Part III – Lessons from implementing Robotic Process Automation
“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 this final part of our three-part discussion of RTA, we'll show how in my extensive experience transforming companies, four key themes have emerged when implementing automation. To address these issues I’ve explored a wide variety of analysis tools, before providing an optimal resolution balanced between risk and rewards. Let’s share those lessons:
Lesson 1 - Tools do not replace judgement
New owners are often 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 investment failure. Experienced transformation executives 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.
Lesson 2 - Internal Controls and Oversight is not a hindsight activity
Automating accounting activities with newer technologies such as ERP has inherent risks. Companies have a history of manual hand-off, shared roles and informal steps that are not in the procedure. For instance, the current environment may not have exceptions for purchase limits; corridor discussions may turn into buying decisions; 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 the 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.
Lesson 3 - Freedom and Constriction must be balanced
The market is inundated with new automation bots and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Vendors are ready to invest in your company to experiment. The 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 and it is best that executives stay conservative, taming automation opportunities and putting the company’s priorities first.
Rewards for disruption include faster and better results. Faster results lead to new issues and challenges. Foresee challenges and prepare ahead of automation. Automate only those processes that have a single entry and exit. 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.
Lesson 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 the main ERP or production system. Orders go as far as the 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 prospect’s 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 have the ability to get in front of the right prospect. Complex sales funnels based on prospects desires and pace are invaluable to business transformation with the ability to provide consistent stream of leads and give more time to close deals.
I hope these articles have given some insight into the pros and cons of RPA, and most important of all the need to evaluate and plan for automation. That way we can all see success.