RPA Implementation: The Intersection of Business and IT
Since its first introduction nearly 20 years ago [how time flies!] RPA has been widely promoted as an intuitive software platform that allows even average business users to establish automation without significant IT involvement. True, but only relatively so. It’s actually more of an oversimplification, because it fails to reveal that RPA is not exactly plug-and-play. Especially if you want to play the big league. RPA is a team sport. The business side may drive the game, but unless the IT team helps advance the ball, it doesn’t really work.
The business user will ask: What processes can and should be automated? Are these processes properly understood and well optimized? The IT decision-maker, on the other hand, will consider: Is the RPA software enterprise ready and industry standard? Is the software easily integratable with the existing applications and systems?
RPA initially emerged as a response to the frustration of business people in large organizations based on the (perceived) resistance of their IT colleagues toward pressing business-driven demands. In order to implement RPA, business users had to intimately understand the user story of a process at its lowest level, namely the working instructions and all its exceptions. With its relative ease of development and user-friendly interface (at least compared to traditional IT solutions, like BPMS or ERP), RPA tilted the balance of required knowledge towards process understanding much more than to IT. This meant, and continues to mean, RPA technology empowers business people to build automation in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months, and with less intervention needed from IT than with other software.
It’s easy to see how RPA implementation can impact business operations. And from an operational perspective, it’s also clear how the business side can contribute to the implementation. A company’s business operations teams tend to take a macro perspective on RPA by focusing on short- and long-term goals. They’ll carefully select optimized workflows for automation and closely monitor business analytics to ensure that process accuracy, cost reduction, and customer satisfaction benchmarks, for example, are met during implementation.
A company’s IT team, though, also brings a lot to the table: advanced technical knowledge of existing IT infrastructure, testing and maintenance capabilities, data security oversight, and more. Though they can contribute significantly to the RPA implementation process, many IT professionals seemingly manifest discomfort with the thought of RPA and are not typically the champions of the new technology within their companies. To them, RPA often seems too easy and suspicions arise that it could indeed be a non-invasive technology.
As a result of this IT-centered skepticism, “Why then involve IT if they’re not motivated or needed?” is often a consideration of the business side. However, as we’ll see in a moment, the more important question should really be: “Why not involve IT?”
Why not involve IT?
Accenture’s report “Getting Robots Right” argues the second biggest implementation mistake is thinking that RPA implementation can be done entirely from the operations side, without the involvement of the IT team.
“RPA is non-invasive (i.e. require no integration to legacy applications) and can be installed on any desktop. For these reasons, there is a tendency to think RPA does not need significant involvement from the enterprise technology team […] But this is a mistake.”
What’s detrimental to the RPA implementation process is forgetting to involve IT, perhaps even more damaging than seeing RPA implementation entirely as an IT project. Both from a practical and strategic perspective, it is crucial to have the IT department on-board, for a number of reasons:
Sharing technical expertise
In addition to being familiar with the new software, it’s important for a company’s business users to be knowledgeable about the current IT infrastructure. This is an area where the IT team can significantly support the business side. IT can provide knowledge on concerns ranging from the more mundane issues of RPA infrastructure set-up and access rights for robots to more important issues such as future application roll-outs, changes, and decommissioning. Because these issues affect the performance of software robots and ultimately that of the entire RPA project, they are of utmost importance to both IT and business leaders. In fact, most of the technical concerns of business users can be addressed and managed through collaboration with IT.
Avoiding negative preconceptions
To make sure RPA deployment is carried out as efficiently as possible, it’s crucial to define project requirements and verify that those involved with the RPA project are onboard with the transition. A company’s IT team may make incorrect assumptions about RPA before implementation, seeing it as built from unsupported macros and screen scraping tools or viewing it as an unnecessary addition to a software solution developed in-house. A company’s business operations staff should, therefore, make sure that IT is able to visualize the role RPA will play in attaining company goals: cost reduction, higher processing quality, advanced operational analytics, increased efficiency through reduced cycle time, and more.
Developing a shared RPA roadmap
As discussed with the previous point, taking the time to “onboard” the IT professionals in your organization is a key success factor for being able to build a sustainable RPA program. And essential to building a sustainable RPA program is developing a collaborative implementation roadmap between business and IT leaders. While RPA is business driven, it most certainly needs to be IT governed. From a strategic perspective, it is absolutely necessary for IT and business leaders to fully understand the project’s aims as well as current and future capabilities of RPA solutions. This will allow IT to incorporate goals of scalability, security, reliability, and continuity into their IT setup and enable business leaders to drive productivity outcomes and quickly achieve transformation benefits.
Effective governance in the long run
RPA implementation success is not entirely business-driven nor is it all IT-driven. Instead, it’s a much more delicate balance between the two, with RPA governance sitting directly in the space between business and IT. This means that maintaining consistent communication and collaboration between sides is especially important to making sure that the implementation goes as planned and any obstacles, such as potential integration issues of RPA with existing programs, can be dealt with seamlessly. Most importantly, however, these intra-company alliances should (and must) extend far beyond just the implementation part.
In order to embed RPA deeply and effectively into the organization, collaboration between business and IT cannot subside once the first automation processes and workflows have been established. Long-term, developers in the IT team must continue to be in charge of developing, testing, and maintaining the automation, and working closely alongside the business operations team in managing strategic goals and expectations. Managing such organizational change is never easy and always takes time, but business-IT teamwork will ensure that a growth plan is elaborated to sustain expertise and success beyond the earliest stages of implementation.
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