Leveraging RPA for business continuity planning

Can RPA Improve Organisational Resilience?

The Business Continuity Institute (www.thebci.org) defines “BC” as “The capability of the organization to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident”, which has certainly been tested to the extreme in the current environment.

We started writing this article several weeks ago, just before the sudden and enormous impact of COVID-19 took hold, and now more than ever, the importance of organisational resilience and continuity planning is at the forefront of most people’s minds, however, the focus has now shifted for anyone involved in RPA.

When I first sat down to craft this article, the plan was to share our ideas for assessing automated processes in the context of business continuity in the event automated processes can’t run. For example, during system outages, disaster recovery, security compromises etc.

However, the world was a different place then, priorities and likely outcomes were varied but longer-term and more about ensuring the technology could still function.

The current situation means there is a real possibility of RPA stepping in where people are unable to.

If you’re new to RPA, read this blog first and watch the video there, which simply explains how RPA can help organisations.

We always ask clients to analyse business impact and continuity requirements for all process automations (and still do), but with the current crisis, the automations themselves are taking centre stage as pillars of organisational resilience and enablers of business continuity.

Where RPA helps to manage peaks and fluctuations more easily.

In addition to various measures taken to address the impact on the organisation when events like COVID-19 occur, RPA can be used very successfully to help craft and inform risk management strategies and business continuity plans.

For example:

  • Productivity continuity for key transactional tasks, relieving the burden on staff where volumes peak beyond what is physically manageable on a temporary or permanent basis.
  • Quickly adapt to ongoing changes in demand or behaviour in relation to major products, services, customers, suppliers and employees.
  • Effective and controlled transition to an online business model.
  • Improving customer experience by ensuring faster response and resolution times to queries.
  • Reducing the strain on networks by spreading workload and processing transactions during non-peak times or out-of-hours.
  • Alleviating dependencies on priority processing and workforce needs and providing a robust and rapid response to solve interim needs.
  • Adding greater resilience to the organisations business and operating models.

Where to start:

The scope of what’s possible in practice can be broad, with opportunities throughout the entire organisation, and is expected to be a continually evolving process.

This article is intended to provide some guidelines when developing an initial scope for RPA within a wider BC plan:

  1. The start point should be the enterprise business continuity plan or business impact analysis, which should identify a number of possible RPA opportunities at strategic, tactical and operational levels. For more information on how to do this, read our blog on this topic here.
  2. The next key step is to then define a suitable scope of automatable activities that impact or support essential products and services, taking workforce agility, locations, technologies, recovery timescales and disruption tolerance levels into account.
  3. For each of those processes, complete a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to ascertain the effects of a major incident or interruption, the loss on the operations of the organisation and the benefits gained from deploying automation. This could include certain staff becoming unavailable, or access to systems being restricted or compromised.
  4. Prioritise activities and processes which have a direct customer or public impact, and those which have a legal or regulatory requirement. Understand which would impact the income or cost of the organisation and then confirm the maximum acceptable outage for each. Explore the possible responses including workforce redeployment, acceptable outage limits as well as process automation.

What this all means for RPA:

The need to assess what happens if or when the robots are not able to operate is still required, but this is a much lower priority compared to providing essential business agility and resilience in the first instance.

After all, if a robotic process cannot run for a period of time, the impact of this downtime is typically more than offset by the gains from automating the process in the first place, and the speed with which backlogs are cleared when operation resumes.

We’re seeing an increase in companies realising the value of RPA within the current pandemic. Specifically, the ability for RPA to provide greater business resilience and truly embed business continuity into the processes and make-up of the organisation, aligned with business priorities.

Why not take a look at your own organisation? Consider current and future business challenges and risks, and consider how you might deploy RPA to mitigate those and enhance agility or at a minimum, help your workforce and customers by working through volumes of repetitive work. For practical COVID-19 RPA solutions and ideas check out UiPath Responding to COVID-19 Together and check out our “Furlough Bot” below, to automate the manual work to manage the HMRC Job Retention Scheme.

Webinar – How to Unlock RPA with Process Discovery

We partnered with Craig Willis, Customer Success Director at Skore, on a recent webinar to discuss the end-to-end process RPA development. This includes rapid process capture, identification of automation opportunities, building a business case and collaborating with business users to create the perfect automation projects.

Watch our 30-minute video here:

Once you’ve completed this webinar, why not take a look at our recent blog to understand how to identify a suitable process candidate for automation?

Webinar – Getting Started with RPA

We partnered with Craig Willis, Customer Success Director at Skore, on a recent webinar to discuss the steps to take when you want to get started with RPA.

