Do you need a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to expensive customer service staff? There’s a bot for that. How about the tedious and time-consuming task of analyzing reams of legal documentation? No problem; there’s a bot for that. And as for complex HR or financial compliance issues – well, you’ve guessed it.

While some businesses may be rubbing their hands gleefully at robotic process automation (RPA) potential to replace human workers, this is to misunderstand its nature and the value that the technology brings. Bots are best suited to repetitive, manual, time-consuming and rule-based tasks; enterprises that think they’re a substitute for skilled, experienced staff are in for a rude awakening.

As, indeed, are those who think that process automation is simply a matter of “plug-and-play”. There are plenty of misconceptions about bots, and one of the most overlooked areas is how they require a fundamental shift in strategic thinking if RPA is to solve current business challenges and deliver their full potential.

Missed opportunities

Anyone who has had to deal with a bot when trying to resolve a complex customer service problem will understand that RPA is a long way from replacing human workers. However, almost every business is failing to maximize the undoubted potential of bots.

Recent Infosys Consulting research on a range of intelligent automation solutions revealed that only 10% of organizations currently using RPA or artificial intelligence (AI) believe they are maximizing their full benefits and capabilities. One of the biggest reasons for this missed opportunity is a lack of clear strategic vision for RPA and poor understanding of the requirements for effective implementation.

RPA has great potential; to achieve this, however, businesses must take a pragmatic and strategic approach to bots in the enterprise. Here are our five steps to RPA success:

1. Forget “like-for-like” replacement

In our experience, bots are around three times more efficient at certain processes than an equivalent human worker, so it’s tempting to think that one bot can replace several existing employees. Yet it’s foolish to expect a bot to demonstrate the same lateral thinking, intuition or problem-solving ability as a human. Organizations shouldn’t calculate their RPA strategy on a like-for-like replacement but must give careful thought to how bots and humans complement each other in various roles – as well as considering the costs of retraining, redeployment and sometimes organizational adjustment required.

2. Beware the business continuity risks

Bad things happen when organizations surrender too much responsibility to automation. Never is this truer than in the case of a disaster, when an enterprise needs staff who are fully familiar with business operations and their underlying processes. When a spade slices through a critical cable or floods deprive your premises of power, will the bots keep functioning – and will they have the intelligence to understand how this disaster affects day-to-day processes? Business continuity questions like these are often overlooked, but should be at the heart of any RPA strategy.

3. Understand the security challenge

 Because of increasing security challenges across the workplace, biometric and two-factor authentication are becoming increasingly widespread. Bots obviously have no biometric data and struggle with two-factor authentication. Enterprises cannot reasonably allow automated processes to operate in a less secure environment than one that is human operated; they must, therefore, be alive to the potential vulnerabilities of RPA, and integrate bots fully into their organizational security strategy.

4. The impact on agility

A tactical or poorly-planned RPA deployment can significantly reduce the agility an organization has, tightly coupling automated processes to the underlying platforms. Automated processes can be quite fragile, sensitive to even minor updates to the core systems they drive. Bots and AI solutions at scale should be governed within the overall architecture framework that underpins the business, not as a stand-alone solution sitting outside of the enterprise architecture.

5. Remember, it’s early days for RPA

The tools across this space are developing quickly. Today’s winner will not necessarily be around in its current form in a year or two. Switching from one RPA vendor to another is difficult and expensive. The risk and consequences of new versions and new products need to be factored into your journey.

The boundless enthusiasm for these technologies needs to be tempered with a little realism. Before organizations answer every problem with “there’s a bot for that”, they must establish a business rationale for each use case, and be fully aware of their impact on operations and organizational strategy. Only then will they deliver their full potential – and human workers will be assured of their continuing value to the organization.

Jayant Sharma

Jayant Sharma

Partner, Infosys Consulting

Jay joined us in June 2017 and is responsible for the growth of our disruptive technologies practice in APAC region with a focus on digital and analytics. Previously, Jay played multiple diverse roles in his 12-year stint at Accenture, including running the customer and channels business for Accenture’s retail and consumer goods industry in ANZ region. As an entrepreneur, he started a digital agency in Sydney called SixEleven Digital, that focused on creating digital solutions for small and medium-sized businesses from concept to launch. He also founded another Sydney based start-up in 2013, Topgrocer.com, in the online grocery space. Jayant resides in Sydney, Australia. He graduated from FMS University of Delhi where he co-founded and chaired the first entrepreneurship cell and incubation center.

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