A guide to your first RPA experience

October 05, 2021

We often say that it is possible to automate any rule-based process that runs on a computer. If a process does not require creativity or the human factor, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technologies enable automating it. Every business can easily find such processes internally. It may thus seem that the possibilities of RPA are limitless. However, RPA is not always the best option. Our experience at Robovirgin has helped us to create a simple framework for identifying processes that are indeed worth automating. We can easily evaluate every process, and help you make a decision by following a few simple rules. What follows, therefore, is a guide for SMBs looking to take their first steps in the world of robotic process automation.

Identifying RPA Opportunities

What is the easiest way to identify processes that are worth automating? The most important point here is a good understanding of the process. This is obvious and you might think there is no need to point that out. However, organizations often try to jump into the RPA train blindly without truly understanding their internal processes. We often encounter situations where clients have no internal resources responsible for the standardization, improvement and control of their processes. That’s why we sometimes joke about how 5 people who do the same task will eventually create 10 different ways of doing it. Just like all good jokes, this one originates from the reality.

In addition to that, top management usually makes the decision to automate a process. However, the people at the top are usually only familiar with the theory behind how their processes ‘should’ work rather than the practice of what the flows are actually like in reality. That is why we always encourage our clients to standardize and optimize their processes first. Robovirgin experts can help you with that. This ends up being a very positive side-effect of the RPA initiative. Business processes are not only automated, but also improved to an extent where they are as effective as possible. Without proper process optimization, process automation is a futile exercise.

That’s why you need a process expert internally for your RPA initiative, or you should require your RPA implementation to provide the expertise.

Understand, Understand and Understand

It is, however, not possible to improve and standardize a process without having a general understanding of it. The ability to see the big picture and understand what internal processes contribute to it is essential. If it is not there, the client usually encounters one of the following two problems:

  1. automating the wrong processes, or
  2. wasting too much time trying to reproduce the correct flow of the process.

For example, one of the classic use cases for RPA is processing customer orders (a.k.a. Order To Cash or OTC). Automating this process can generate amazing returns because it:

  1. Has high volumes;
  2. Has high frequencies;
  3. A lot of manual work is needed;
  4. The work is rule-based and standard in most cases;
  5. Customers are more satisfied, when their orders are processed quickly.

However, in a B2B environment, customer orders are often very different and each customer follows their own way of ordering goods or services. It may be a plain text email, a call on the phone, a PDF document or something else. From the point of view of a software robot, each different type of order is a separate process. And so, it is obvious that automating the whole OTC process could be beneficial to the business. But the development cost of the solution increases exponentially because of different templates for each customer. In such cases, it is worth considering if a different process – one that’s more standard – could work better for your first RPA experience.

Is it Worth Automating?

Again – you can automate any rule-based process. The real question is “should you do it?”. Based on our experience at Robovirgin we created a simple framework that we use to evaluate each process. It helps identify the processes to automate, as well as set priorities and decide what to automate first.

These are the key criteria:

  1. Is the volume of operations to process high?
  2. Do you perform the task frequently?
  3. Is the possibility of human error high?
  4. Is the process flow predictable?
  5. Can exceptions and their handling be described in rules?
  6. Is the task manual and monotonous?
  7. Is it important to perform the task quickly or during non-working hours?
  8. Does the task involve sensitive data?
  9. Does the task use structured data?
  10. Is the process mature and stable?
  11. Can you measure savings?

When starting to work with new clients who are ready to lose their RPA virginity, we often ask them to do a simple exercise. We identify the processes to automate, and we ask the client to put each process through the 11 question test. The more positive answers to these questions, the higher the benefit of automating a particular process.

The test, of course, doesn’t tell the whole truth. In the end, everything depends on your organization’s objectives. You may have unique problems that you should address before anything else. For example, you may find it is necessary to:

  1. perform tasks even if “the responsible person is gone” (e.g. backups of files and documents or preparing an important periodic report);
  2. execute tasks outside of your normal working hours (e.g. preparing an inventory and production report and sending it to procurement before they come to work);
  3. react immediately and without delay (e.g. reacting to customer inquiries and processing them quickly, instead of “when the account manager has time”).

These and similar processes are related to a secondary and a lot less marketed business value of RPA solutions. This value is harder to measure (because these benefits do not result in easy-to-measure data like the reduction of human resources cost). But if such specific automation improvements are your priority, there’s nothing wrong with starting your RPA adventure with them.

Does One Size Fit it All?

Any organization can definitely use the criteria above as a starting point for identifying RPA opportunities. The same shoe, however, doesn’t fit every foot. Every business is unique and special in its own way with different internal processes, long-term goals and short-term priorities.

Every RPA journey is thus a new adventure. Unfortunately, however, if RPA first-timers choose a wrong RPA service provider, their adventure may not have a pleasant ending. Statistics show that 3 out of 5 SMBs fail in their first RPA attempts.

At Robovirgin, we specialize in making sure that your first time (the most sensitive one and the most difficult one from a psychological standpoint) is a success. We have extensive experience in guiding others through this special journey, and have an excellent track record working with SMBs. First-time clients are especially appreciative of our triple combo commitment strategy involving easy-to-measure ROI, fast pay off and risk prevention.

Contact us now for your smoothness first-time RPA experience.