Four Lessons from Robotic Process Automation Projects

“Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated,” Elon Musk, Tesla CEO admitted in a recent interview.

In author’s extensive experience transforming companies, four themes have emerged when implementing automation. To address these issues author has explored wide variety of analysis tools before providing an optimal resolution balanced between risk and rewards.

1. Tools do not replace judgement

Stakeholders quite often are eager to introduce automation after company takeover. Between planned layoffs and voluntary turnover, the loss of business judgement in daily activities is a leading cause of RPA related investment failure. Experienced transformation executes understand the importance of retaining tribal knowledge and will do everything to minimize voluntary turnover.  Yet, it is common to see spiraling employee turnover the moment employees hear of automation. Contingency plan to bring in temporary workers, cannot replace decree and wisdom that comes with intuitively understanding the cause-and-effect of an irate customer, delay in vendor delivery or the details of 3-way match at the time of processing an invoice.

Executives under pressure must take precaution and not be blindsided with the warning signs.

2.Internal Controls and Oversight is not a hindsight activity

Automating accounting activities with newer technologies such as add-ons to ERP have inherent risks. Companies with a history of manual hand-off, shared roles and informal steps need to take greater precaution when indulging in RPA projects. For instance, in the current environment may  have informal process for handling purchase limits, corridor discussion may turn into buying decisions and accounts payable may be processing services received by R&D without verifying receipt of delivery. A thorough evaluation of current internal controls and compliance prior to undertaking automation is hyper critical. Often auditors seek proof of board’s evaluation of automation investment, risks and involvement. Further proof of controls testing and formal sign-off by the senior executives are required to demonstrate financial oversight.

Internal controls precede automation decision. Even after automation, controllers must be prepared for new and unexpected control gaps.

3.Freedom and Constriction must be balanced

Market is inundated with new automation bots and artificial intelligence tools. Vendors are ready to invest in your company to experiment. Temptation to join the bandwagon is quite compelling at the risk of jeopardizing a stable, predictable environment. Freedom to let vendors decide on the possibilities of automation must be curbed. Putting company’s priorities first, it is best executive stay conservative taming automation opportunities.

Rewards for disruption include faster and better results. Faster results lead to new issues. Foresee challenges in preparation for automation. Automate only those than have a single entry and exit path.  Disney is handsomely rewarded for the innovation it creates to the patron’s experience from the moment you drive into the parking lot. There is only one entry and exit for the customers. Compare that to local trade fairs that have entrances on all four sides and individual ticketing system for the rides.

Automation with business constriction will create wonders for the customers, employees and vendors when stakeholders are actively involved in owning the consequence and benefits of RPA.

4.Web integration is the next big opportunity toward total automation

Even in companies with the latest technology inbound sales orders are sometimes disconnected from main ERP or production system. Orders go as far as CRM system and from there a batch data movement or re-entry of order in ERP takes place. Direct web integration to process incoming orders, update customers on the status is a low hanging opportunity in both B2B and B2C space.

Sales teams still employ old school cold-calling mechanisms to set appointments, travel to the prospects location and engage in the selling process. Marketing and sales automation can eliminate a significant portion of the employee’s time. Online marketing has come a long way. Marketing campaigns are smart and has the ability to train itself get in front of the right prospect.

Complex sales funnels based on prospects desires provide the ability to deliver consistent stream of leads and provide more time to close deals. Automating web technologies provide highest ROI.