Automation is sweeping across the corporate landscape, with many companies expecting to use RPA in most or all of their functions within two years.
Every company that’s currently using robotic process automation and aware of the key issues around it will be using more RPA before long.
Does that sound like an extreme statement? Not according to a new survey by consulting firm Protiviti. Each of the 450 participating companies — all of which use and profess to be at least “knowledgeable” about RPA — said they plan to expand their use of the technology over the next two years.
Within that same time frame, companies Protivitihas identified as “RPA leaders” — approximately one-third of the survey base — will be using bots in virtually every organizational function.
“RPA leaders are making this technology an important component of sleek and agile operations that will fortify their market positions,” the survey report says. “In functions ranging from IT management to sales and business development, RPA leaders are using the technology to drive efficiencies, boost speed-to-market, and bolster financial performance.”
The most aggressive current spending on RPA — an average 0.18% of annual revenue — is occurring in the broad technology-telecommunications-media sector, according to the survey. Next are financial services (0.12%), consumer products/retail (0.11%), health care (0.10%), manufacturing/distribution (0.05%), and energy/utilities (0.03%).
However, Protiviti notes, lower RPA adoption in some industries may not be attributable to lagging. Rather, “organizations that are more advanced in terms of digital operations and capabilities may have less need for RPA, because they already have high levels of automation in place.”
While early use cases for robotic process automation often were aimed at cost-cutting, in Protiviti’s survey that was actually the least-cited benefit of the technology in each of the six industry groupings.
Reduced cost was cited as the most important benefit by 8% of companies Protiviti classified as “beginners,” but only 1% of those categorized as “intermediates” or “leaders.”
Nonetheless, companies do expect bots to reduce costs. Depending on the industry, from 77% to 94% of survey respondents said they expect a positive cost impact within two years.
Ranked overall as the most important benefits of RPA, in order, were increased productivity, better quality, stronger competitive market position, higher customer satisfaction, greater speed, greater employee satisfaction from the elimination of mundane tasks, improved compliance, fewer errors, and higher revenue generation.
How does RPA help generate revenue?
“Eliminating a few hours of administrative work for executives can allow more time for generating and implementing new ideas,” the survey report says. “Moreover, RPA can be used to increase the frequency and amount of data reported to managers. These improvements can boost a company’s ability to respond quickly to market changes.”
However, for all the positives, RPA adoption is hardly a snap. Forty percent of the survey participants said they’re concerned about the cybersecurity of RPA applications. The same proportion said they’re struggling to prioritize potential initiatives.
Other concerns, all mentioned by between 24% and 37% of respondents, included high implementation costs, difficulty in scaling applications, making a convincing business case, difficulty in deciding on best applications, aversion to risk, and limited skills/talent.
Protiviti offered some counsel that highlighted lessons learned by companies that are most advanced in their use of RPA:
Start with processes that are simple to automate. “All eyes will be on the early efforts, so organizations should start with processes that are straightforward and where RPA is highly likely to add significant value.”
Make processes as efficient as possible before automating them. “Getting the best out of RPA is about process optimization and transformation. A manual process full of inefficiencies will simply become an inefficient automated process, canceling out much of the potential gain.”
Make sure to use the right tools for the processes within the enterprise. “Processes may be very complex, which business leaders might not realize at the outset of implementing RPA. Automating a process may require more than RPA. For example, optical character recognition or natural language processing software may be needed to handle all the variability in a process.”
Consider the scalability of the application. “Companies often don’t know how many bots have been deployed, much less how they work or where they are in use. When adoption starts at a local business or functional level, as is often the case, the applications cannot be used by anyone else. As a result, organizations often struggle to scale RPA applications and manage them on a single platform.”
Assess and address up front any cybersecurity and data privacy risks. “To keep bots secure, the initial development of each application, as well as any changes, must be documented. Each application should have an audit trail showing how it was built and by whom, what it does, and who made any changes.”
Make sure to purchase the right software. “Companies often make hasty decisions assuming that all RPA software perform the same. In practice, different platforms take very different approaches to automating processes and behave differently with the technologies with which they are interacting.”
Plan and budget for ongoing maintenance. “RPA applications often mimic a multitude of human keystrokes and computer operations. Even a very small change, such as renaming a database field, can cause the application to break down…. Many companies also underestimate the need for resources, both functional and technical, required to support an RPA environment.”
Track the value of each application beyond efficiencies and cost savings. “Businesses should track improvements in productivity, quality, and speed. They should also assess improvements in employee engagement and customer satisfaction.”