So you’ve probably seen or heard about the growing hype around robotic process automation (RPA) over the last few months. Many are flagging this as the start of the next industrial revolution; a new surge in enabling higher levels of process efficiency. However many of you might be wondering how this compares to what many businesses have already done in moving to business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions…
Many organizations have taken the leap into BPO over the last 10 to 15 years, generally in parallel with the rise of the Shared Service offering. BPO has helped businesses to leverage economies of scale, reduce their cost to serve and bring with it flexibility, particularly around responding to increases or decreases in demand.
Over the last 18 months we are seeing a significant increase of companies moving away from the traditional BPO offering. The drive for this shift is that of improvements in technology and the advancement of RPA tools. So let’s first explore RPA to understand what it is and how’s it’s being used.
The easiest way to understand RPA is to think of a virtual workforce (software robots) that can run your processes for you completely or support you in doing it (unassisted or assisted automation). These robots either run on machines on their own or sit on your desktop and work alongside you… Scary!?
The unassisted automation is a similar concept in the way that BPO providers run processes on your behalf, RPA tools can offer almost the same. The basic RPA tools work on the basis that if your processes can be described logically then the software robots can be ‘taught’ to follow them. One of the main features of the RPA tools is the way in which they can be easily deployed with little integration or disruption to any core systems. Most RPA solutions interface with the systems in the same that a person would, by using the GUI (graphical user interface). This means from an IT point of view the product is reasonably low complexity and coupled with the wizard driven process configuration puts them in the hands of the business rather than IT. Once a software robot has been taught a process it can then run at the speed at which your systems allow, running 24 7 or at least at much as your processes or systems allow this. This is where you start to see the significant savings in scaling up or down processes using software robots that can be deployed very quickly, all following the process exactly making no mistakes, taking no days off, you start to get the idea… The Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA) quotes the savings to be the order of 1/3 of a typical off shore cost with even further savings when considering onshore.
The best way to think of assisted automation is that of using a power tool versus doing by hand. The software robots can be used as a tool to help make the process / activities more productive and less labour intensive, which reduces time and effort. These applications become of interest when looking at users having to manage work across multiple systems, copy and pasting information, moving between screens, looking up information etc. A software robot could therefore be used to work in parallel, to quickly interrogate or present the information as required. This now offers process designers a new way to help improve processes and in some cases work around system limitations or fragmentation.
BPO’s themselves are now starting to adopt RPA, recognizing their traditional operating models need to change and embrace this shift. So the question is how disruptive do you see this for your organisation? Is this the year of the robot?
Are you thinking of BPO and maybe shifting straight to BPO?
Are you using BPO and thinking of moving process back with RPA?
Are you in discussions with your BPO provider to see how you can collectively use RPA?