5 Reasons RPA Should be on Your Agenda

While SSON's 2016 global survey showed an incredible disregard for robotic process automation [RPA], if you get four or more practitioners around the table, chances are they will be speaking of nothing else today.

I say that, having just attended our North American flagship event with more than 800 attendees, where the buzz both on stage as well as in the exhibition hall was driven by automation. But while automation itself is nothing new, the innovation we are seeing is the ability to connect multiple steps at the user interface level (without that "user"). The name change has also positioned RPA within the wider context of belonging to the next wave of digital disruption. The technologies of robotics and AI will play an integral role in what is being termed the "Fourth Industrial Revolution".

More importantly, perhaps, the hesitation that we have seen over the past two years is finally evaporating and we are seeing multiple examples of organizations enthusiastically deploying robotic process automation as an effective "fix".

So here are five reasons to join the movement:

1. It's not about job losses

One idea that's been fairly unpopular, despite the improved cost implications, is that of replacing rooms full of people with a lone, mechanical robot. And while on the purely transactional side this opportunity is very real, practitioner after practitioner reinforces the fact that it's not about cutting jobs, but about doing more value adding work in those jobs. Anyone who manages a harassed team will immediately see the benefit: remove the transactional and focus on the more intelligent work that really makes a difference to your clients.

2. Build capacity without adding FTEs

Here is, perhaps, the most exciting thing about robotics. It's allowing shared services to scale up, whether geographically, by adding more customers, or offering more services, without adding the complexity of recruiting, training, and managing hordes of new employees. The beauty of RPA is that it can leverage enormous increases in scale without a single extra person.

3. You control a virtual workforce

Hosts of processes are being automated across the spectrum of HR or F&A services: from offer letters (see this year's SSON Award winner, EMC) to P2P to R2R. Improved straight-through processing (STP) is just one benefit. But "control" is a key win, in that shared services are now in control of their own Virtual Workforce, which they own and manage (and they own the IP). Think about what this means for your ability to manage governance, security, and business continuity.

4. It's easy to buy (!)

The adoption rate of RPA has been gaining momentum over the past two to three years largely due to the increasing attention it has received from tier one consulting firms, and from the increase in IT vendors providing RPA solutions through more sophisticated software. I can tell you from first hand experience (the exhibition hall at our North American event, last week) that most vendors or providers you already are working with, or are speaking to, will have incorporated, by now, an element of robotics into their solutions. So all you need to do is ask!

5. It has the potential to "learn"

One of the characteristics of this automation technology is that it has the capacity to learn. What this means is that whereas exceptions were previously escalated to humans, RPA technology has the ability to identify keywords and trends and adapt its responses appropriately. So, no matter where you apply RPA, the benefits of extending its reach to what was previously considered "value add" work are significant.