Common RPA myths
There are many important things to note when considering going through the RPA journey and trying to identify processes for automation. For example, if a process is rule-based and has high frequency, it might be a good candidate for automation (see Robovirgin’s guide for process selection criteria). But some organizations stray from the path to success due to false expectations and sometimes – certain myths and misconceptions. This can be caused by lack of general understanding about what RPA is and how to use it (You can find a short explanation on what RPA is in our first blog post).
That is why it is crucial to clarify some things that are often misunderstood by business users. The myths listed below and the explanations added to each of them should help everyone interested in RPA get a better idea about how to embark on a successful journey. It is highly important, however, that this information is not only read by the person responsible for RPA. Top management and all the employees should also be introduced to it because, otherwise, misplaced hopes, fears and myths could negatively impact the reputation of RPA within the organization even before it is adopted.
At Robovirgin, we preach and practice an organic RPA philosophy. What this means, among other things, is that the overall success of RPA adoption depends not only on tech but also on people and their sentiments towards automation tools. Successful technological progress is impossible without positive contributions to workplace happiness. That’s why it is so important dispel the most common RPA-related myths. We will discuss six of them.
- Robots will Replace Humans
This myth is popular among lower tier employees who perform tasks that are fit for automation. Top management normally does not think about it (unless they actually expect to reduce headcount via automation). People tend to be afraid of losing their jobs when their main tasks and responsibilities are routine manual work that does not require a lot of cognitive functionalities. This is also related to some other popular mini-myths that feed this major myth:
- Physical robots (humanoids) are used for process automation;
- Every process can be automated;
- RPA works around the clock with no supervision, support and maintenance.
Some of these ideas originate from modern science fiction. It is important to understand, however, that these are all myths. RPA solutions are not created to replace humans. These solutions are here to automate specific tasks in order to achieve very specific goals (e.g. process large volumes of operations, eliminate errors, improve data security, etc.). By ‘employing’ a Robovirgin robot, organizations are rarely seeking to lay off their personnel. What usually happens is the opposite: employees start working on tasks that are more meaningful, and the overall workplace happiness increases.
For example, finance and accounting specialists can do less data entry (which is often boring) and more data analysis or higher quality assistance to top management. Sales representatives no longer have to work on preparing contracts, update customer data in CRM systems or prepare sales reports, but instead can focus on finding and retaining new customers, improving customer relations, etc.
RPA is not a perfect tool that can automate everything. McKinsey estimates that less than 5% of all jobs can be fully automated at this point. But then a further 60% involve activities around 30% of which can be automated. This means that there are very few people that could actually be replaced by robots in their jobs. But there are quite a few that can have their jobs (and their satisfaction levels) improved by automating processes.
- Process automation = Process improvement
RPA solutions are designed to automate processes. But if there is one thing that we tell each of our clients it is that every process needs to be reviewed and improved to be efficient prior to attempting automation. If your current processes are done in an unorderly fashion, you are not quite ready for RPA. Because the robot will simply recreate the chaos by doing the operations faster but still doing them wrong. What’s more, unlike a real person, the robot will not understand that mistakes are being made because it will be simply following the rules (the wrong ones).
What this means is that process optimization and standardization must precede robotic process automation. That’s why, in the beginning of relationship with a new client, we ask and help to review the processes and to codify the good practices relating to how the process should actually be done. Once we are sure that the process is conducted in the most efficient manner possible, we can proceed with automation and get optimal results.
- RPA is only good for cost reductions
Automating processes can definitely bring significant benefits cost-wise. And it shouldn’t necessarily come in the form of headcount reductions – costs can also be reduced due to higher product quality and reduced error rates (meaning lower re-work and warranty costs), greater agility and faster processing (meaning lower costs related to seasonality, and re-training after organizational changes), etc. However, this is not always the main reason to go on the RPA journey. An earlier blog post already described the benefits a business can achieve via automation. But repeating is the mother of learning, so here is what process automation means:
- Greater productivity due to the capacity to work around the clock,
- Increased efficiency, because tasks are initiated instantly and are completed much faster with no human errors,
- Improved customer experience via high quality service,
- Higher quality of products and services,
- Standard, predictable and easy-to-audit processes, as they are always performed in the same rule-based manner,
- The ability to scale easily as additional robots are simple and cheap to deploy when needed, which leads to human employees being able to focus on more value-adding activities,
- Smoother control of business cycles due to advanced robot and workload management,
- Improved employee satisfaction because of more interesting tasks and the opportunities to learn new things,
and a lot of other benefits that can sometimes bring much more value to the business than cost reductions.
- Only large companies can afford RPA
Business process automation obviously has its price. First, there are RPA software licenses that need to be purchased. Then there are some additional costs related to hardware and software required to create the necessary environment for the robots to run (such as dedicated computers or virtual machines, operating system licenses, robot user accounts and their email, MS Office and other software licenses, etc.). There are also likely to be some consultancy required in the beginning which comes at some extra cost. And then finally, depending on the path an organization decides to take (whether its training internal employees, hiring new staff or outsourcing the services from a service provider), there are the development and maintenance costs. All of this can make RPA look like an expensive endeavour that only large organizations can afford.
