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StrategyAug 07, 2020

Process Automation Strategy: Not Just a Means to an End

Dana Smith, Garrison Neely, and Scott Hensley

“It is sadly not unlikely that we could be into the early 2030s before we see the unemployment rate return to its pre-COVID level.”

— Phillip Jordan, The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard

Phillip Jordan is a nonresident fellow at the Ash Center of Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, and he recently published a report alongside Edward Cunningham suggesting China’s path to recovery offers several warnings for what we should expect here in the United States. It is these types of expert opinions on the current state of the economy and trends emerging in the “new normal” that are forcing organizations to seek opportunities to be more efficient with existing resources.

Organizations have identified process automation as a means to do more with less. And while that is a key value of process automation, it shouldn’t be the only consideration in evaluating whether process automation is something you should consider for your organization. In this article, we’ll outline the goals of process automation and how to create a business case for the application of process automation.

Simply defined, process automation is the act of using technology to perform repetitive tasks.

From our viewpoint, there are three primary goals of process automation:

1. Increase productivity: Enable technology to perform digital chores through process automation to realize significant time savings in historically labor-intensive, manual efforts.

2. Mitigate risk: Stabilize common, error-prone scenarios introduced by the human element and ensure redundant capability and robust exception handling.

3. Improve customer experience: Eliminate long wait times and enable always-on capability that enhances the customer lifecycle by automating common tasks like record creation and standard user updates.

the spectrum of automation

Recognizing that we are likely to see a jobless recovery coming out of the economic shocks associated with COVID-19, the impact of each of these drivers is likely to see an increased order of magnitude over the next 12 to 18 months. As a result, at Credera we’ve recognized the need to look across the spectrum of automation (see Figure 1) to identify solutions that can help clients address each of the drivers.

Historically, businesses have used developer and IT resources to augment manual processes through the development of console applications. This has resulted in the typical large backlog of requests with IT and the jockeying for position among business units to prioritize their requests. Robotic process automation (RPA) has emerged in recent years as a mechanism for automating those tasks without the need for a developer or IT resources, but instead by putting the tools into the hands of the business to proactively automate tasks that fall within their domain. With these capabilities taking firmer hold we've recently seen the emergence of hyper-automation that combines the benefits of RPA with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to allow the bots to make decisions based on algorithms that have been trained by historical datasets.

Figure 1 – Spectrum of Automation

the business case for robotic process automation

According to Gartner, at the end of 2019, RPA and hyper-automation were predicted to be one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020. Coupled with the economic effects of COVID-19, RPA is soaring to the top of the list. Previous post-recession trends show that firms increase automation investments due to resource limitations and jobless recovery. RPA spending is slated to increase by 5% over the next year—leading to a $12 billion market by 2023 according to Forrester. These drivers will continue to push the business process automation opportunities to high priority to prepare for the economic landscape post-pandemic—less hiring and fewer resources. Companies can get ahead of this curve by beginning to mature on the automation spectrum (outlined below in Figure 2).

There has been much debate on the merit and longevity of low-code and no-code platforms similar to those used in RPA use cases. As with any software solution, there are tradeoffs to weigh. Finding where you fit on the automation maturity scale is key to achieving success with RPA.

Figure 2 – Automation Maturity

industry examples

UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere are firmly planted as leaders in the automation space. Additional entrants like Pega and Kofax are identifying niche areas where their platforms can provide value. Supporting the projected growth estimates in this market, pre-pandemic investments valued several of these firms at more than a billion dollars—including Automation Anywhere whose $300 million investment from Softbank valued the firm at $2.6 billion. Given the rapid adoption of these platforms, there is no shortage of case studies across various industries and functional areas.

The global leader in market research, Nielsen, utilized UiPath to automate a large number of manual tasks across several cross-functional areas. At the time of publishing, Nielsen had saved more than 347,000 hours in the 18 months since scaling their RPA deployment and had deployed bots to more than 40 countries and more than 20 business units. These bots supported functions in IT, client service, and finance. To support this diverse set of internal customers, Nielsen created an automation center of excellence that provides support and drives change within each part of the organization.

Another example of the power of RPA was highlighted by TruGreen’s implementation of Microsoft Power Automate, featuring its ability to drive customer self-service for the largest U.S. lawn care company. TruGreen utilized power virtual agents, which are chatbots that leverage artificial intelligence to handle common customer inquiries. The initial prototypes were built and deployed in just a few days and the speed to market demonstrated for TruGreen the potential of these solutions.

The final driver of this technology is the ability to mitigate risk through automation. TreasuryOne, South Africa's leading treasury outsourcer, has mission critical requirements to ensure to mitigate foreign exchange rate risk for its clients. TreasuryOne leveraged Automation Anywhere to perform settlements and distribute deal confirmations that led to a 100% reduction in errors and end-to-end automation of four critical business processes.

is rpa right for your organization?

Each of these industry examples amplifies the three key drivers outlined earlier. Organizations will continue to adopt this technology because of the benefits provided in these areas and the anticipated limitations they are going to have in an economy looking to rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic shock.

At Credera, we are partnering with organizations to help them realize the benefits of this technology through the development of an automation strategy, the execution of RPA bot development and process automation, or the optimal organizational design via an automation center of excellence.

Are you interested in how RPA might be able to increase your organization’s productivity, mitigate risk, or improve your customer’s experience? Reach out to findoutmore@credera.com.