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Using Robotic Process Automation to Induce Operational Innovation


The quest to digitalize an organization’s operational capabilities demands agility, risk tolerance, acceptance of failure, and innovation. It can be argued that innovation is the product of the first three organizational qualities, however, this would be an exaggeration. This is because the most important element in producing operational efficiency is giving people more time to think, try out new ideas, fail, and learn from their experiences.

Anyone who has worked in operations would concur that time is forever in diminishing supply. In organizations embarking on the digitalization journey, new operational traits like agility, risk tolerance, and acceptance of failure require time for innovation to take root, mature, and succeed.

Hitherto, organizations have used Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to reduce costs, increase accuracy and reliability, enhance customer experience, and scale operations to meet growth.

Very rarely, RPA is used to foster a culture of innovation in operational departments.

Operational departments are attuned to producing workarounds to ensure key performance indicators (KPIs) are met and customers are happy. Workarounds, however, are not ideal and add unnecessary layers of complexity to existing processes and systems. RPA can help.

Some may contend that the ease of use of RPA encourages operational managers to produce even more workarounds without addressing root causes.

In that instance, RPA can be a double-edge sword. Operational managers can manipulate RPA to create more workarounds and circumvent necessary process reengineering/optimization and system automation work. Or, use RPA to give more time to operational staff to try new ideas on how to fix perennial problems. The latter stipulates that the freed time accruing from temporary fixes should be dedicated to innovation.

The trouble is that operational managers are hostages to bad habits and once temporary fixes are in place, staff is redirected to other operational chores. If handled properly, RPA can engender the right environment to stimulate operational innovation.

Using RPA to provide ample time for operational staff to fix longstanding issues or undertake work in completely a different way is a good way to foster innovation.

Nonetheless, RPA’s success in cultivating innovation rests on operational managers encouraging staff to come up with temporary solutions and using the freed time to try new ideas. But the real question is: can operational managers change their habits to utilize RPA to instill innovation in the workforce?

This is a guest post by <em>Abid Mustafa</em>. Mustafa specializes in RPA, Robotics and AI. He leads Business Cognition and Excellence at <em>Etisalat</em>, MENA region.

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