Your Biggest Pain Points: Speed of Change
Why and how robotics solves this – and why ‘now’ is the right time to try RPA
Delays may make it attractive to create short-term manual "workarounds" until the final process improvements can be fully completed. However, this can lead to diverting people from their "real jobs" to fill these gaps or hiring more FTEs. And the more manual workarounds are introduced, the higher the risk of noncompliance and/or human error.
Kevin Mowles, Head of Business Support at Leeds Building Society, has found a solution: Robotic Process Automation.
Still too many "unknowns" in RPA's early days
When Kevin was first introduced to RPA three years ago, its potential was clear but the product needed more development. "In the early days of robotics, there were still many unknowns so financial institutions like ours had reason to be cautious," he explains. Many early adopters, in fact, implemented RPA outside the realm of IT, using operations budgets and managing the implementations themselves, a scenario risk-averse financial institutions were not comfortable with.
Over the last three years, however, robotic solutions have evolved considerably, incorporating and supporting audit trails and based on more robust frameworks, which are more easily recognised and governable by IT. In addition, leading analysts like Gartner and Everest Group have recognised RPA as relevant and reliable solutions.
"What was still very much a niche market, only 18 months ago, is today exploding," said Kevin.
Kevin introduced the first RPA pilot to Leeds Building Society 15 months ago, which swiftly moved through a technical proof of concept stage and was then launched onto three medium-sized processes, all reflecting different levels of interactions within the enterprise: manual, digital and web feeds. The benefits were so swift and positive that Kevin has just rolled out the 14th live process in just 15 months.
He says: "Bearing in mind that speed of change was our main challenge, the options, in the past, were either to request core system changes, or an internal IT fix. The former can take between nine to 18 months because of the complexity, and IT development typically three to six months. Now, RPA presents a third option, whereby from start to finish a project can go live in just four to eight weeks. The benefit for our operation has been huge."
RPA does not replace core system upgrades or changes, Kevin is quick to point out. In fact, he is expecting extensive system updates to become effective within 12 months, some of which will make the current RPA "fixes" redundant.
"But the benefits and advantages we gained in this time are well worth it, from every perspective," he says. "The fact that some robotic fixes don’t have longevity is not a concern. The advantages we reap during their implementation period, in terms of process throughput and working hours saved, more than offset that cost."
The biggest win, Kevin says, is the increased speed of change which can be leveraged through RPA.
"Even a robotic fix that is in effect for only a year or two has an impact and saving far beyond its implementation cost, especially when you bear in mind the relatively short implementation timeframe," explains Kevin.
Will the 'bot bring down the company?
A common concern expressed by naysayers is that while robotics can automate efficiencies very quickly, what if they go rogue and ‘automate’ mistakes exponentially? Kevin is quick to point out that, managed correctly, this simply is not possible.
"RPA is now a mature product with well-defined controls, segregation of responsibilities, clear audit trails and a robust infrastructure. In addition, 'bots are virtual so no-one else can use their sign-on permissions. Procedures for reporting exceptions are clearly set out and very robust. As late adopters, so to speak, we have benefited from the developments over the past couple of years. Robotics is now an incredible opportunity for all organisations."
Fitting into the IT landscape
While in the early days operations often managed and implemented RPA alone, many prefer IT involvement. For IT departments, however, the idea of having to support a burgeoning array of robotic implementations might just be the stuff of nightmares. One advantage and beauty of ‘bots is that the interface is exactly how and where a temp, or a fully-trained employee, would carry out a given process.
Kevin explains: "That means we only use the existing IT architecture and replicate, exactly, the existing use of human resources. For IT, this provides enormous reassurance as, from an IT governance perspective, the user interface does not change."
To ensure security and control over the new "virtual" resources, the Society’s business support has built a strong governance team tasked with guiding, monitoring, and regulating the robotic elements of its workforce. This team includes representatives from audit, financial crime, data governance, IT infrastructure, risk, and operation support.
"Between us, we set and implement the policy with regards to RPA use in-house," explains Kevin. "As a financial institution, I cannot over-emphasise the importance of managing any risk when it comes to our processes. Our processes tend to be very prescriptive but it is precisely this which allows us to adopt robotic solutions so easily. We simply replicate existing controls. The key thing is that we are not just purchasing an IT tool; these are virtual resources guided by a robust implementation and management process, and IT is involved in their governance from the design stage onwards."
In this respect Kevin believes that today’s implementers have an advantage over the RPA pioneers who tended to introduce robotics as a sort of shadow IT department, at least until the concept was proven. "Today’s solutions mean we can introduce robotics within the relevant IT and workflow guidelines from the start."
It’s about getting back to the main job (#eliminatescopecreep)
In speaking to organisations that already have experience with robotics, the overwhelming majority cite no job losses. In fact, time after time, it's the ability to scale up or grow capability without adding FTEs that is a key element.
Kevin makes an even more compelling argument: "One of the challenges I found was that many of my colleagues were spending far too much time doing work that was never originally meant to be in their job description as a result of manual intervention required as a workaround. Manual workarounds became more common and the business need for change was significantly shorter than the timescale for implementing a change through core systems. What we found, therefore, was that our colleagues were burdened by working on temporary fixes as opposed to managing the process itself. Implementing robotics has allowed us to get back to the original intent of the role: providing relevant and appropriate service to our business peers."
In addition, the Society has experienced a period of sustained growth which places pressure on physical space, and the option of simply adding more desks and people is not always an easy solution. Robotics means that growth can be supported as colleagues are released from repetitive tasks to focus on more value-adding activities.
As robotic solutions have evolved from their early days, more and more organisations are finding that RPA is becoming an excellent fit to bridge the performance gaps that are emerging as digitalisation pushes the front end of the business beyond the capability of the ERP-based back-end. Leeds Building Society’s Business Support team has embraced RPA as another enabler for driving up the speed of change as it supports the organisation.