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.

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.

The bots are already here, time to Reskill & Redeploy?

For those employees who have embraced change and freed themselves from the drudgery of robotic tasks, how are they now exploiting the benefits of process automation and adjusting to life with bots?

Less is written about what happens after the initial phases of RPA; after the pilot has gone live and a handful more processes deployed, what are the results and the impacts, especially on the people. How and what happens in practice…do they feel empowered and free? or threatened and bored? Everyone will no doubt have a unique experience, but here are some of our insights and observations from our ongoing projects over the last eighteen months.

Creation of New Roles & Responsibilities

Excluding the more obvious RPA specific roles if you happen to be building an internal RPA team or centre of expertise, there are a few critically important new skills developing within the operational teams, which are essential to the automation-first era and the scaling of the RPA programme more broadly across the organisation.

RPA Process Coordinator

RPA process coordination involves the day-to-day ownership of automated processes, performed by people who really understand the business process, provide and receive inputs or outputs, manage exceptions or errors and invoke process contingency plans when needed. They also provide the first line of support to help understand and diagnose any issues with the robot, applications or operating environment.

These process coordinator tasks are being incorporated into existing process teams, with responsibility shared between resources to ensure adequate cover and continuity across all automated processes. Training is provided to all coordinators on how new automated processes work, how to access and navigate the RPA tools and how to deploy automations correctly in accordance with release control policies. An additional benefit is that the process coordinators begin to examine and consider processes in a new light, with an automation-first perspective, and pretty soon, more automation candidates are proposed as a result.

RPA Specialist

Also termed Citizen Developers, are business users empowered and enabled to identify and develop basic automations for processes directly within their control.

RPA Specialist skills can vary from the very basic to the very technical. In practice, operational and business users are the very best people to identify task and process candidates for automation, and if they have access to the right tools (ease of use!), they can capture the process and provide the data required to assess suitability. More complex areas can be handed over to higher-skilled specialists to more sophisticated develop solutions.

These higher-skilled RPA specialists are also providing an invaluable service to the business by developing ready-made, fully tested, reusable automation components, which are being utilised by the citizen business users to automate processes faster but robustly and aid the RPA programme to scale more effectively.

Upskilling

With reduced manual task based work, where time has genuinely been freed up, business users are finding room in their working day for more important or value-adding activities, some real examples being:

  • Analysis, interpretation & investigation, less time consumed with the production or processing of data, and more time dedicated to review and interpret results, which in turn has meant more timely or informed decision-making
  • Handling true and legitimate exceptions and responding more timely to customers has improved customer journeys and overall contributed to reducing exceptions and standardising processes
  • Expanded scope of work to include activities that previously weren’t performed at all or simply not adequately due to time constraints, which provided greater control and reduced risk
  • Take on new tasks and objectives following internal reorganisations from company acquisitions or mergers and also from regulatory changes which forced a change to processes and a significant increase in workload

The Future of Work

Rather than replacing jobs, so far we’ve seen an overwhelming augmentation of jobs through automation of tasks, but it makes us think about what will be the likely future for the workplace, and importantly, how will people need to prepare for the changes and affects. UiPath alone reports over 360,000 students and over 20,000 certified developers registered, so a new breed of skilled automation-savvy employees are well and truly on the rise.

With an increase in human-in-the-loop automations and the growing trend toward democratised Citizen Developers, the workplace of the future could perhaps be one where employees and robots (or “cobots” as they’ve been called – see also UiPath’s Guy Kirkwood post) will more seamlessly work together, with programmable tasks performed by the bots leaving employees to focus on more social and human-based activity.

So future workplace skills to become far more important will hopefully include those relying on more complex human attributes, those involving emotional intelligence, people management and social skills, creativity and collaboration, but in addition, the skills to understand how to interact with our automated collaborative co-workers.

What if you had more time?

So, if you had more free time at work or worked less overtime in the evenings or weekends as a result of collaborative robotic process automations, what would you do with it?

  • Build more effective social relationships with colleagues or customers
  • Invest in your personal or professional learning and development
  • Provide support to help others
  • Work on longer-term projects to improve further

What would you do, out of these? Or do you have any better suggestions?

5 Steps To Maximise RPA Success

RPA Definitely!…But What’s Your Why?

In this article we outline five key steps and our recommendations for any RPA journey to help maximise your chances of success:

  1. Clear objectives and priorities
  2. IT infrastructure
  3. Process Management
  4. Business Case
  5. Operating Framework

Read the full article here:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-steps-maximise-success-rpa-daniel-lawrence/