Dr. John Hindle, Dr. Leslie Willcocks, Dr. Mary Lacity
Robotic Process Automation increasingly looks like a game-changer. Why? And why now? We discover that you need to look at the past, as much as the present, for the real answers.
As professional researchers, we’ve been studying IT-enabled business transformations for over 25 years, taking a long view of the sector through multiple generations of technology. We’ve been especially fascinated with the recent performance of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the impressive results customers have achieved over the 5 years we’ve been researching it. Our service automation research base includes dozens of case studies and multiple quantitative surveys, analyzed in several books, articles and conference presentations.
Is RPA simply the newest “new thing” in enterprise technology? Or is something deeper going on? We’ve been asking the same questions of ourselves that others have been asking: “What’s different about RPA? Why is everybody so excited? Why is the value realized so high?” The answer, our research suggests, has a lot to do with context.
For the past 30 years, companies in all industries have undertaken a succession of large-scale initiatives to improve operational effectiveness and competitiveness, applying the 3 classic enterprise transformation levers: People, Process, and Technology.
As our summary table below suggests, all these initiatives, from ITO and BPO to BPR, ERP, TQM, BPM and all the other acronyms, share some common features: they’re expensive, they involve long-term consultancy services, standalone “strategic” budgets and dedicated deployment teams, and they take a long time to implement. And oh, they’re all disruptive to the business.
Looking at this picture, one might well pity the Operations and IT executives charged with leading and managing these interventions – it’s hard, painful work, with expensive, inflexible, long-cycle tools, for uncertain and often hard-to-quantify gains, with limited recognition and reward.
Enter RPA, which emerges in this context as a surprisingly winning solution. RPA technologies are available in three main models: autonomous, enterprise-grade RPA, delivered on a server or cloud infrastructure; local, “assistive” desktop versions, known as Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA); and a third, more IT-intensive model resembling a software development kit (SDK). While all 3 models have their value, enterprise-grade RPA offers the business a code-free, flexible, general purpose toolset. While not problem-free or without challenges, RPA is relatively easy to configure, offers rapid implementation, high ROI, and early benefit realization, with minimal pain and mostly happy users.
For business leaders, it eliminates multi-year waits on the IT work queue, enables control over configuration to meet changing process demands, and allows the workforce to pursue more rewarding, revenue-generating activities while increasing productivity. Conversely, RPA also enables the IT function to focus on core enterprise infrastructure and relieves pressure on shrinking IT resources (people and budgets), while maintaining security and governance. Because RPA software operates at the presentation layer, moreover, it doesn’t disturb or compromise underlying systems of record.
Is RPA a magic elixir? Given the challenges noted earlier, and the need for specialist implementation expertise, RPA isn’t a panacea for all enterprise ills. But it clearly changes earlier paradigms of enterprise transformation and greatly boosts productivity. In autonomous server- and cloud-based models, enterprise RPA creates an agile, flexible technology platform on which to build a truly digital business – a new, business-driven and business-managed layer on the IT “stack,” if you will. For all those unsung operations leaders, our research to date offers abundant evidence why they’re so excited about the opportunity and the benefits.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be publishing a series of reports, sponsored by Blue Prism, on “The Keys to RPA Success” – check back here regularly for updates, or download our findings from our Reports page here.