That’s not true, however. At Robovirgin, we specialize in serving SMB, and we help them feel completely safe about their first RPA investments. Our experience shows that SMB’s get their money back quickly and, having reaped the benefits from the first projects, are usually eager to continue their RPA adventure.
The truth is that RPA implementation comes with an investment that is quite insignificant when compared to the usual alternatives – hiring extra employees, business process management systems (BPMS) or business process outsourcing. A software robot may cost anywhere between 1/9 and 1/3 of an annual salary of a full-time employee (depending on the choice of software and the deployment service provider). A robot, however, will work around the clock with no breaks, sick leaves, weekends, holidays, etc. It is thus calculated that a single minute of an RPA solution running should be valued as roughly 15-20 minutes of human time.
Our experiences at Robovirgin show that most SMB’s enjoy a super-healthy 300-800 % ROI after just one year.
- RPA is only applicable to some industries
There is a very popular misconception that processes can only be automated in companies that operate in some very specific fields, such as II or financial services. The fact of the matter is that almost any rule-based process that runs on a computer can be automated. And pretty much any organization has processes like that regardless of its size or industry.
This myth is likely fed by the fact that the early adopters of RPA for internal process automation were banks and other financial institutions. While RPA has definitely proven its worth in this field, more and more organizations from different industries have been reaping the fruits of process automation during the past few years. This includes companies in IT, healthcare, manufacturing, shipping and logistics, retail and wholesale etc. Some of these industries have very specific processes that can be automated (e.g. claims processing in insurance, loans processing in banks, handling patient data in healthcare, etc.). But most of them actually have processes that apply to multiple industries, such as issuing invoices, calculating salaries and wages, generating periodic reports, processing customer orders, etc.
This has also been proven by our own experience. Robovirgin clients come from very different fields and industries, including engineering and consultancy, manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, etc. And when we do work with these companies, we do not just automate processes in a single department. We generally go company-wide and automate all sorts of processes in various departments, such as finance and accounting, IT, sales, procurement, logistics, production, QA, etc. We can thus safely say that RPA can bring huge benefits and competitive advantages to players in pretty much every industry there is.
- Processes can be automated without involving IT
Most RPA software vendors brag about how anyone can use their products nowadays. RPA software is generally created in a way to seem like it is very user-friendly and easy to use, so that people who have no programming experience could, in theory, use it with no help from IT professionals. This is true to some extent – it is indeed quite easy to automate a simple process. But in order to create a solution that lasts and is stable, it needs to at least follow certain rules and practices:
- Advanced exception handling must be in place to make sure it does not break down or cause errors;
- The solutions must be as universal as possible to retain stability when systems and other software changes;
- Sensitive data must be encrypted and secure;
- The most efficient means and procedures must be used for data input, processing and output, IT infrastructure, etc.;
- Separate automation flows must be created in a way that it is easy to control, manage and adjust, when there are changes in the IT infrastructure and systems;
- It must be clear and simple for the end users to use these solutions and handle situations not only when everything works fine, but also when things go wrong.
What’s also crucial to understand is that most business processes that are good candidates for automation are obviously much more complex than simply opening an MS Excel spreadsheet and typing in a few figures. Thus, experience and understanding of IT infrastructure, best practices for automation, and the ability to employ existing assets and resources within the organization are indispensable. Otherwise, when a person lacking professional expertise is developing an RPA solution, it is very likely that the initiative will end prematurely and without ever reaching any actual milestones or benefits for the business. Or it might end up becoming a huge headache that can only be solved by third parties.
At Robovirgin, we know how difficult and sensitive first-time RPA projects can be. We recommend you leave such projects to the pros.
It is true, however, that RPA solutions are normally developed quickly and rather easily, without any complex system integrations or changes in the existing infrastructure. The promise of a smoothness experience, however, sometimes creates a wrong expectation that RPA developers can do it all alone without involving local IT. But that is also a very faulty practice. The internal (or outsourced) IT do not have to manage RPA implementation or own the project. Neither does the developer team must come from the IT department. But co-operation with IT is a must because local IT professionals are in charge of all necessary hardware and software, user rights, databases, etc. And so, instead of avoiding IT, much better results are achieved when IT is involved in the RPA journey.
Some clients may not exactly like this because the idea of avoiding IT (for one reason or another) is usually one of the selling points for RPA. Likewise, IT people have also sometimes been known to oppose RPA for their own reasons. However, with the help of good internal communication and change management, both sides of this mini-conflict usually end up very happy with the results of a successful co-operation. And the solutions created are indeed long-lasting and stable. Also, the IT department (once they witness the miracle of RPA) often also finds some internal manual and mundane administrative processes to automate.
Away with Myths
The myths described above are the most popular ones. There are, of course, more of them. There are always people who are sceptical, afraid of changes or simply misguided. This leads to false beliefs that, when not addressed properly, may put a halt to any improvement.
At Robovirgin, we see it as our mission not only to be great at RPA, but also to be great at explaining RPA to everyone who will be impacted by it. Because, without understanding and acceptance, no improvement will be sustainable. When both the top management and the lower tier staff understand that robots will not take their jobs, that RPA solutions are really not that expensive and come with benefits to companies of all shapes and sizes, then the RPA journey is smooth and the end results are amazing. Even if it’s your first time.