RPA in a Post-Covid-19 World

Last month we wrote about whether the Covid-19 crisis had presented RPA with its ‘big moment’. We argued that, although the majority of any supply chain is heavily automated, the weakest link is still the people that have to carry out the manual parts of those processes (keying in data, making simple routing decisions, checking records, answering queries, etc). Automate those, we said, and the supply chain becomes much more resilient.

Many organizations will now be doing exactly that, even when there are the pandemic-specific challenges of having to do it all remotely. This can be particularly tricky when you need to identify and map processes, as well as implement and manage the RPA software. This might mean that the implementations are not as robust as they could have been, or perhaps some of the work was rushed to get to a resolution as quickly as possible. Maybe not all of the process exceptions were caught, and maybe there are some flaws in the robot configurations. Perhaps, with speed, the main priority, not all of the documentation was written up properly.

For now though, during the crisis, needs must: this work may have made the difference between a business surviving or not. But what happens when the crisis has passed, or at least the most damaging stage is over?  What do organizations need to do to shore up their ‘crisis-period’ implementations? And how should they prepare for the next wave of lockdown, which will surely come?

Any organization that has carried out some ‘emergency’ RPA implementations clearly needs to review the work they have done in a very critical and open way to identify all of the flaws that exist. This should definitely not be about apportioning blame but simply identifying all of the weaknesses that exist. The process is very much like an ‘RPA Audit’ that Roboyo might carry out when engaging with a new customer that has already implemented some robots. We would not be looking to point any fingers, just to understand fully where there are gaps that need to be filled.

Here are 5 points we think you should look for when reviewing those crisis-era implementations:

  • The highest priority to consider will be the security of the automated processes. Are all of the permissions valid? Are the integration points robust and secure? Are any passwords exposed in the process?
  • Once security issues have been satisfied then you should turn to the robustness of the processes. The main thing that could have been missed will be exceptions – look for those infrequent but crucial times that a process diverts from its ‘happy path’. If these haven’t been considered then the best-case scenario is that the robot simply stops working. The worst scenario is that it does something damaging with your data. Capturing these exceptions will be your next most important task after plugging any security holes.
  • Short-cuts may have been taken with the technical implementation of the software. For example, it could have been installed on under-powered servers, or on machines with inadequate network bandwidth. Rectifying these things may take time to do, and in some cases may mean starting from scratch, but it will certainly be worth doing in the long run.
  • Now that the robots are running properly without any technical or process issues, it is time to get them running as efficiently as possible. That means making the best use of each license you have, usually through better scheduling but also making sure the robots are working as fast as possible through each process. Doing this should free up capacity in your robot license portfolio.
  • Finally, it will be important to carry out this remedial work as soon as possible. If the documentation hasn’t been completed fully, or simply isn’t there, then it needs to be finished off whilst it is fresh in the mind of the people that did the work.

So, the crisis is over, or at least there is some respite before the next wave: what else could you be doing so that you are best prepared for the next time crisis hits?

The easy win is to look for the automation opportunities that might have been missed the first time around. In the rush to realize the big opportunities there may have been some smaller ones that were over-looked. If these are associated with the already-automated processes then it should be fairly straight-forward to extend that to encompass more of the manual work. Think of it as filling in the gaps after the first rough pass.

There will also be other opportunities for automation that have simply not been identified yet. It will be crucial to build a pipeline of these opportunities so that you are not wasting effort next time looking for them – you need simply to refer to your ready-made list.

One of the big surprises and challenges of the current crisis is the locked-down, remote-working world we are all living in. That has made automating processes much more difficult than it should be, especially with the mapping of the processes, which is usually done sitting beside the person who does the work. Therefore, better to prepare for how to do these remote implementations now rather than in the middle of the next crisis. Think about installing a screen recording software on every computer. Make sure microphones can be enabled, and that there is video conferencing capability for everyone. Most importantly, try and get as many processes mapped as possible whilst social distancing isn’t a thing.

Finally, to really raise your RPA game, think about orchestration. Look at how the robots interact with humans and how you can maximize the efficiency of processes by scheduling between these two groups of resources, based on skill levels and availability. Software from eNate does a very good job at this, for example.

As this blog post is being written, many of us are still in lockdown, and thinking about a post-crisis world may seem overly optimistic. But it will be an important task, both to carry out the remedial work on the automation that has been (rightly) rushed to complete, but also to ensure that your organization is as prepared as it can be for the next wave of lockdowns that will keep coming until a vaccine is widely available.

Beyond the world of keeping your businesses running, we hope you and your families are all keeping safe in this very strange time.

Tags: intelligent automation, RPA