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 first in a series of five articles on adopting RPA in the enterprise.

There is little doubt that Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is extremely popular amongst technical savvy people. However, outside the technology realm, business users often struggle to understand RPA and its applicability to solve business problems. There are three major reasons for this confusion.

First, in most organizations RPA flourishes in IT departments, and business users have little exposure to the technology. The lack of acquaintance reinforces the perception that RPA is similar to other automation tools and solutions, which is the exclusive purview of IT. Subsequently, the onus on business users to explore and learn RPA dramatically diminishes. This is further compounded by the inability of technologists to effectively articulate the benefits of RPA and explain how it differs from system automation.

Second, when business users do have the opportunity to interact with RPA they fail to understand the difference between it and system automation. To many business users RPA is system automation and this typically means that users are required to specify business requirements, submit them to IT and if one is lucky the RPA solution will be delivered.

RPA was designed to overcome the delays in the conventional SDLC (software development lifecycle) —from business requirements capture to design and implementation development of the solution by IT. This is because, unlike system automation, RPA works with the user layer only, and mimics human behavior such as navigation, cut and paste, data entry, data extraction and so forth. Figure 1.0 highlights the differences between RPA and system automation, and also points out the limitations of RPA. Such constraints can be overcome by a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and RPA.

Why RPA Still Confounds Business Users

Figure 1.0 Difference between RPA and System Automation

Once business users are able to grasp this reality, it becomes very easy for them to understand the applicability of RPA technology. Additionally, the technology is easy to use and this makes business users extremely adept at generating use cases. Yes, IT developers are still required, but having switched-on business users identifying numerous use cases helps in the adoption of RPA technology and in the deployment of software robots.

Third, the fact that RPA often resides within IT, puts off many business users from adopting the technology. The dangers of such organizational inertia fueled by the fear of “robots replacing jobs” can derail any RPA implementation. Hence, it is incumbent for those responsible for RPA to overcome permanent barriers between business users and their technology partners. Breaking down organizational silos and effectively communicating RPA benefits to business users should become the mainstay of IT departments.

In sum, RPA implementations stand a good chance of success if business users are educated about RPA, understand its benefits and have a chance to play around with the technology. The latter point is especially relevant, as it provides business users the opportunity to see the difference between RPA and system automation, and comprehend the ease with which the technology can be applied. Consequently, it is incumbent upon senior executives to encourage CIOs to relinquish control of RPA and hand it over to business users. By doing so, RPA use cases driven by business users will usher in a golden period of RPA success and make the investment in the technology worthwhile.

Next article in the series.