Topics Include:

  • What is RPA?
  • Things to Avoid
  • RPA Operating Framework
  • How To Get Started
  • Prioritising
  • Things To Think About

Watch our 20-minute video here:

Once you’ve completed this webinar, why not take a look at our recent blog to understand how to identify a suitable process candidate for automation?

Identifying a Suitable Process Candidate for Automation

Before you start automating, it’s important to have your “why”, which determines the automation imperatives to select and prioritise your candidates. If you don’t have this yet, take a look at our earlier article here.

We like to begin the process of identifying suitable automation candidates with an RPA Immersion Workshop, where we gather a number of representatives from several departments from across the organisation. We introduce RPA, what it is, what it isn’t, the art of the possible and the proposed RPA programme for the company.

We also introduce the tools and techniques we’ll use to discover and assess likely candidates. We work through some examples of how to do this with the client, and then break out into groups to compile a number of possible ideas and candidates onto a pipeline.

For pure Robotic Process Automation (excluding more intelligent automation capabilities) the ideal candidates should initially:

  • Be High Volume (transactional) or High Value (time-consuming) activities
  • Deliver the defined benefits (per the organisation objectives) such as productivity, quality, customer experience, compliance, etc
  • Create tasks which are rule-based, and logic-driven
  • Use well-structured digital data
  • Ensure both the systems and process are generally mature and stable and therefore unlikely to change significantly

Ideal examples of RPA candidates involve activities where data is currently manually obtained, manipulated and/or entered into or transferred between applications, especially where integration is not readily available.

It’s advisable to avoid too much complexity initially if you have to, pick the “happy path” first, and work on more complex variations subsequently.

Those candidates that “qualify” these initial criteria are considered suitable for automation and can subject to a more detailed assessment to determine prioritisation for implementation.

The successful process candidates are then prioritised into a book of work and the necessary time and resources to develop and deploy them are planned out. 

The Future of Employees & RPA

Automation is transforming businesses and directly impacting bottom lines as a result of improved productivity, but it also can raise employees’ concerns about job security.

A Forrester Consulting study was commissioned by UiPath to evaluate the impact of automation and how firms are enabling better planning and preparedness for the future while still considering employee experience.

Click on our infographic below for more:

How RPA Increases IT Efficiency

Author: Christian Wedlock

RPA demands IT and business collaboration:

In our experience, most IT teams are still only beginning to understand how different it is to deploy contemporary intelligent process automation technologies, and how the role of IT and their relationship with their internal business customers’ needs to be much more collaborative, adaptive and dynamic to fully exploit these technological capabilities.

We’re also finding and proving that it’s more essential than ever to have an effective framework in place that supports and focuses on business objectives and enables the democratisation of key steps in the automation deployment lifecycle to avoid bottle-necking efficiency and speed.

A long-term IT infrastructure plan is crucial:

IT readiness is key. It’s important for IT to focus on the infrastructure primarily, not just what’s needed now, but in 12, 24, 48 months’ time, according to the roadmap and this ought to consider cloud and other emerging technological opportunities too.

Maintaining the RPA IT environments is also critical and relies on well-coordinated interaction with the business users to ensure system updates across multiple environments minimise disruption of robotic and operational effectiveness.

RPA lightens the load for IT:

The recent UiPath/Forrester paper highlights what I feel is a really important point; that RPA can truly lighten the load for IT, both in supporting technology-led business process innovations and reducing the daily workload for IT. We’ve seen several practical benefits/examples of this, for instance: IT has been using scripts for years to automate hardware monitoring and maintenance and onboarding / offboarding in multiple systems, but many are still being run by humans, driven by numerous IT service tickets. Whereas RPA can be used to effectively reduce this burden and remove the human in the loop, and at the same time provide a faster more tailored service to the business.

Once the IT organisation does indeed see how beneficial RPA can be to the business, they’re often very enthusiastic to implement it, however, this can lead to issues if IT assumes ownership for the RPA programme and attempts to fit the programme within more traditional policies and practices. With the appropriate governance in place, RPA allows lasting but quick results.

Using RPA to optimise data storage:

Another common example we see for RPA to lighten the load for IT is in optimising the use of data stored in bespoke and often home-grown legacy systems, which can create a lifetime of knowledge-dependent maintenance, especially if those systems need to be modified to meet changing business needs. RPA is a perfect solution to meet changing needs and customer demands for true reusability, without lengthy integrations.

