By Will Wu and Tom Racciatti – West Monroe Partners
Jun 11, 2018
It is easy to start celebrating once your robot successfully automates a process for the first time. However, the real work begins in the testing phase to ensure the robot handles exceptions properly.
Robotic process automation (RPA) can be a powerful tool in any company’s arsenal and is on the verge of transforming the business world as we know it. In fact, the Bay Area is home to many robotics companies, including UiPath and Automation Anywhere.
Today, many companies are evaluating the costs and benefits of automating repetitive and rules-based tasks that are currently performed by people.
As West Monroe helps clients implement RPA through a combination of change management, technology, and workforce consulting, we decided to try it for ourselves by incorporating RPA into our new-employee onboarding process and accounts receivable process. We wanted to know exactly the type of hurdles, challenges, and rewards that come from an RPA implementation. Here we share the following lessons learned, fresh from our own experience.
- Understand the complexity of the processes you want to automate.
While people can make decisions by learning patterns, RPA software has difficulty mimicking this human ability. A process that is almost entirely rules-based but requires just one ambiguous decision may prohibit an RPA implementation from being effective. In addition, data entry processes that touch multiple applications can become increasingly complex to automate if the data format differs between systems.
There are workarounds for these nuances, but the resulting increase in process complexity can cause RPA software to become more tedious and costly to configure than continuing to use a human to perform the same task. While more complex processes requiring human decision-making may be automated by the robotic workforce in the coming years, it may not make sense to automate now.
- Host functional and technical design sessions to make sure business users and technology users are on the same page.
Before bringing RPA into your workflows, it’s important to hold “design sessions.” From a functional perspective, this includes mapping out business processes, gathering requirements and information from end users, collecting information on the frequency of process execution, analyzing how often there are “exceptions to the rule,” and documenting process outputs.
A technical design session should cover the following:
- Secure application availability in advance for robot development and testing if system availability constraints are a factor.
- Establish user access to test environments for configuration. Also note any nuances between test and production environments that need to be accounted for in go-live.
- Consult with end users to confirm the type of robot being developed. Back-office robots may require the development of system log-in workflows that are not necessary for a user-triggered, front-office robot.
- Involve change management before go-live.
For a seamless RPA implementation, it is important to manage the expectations of the project team by establishing a communication schedule that outlines the reasons for the process redesign and the actions required by the team. Change management is critical throughout the lifecycle of an RPA project to ensure that employees are properly prepared to take on new tasks that come with process redesign and the upcoming robot deployment. In contrast to most change management initiatives, RPA requires a robust change management plan before go-live, given the magnitude of change required by your teams.
- Over-test the robot to ensure it handles exceptions properly.
It is easy to start celebrating once your robot successfully automates a process for the first time. However, the real work begins in the testing phase to ensure the robot handles exceptions properly. There’s nothing worse than believing you have successfully deployed your first robot only to realize a week later that it fails when triggered on Employee X’s computer because her screen resolution is different from Employee Y’s.
To ensure “robot sustainability,” use activities in the workflow configuration that give the robot instructions on what to do in case of errors or when encountering Condition B instead of Condition A. Finally, triple-check that the process runs in all scenarios types before signing off on a successful implementation and handing over to the end user.
- Keep future change and growth in mind.
As companies grow and change, processes tend to evolve. Consider this example: A company has a centralized accounts receivable department that processes all invoices out of the corporate headquarters in San Francisco. When configuring a robot to automate invoicing, the RPA implementation team instructs the robot to type “San Francisco, California” into the address line of the invoice being sent to the customer by hardcoding this deep into the workflow. Years later, the company expands and decides to divide accounts receivable operations into East Coast departments. The company must now go back into the workflow and re-configure the value typed on the address line to reflect this change because the original invoicing robot was not developed with scalability in mind. Based on our own experience, West Monroe recommends taking an agile, or iterative, approach to all RPA implementations – meaning every time a change or new exception is introduced to the process, the robot needs to be reprogrammed.
Considering or implementing RPA solutions at your company? Learn how West Monroe Partners can help.
West Monroe is a national business and technology consulting firm that partners with dynamic organizations to reimagine, build, and operate their businesses at peak performance. Our team of more than 950 professionals is comprised of an uncommon blend of business consultants and deep technologists.
Will Wu is a senior director at West Monroe Partners and leads the San Francisco office. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom Racciatti is a director in West Monroe’s operation excellence practice, based in Minneapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com.