driven (like banks) if there are repetitive business processes in some of your functions or departments, the benefits of RPA adoption are still there for the taking.

We are seeing deployment from firms of all sizes - ranging from start-ups with single-digit employee counts, to the largest global organisations. Typically, the benefits and expected results will be different depending on where the company falls on this scale. Smaller organisations are generally looking to develop a more scalable delivery model to give them a competitive advantage over other organisations, while large organisations are looking for traditional operational efficiency.

Six steps to roll-out RPA successfully

  1. Firstly, you’ll need to define your business goals and review your current business needs, thinking critically whether RPA can contribute to achieving those goals. Then your firm’s process maturity has must be assessed, so ask yourself the following questions: ‘Does my firm have standard operating procedures (SOPs) defined and does my firm track success and mistake rates in those processes?’ Attempting to automate ineffective processes will lead to extended delivery times or inability to deliver robust benefits.
  1. Does your RPA rollout result in significant staff layoffs? Employees may well ask such a question to address those personnel concerns directly. Encourage line managers to check for any retraining or internal relocation opportunities. Treat valued employees - who could be upset by changes resulting from your RPA - sensitively and consider rolling out a program to help them find alternative employment outside your firm.
  1. Use an 80/20 analysis to deconstruct your RPA execution. It is unrealistic to expect RPA to be able to automate 100% of all your processes. Instead, focus on the parts of your process which can be automated, leaving a small percentage as exceptions to be handled by a human.
  1. With RPA, once the task has been set up and handed off, you shouldn’t need to worry about it again. Unfortunately, the happy nirvana of totally hands-off automation is not yet possible, so management should be reviewing monthly RPA implementation reports. As well as a qualitative angle to these reports - for example, with the number of raised tickets sorted out, the qualitative one of adverse system user comments should also be addressed. It is important that bots are maintained and tracked following go-live to ensure the benefits defined in the business case are being realised.
  1. Bringing innovative technology like RPA to your business is a major challenge - apply project management discipline to your implementation. As a minimum, appoint a suitably experienced and qualified project manager.
  1. Starting with a full RPA-based business transformation can be perceived as being challenging and risky. If that is the case within your organisation, start small by setting up a proof of value. This will reduce the risk of a critical failure in an important part of your business. Think about the weight of your internal experience and knowledge of RPA and consider external support for rolling out the implementation, such as training and expert consultants. The success of a proof of value can be used as the stepping-stone into large-scale implementation projects throughout the organisation.

What does 2021 hold for RPA?

Just looking at the productivity gains, it’s no surprise that global spending on RPA software is expanding rapidly and shows no sign of slowing.

There are four key things we will see in 2021:

  1. We’ll see an increase in organisations scaling-up their RPA practices in different areas of their business. A lot of firms have begun their RPA journeys and seen good results, both operationally and financially from proof-of-concept rollouts, so in 2021 these organisations will increase their efforts across the business to build on these initial successes.
  1. Although primarily standalone, we’ll start to see an increased emphasis on combining RPA with additional tools and technologies. This will include deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, chatbots, optical and intelligent character recognition (OCR/ICR) systems being linked to create real intelligent automation solutions.
  1. The already established big RPA players will see their hegemony challenged by smaller, nimbler firms offering new tools and services, providing a highly competitive price point, which will lower the barrier for RPA implementations even further than it already is.
  1. Lastly, external market conditions prevailing in the shadow of the current COVID-19 pandemic will make RPA rollouts even more attractive to organisations seeking to improve operational efficiencies.