Where the challenges lie:

The biggest challenge we still see in deploying RPA is the infrastructure set-up, and there are a few possible reasons for this:

  • Some IT professionals are initially dismissive of RPA as basic screen scraping technology and aren’t that interested, or they occasionally see RPA as a threat too, but it needn’t be that way. Read our recent UiPath Case Study here.
  • POCs have long been the starting point for RPA, however, the technology is generally well proven from a technical standpoint and if the initial discovery work is completed adequately, the infrastructure environments are best set-up as they mean to continue with full deployment scalability.
  • What critically improves the time to deploy, is clearly understanding the requirements, accepting that they are simple, but different, so reading technical documentation and undertaking on-demand training can really help, but involving IT professionals who can assume responsibility for the end-to-end set-up cycle is also beneficial, and ideally people who understand the existing eco-structure properly really helps.
  • Ultimately however, it boils down to how much of a strategic enabler and business partner role IT provides to the business, as this determines the effectiveness and success of the working relationship and success of RPA.

IT policies are another critical area where change and collaboration are essential. In practice, most IT policies didn’t anticipate RPA when they were created and so some adaptation and tweaks will be required to work properly, examples include: Release Control; Maintenance and Upgrade; System Access Controls; Password Management; Segregation of Duties; Logs and Logging. 

We’ve observed examples where more traditional approaches to technology deployment can stifle the speed and effectiveness of an RPA programme, so it’s important to be open to new ways of working. But, there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel and develop brand new frameworks, there are plenty of proven RPA operating models already that will suffice and can be implemented with minimal adaptation.

Finally, IT must engage with the business, as they’ll be the ones interacting with the automation on a daily basis, not IT, in order to deliver on business objectives.

You can download the Forrester Report here.

Christian is co-founder and Technology Director at Lawrence & Wedlock.

How should you begin your RPA Journey?

Two common questions we hear a great deal are: “How to start an RPA journey” and “How to scale an RPA journey”. Strangely, the answer, in part at least, to both is actually very similar… engagement!

Start at the beginning:

First steps in RPA should always start small, with a restricted group of participants, as you very much need to walk before you can run. Have a clear understanding of “Why” you want to use RPA, and what outcomes you are looking to achieve, and in what areas of the business.

Once that’s agreed, you should then look to select potential candidates to help you meet these essential first priorities. Don’t focus too much on the technology side of RPA either, look to develop and deploy with collaboration from both the business and IT, but agree on expectations upfront. With an easy to use platform such as UiPath, business users can quickly get to grips with the process and it saves time overall.

As you scale out further you should plan to work with a broader group of people, but still maintain the best practices established at the beginning.

What that looks like in practice:

For a recent, large scale gambling organisation, we ran an RPA Immersion Workshop, where we assembled an all-star cast from across the business. Various departments, functional areas and physical locations were represented, including HR, Finance, Operations and IT. This is a great way to get everyone excited about the possibilities that RPA offers.

When we start, we show this video:

It’s a great tool for dispelling RPA myths and getting everyone in the right frame of mind.

“I really thought robots were about taking away jobs, but now see that it’s a cool way to free us and work smarter”

Time for the big questions:

Why are we here? Running through the reasons that the organisation has decided that RPA is a good choice, gets people bought in.

Then we jump straight in, show a demo of a bot in action, managing a process that everyone is familiar with, perhaps responding to and processing emails to a generic account such as hr@client.com.

 As soon as that’s done, we get everyone to roll up their sleeves and start joining in to answer, “how do we know what makes a good candidate”. People really love this part, and soon everyone is jumping in with suggestions and ideas, it really lifts the energy.

People are always amazed at the possibilities RPA can offer for their departments and often aren’t aware of how much RPA can do. Whether it’s answering web queries, processing documents received via email, handling job applications, closing accounts or handling benefits queries, RPA is incredibly versatile.

So many opportunities to free up our staff from mundane, time-consuming drudgery work”

And finally, we get them to build a bot so they can see for themselves how it works. By directly applying it to the ideas they brought with them (We always ask them to bring three), adding some details and quantifying where possible they quickly see the results for themselves.

One example of a process that got the company really excited was that bots could be deployed to actually enhance how we interact and engage with our customers and supply chain directly and sell our services, which would not only improve customer experience, but also our margins…switching the outcome from operational efficiency to competitive advantage was a true eye-opener for our client.

What’s next?

Well, led by the business users, you’ll need to take that knowledge gained to analyse and prioritise further processes in order to plan the scaling out of RPA over time. And that’s exciting!