Exploiting RPA to Cultivate Operational Innovation
Abid Mustafa
Director of Strategy and Customer Experience

Professional Background: Abid Mustafa is a seasoned ICT professional with over 24 years’ experience in Digital Transformation, IT, Operations, Project Management, Strategy, and Customer Experience, with special expertise in RPA, robotics and AI. He is well versed in different aspects of the telecommunication industry and has worked for a number of operators in Europe and the MENA region. Mustafa is also the author of In the Age of Turbulence: How to make Executive PMOs Successful (ISBN: 1482740621), which is available both in paperback and Kindle format.

Education: BSc, Electronic Engineering, King’s College, London University

This is the second in a series of five articles on adopting RPA in the enterprise.

Establishing a robotics center of excellence (RCoE) can be a daunting task, and all too often the focus is on resources and tools. Large organizations tend to gravitate towards a federated model of RCoEs—that is, distributed centers of robotic excellence established in business functions like finance, HR, operations and so forth—where IT relinquishes control over recording and studio design but maintains primacy over orchestration. The latter is intended to preserve the security of all deployed software robots, as well as to keep licensing costs to a minimum. Nevertheless, irrespective of the RCoE model adopted by organizations, it is always necessary to take a step back and look at the big picture prior to embarking on the robotics process automation (RPA) journey.

The ease of implementing RPA solutions can often lead business users to abuse the technology without paying due attention to planned system automation and long-overdue process changes. Such endeavors are misplaced. Planned system automation has its own lifecycle and will continue to deliver necessary benefits to business users. In contrast, RPA’s focus is on mimicking user behavior and identifying areas for process optimization. RPA does not instigate changes in business functionality, its focus is to automate user interaction with the system.

Business users possess have in abundance the ingenuity needed to exploit software robots that can replace human interface tasks with machines; however, they have an uncanny ability to eschew the necessary process changes that accompany this transformation. This is dangerous because if processes are left unchanged, an additional layer of complexity is added, which makes RPA solutions in the long run more cumbersome to use.

Trying to circumvent system automation plans also carries risks. There is little indication that the software development life cycle (SDLC) is about to disappear. The SDLC provides an important service to business users by delivering solutions that reduce the scope and magnitude of collective manual tasks, and in some cases SDLC eliminates laborious tasks altogether. Hence, it is important for business users to be cognizant about new system functionality that is likely to make software robots obsolete.

It is common for RPA solutions to be used in areas where users have to navigate between multiple screens. This makes perfect sense if a unified desktop solution is not in the automation pipeline. However, if it is, then the benefits of RPA deployment against system automation have to be prudently weighed.  In the quest for speedy workarounds to complex business processes, users should think twice about using RPA to make their lives easier. Any planned system automation will not only kill software robots but also erode savings gained through efficiencies. 

For far too long businesses were at the mercy of IT to deliver automation. The maturity of RPA technology has emancipated business users and made them less reliant on IT. Nonetheless, this does not mean that business users have a free hand or can adopt an irresponsible attitude towards RPA. Any recklessness is guaranteed to provide several excuses—duplication of effort, wastage of resources and time, increased costs—that the CIO can invoke to rein in rogue RPA practices. It would be a great shame if such behavior caused business users to lose control of RPA and again become totally reliant on IT.

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