Robotic Process Automation Adoption: Early Challenges and Lessons Learned

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Despite early successes, mainstream organizations are not yet making use of robotic process automation (RPA) technology. This may soon change, according to Hackett Group analysts, who predict that RPA adoption rates will rise in the next two or three years.

RPA, as we explained in a previous article, is a type of software that mimics the activity of a human carrying out a task within a process. The term is derived from the idea of a “software robot,” an application that replicates the actions a user takes through the user interface of a computer system.

Said another way, RPA records anything a user does through clicking on a screen or typing into a keyboard and then repeats those actions as directed. The technology can free employees from tedious and repetitive tasks and allow them to use their time on other work.

It also boasts an impressive savings potential — as much as 60%–80% — as well as the ability to deliver improved accuracy and speed. Companies that have adopted RPA have found they have improved auditability for tasks subject to compliance regulation.

According to the Hackett Group research, executives across departments are interested in increasing RPA adoption, with finance and global business services (GBS) executives particularly enthusiastic. GBS executives believe that mainstream adoption of RPA will increase five-fold to more than 52% within two or three years, and finance executives predict that adoption rates will increase to 38%.

Source: The Hackett Group

As the chart above shows, procurement is not quite as sanguine about RPA, although 38% of procurement organizations are already piloting RPA solutions. In comparison, 31% of HR organizations, 48% of GBS organizations and 58% of finance organizations are exploring or piloting RPA.

However, many early adopters have encountered challenges in turning their pilot programs into something on a larger scale. “Despite the relative ease of initial implementation, though, RPA has come with growing pains that are limiting both impact and expansion of adoption,” the Hackett Group report notes.

Some of these growing pains might be creating reusable designs that work beyond the pilot, underestimating the time and resources needed to manage robots, and failing to optimize processes or tackle data quality issues before introducing RPA. It often happens that organizations have not thought their automation goals through before embarking on an RPA project.

Organizations today that seek to pilot RPA should learn from the challenges that early adopters encountered. The Hackett Group makes the following recommendations:

Select the right RPA opportunities. Organizations should break down their back-office processes into sub-processes and then analyze specific activities within each sub-process to determine which ones would benefit from RPA. After the RPA-friendly activities have been identified, the next step is to order them by priority.

Plan the RPA roadmap. This involves building realistic expectations, managing the associated changes (how would RPA affect current roles?), and making sure that the organization’s resources are sufficient.

Build an RPA team or center of excellence (CoE). After an organization has become somewhat familiar with RPA, it ought to build a dedicated RPA team to support others interested in introducing RPA into their operations. An RPA CoE should be multidisciplinary, with clear executive sponsorship and a well-defined placement in the organization.

Check out the report, “Robotic Process Automation: A Reality Check and a Route Forward,” here.

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