Automation has become widely recognized for saving employees time and effort by carrying out high volume, repetitive and typically error-prone tasks. By utilizing robotic process automation (RPA), enterprises can more easily manage their manual, time-intensive tasks while also boosting accuracy, timeliness, and compliance.
RPA also has been leveraged for cost avoidance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across a variety of industries used automation to ensure business continuity and optimize costs. For example, airline companies developed automated processes to refund customers and reschedule flights. Similarly, government organizations were able to issue COVID-19 business grants using RPA. In these cases, the organization in question would have needed to hire more full-time employees to manage the extra workload generated as a result of the pandemic, so it is relatively easy to calculate cost avoidance savings.
Therefore, businesses have focused on the time and cost-saving benefits of automation. When working with pure RPA programs, organizations can track hours back to business indicating the time saved by automating a task that was previously carried out manually, or they can calculate full-time employees savings as a result of automation. However, by focusing solely on RPA, business leaders are missing out on automation’s full benefits.
A Shifting Market
We’ve been living through turbulent times. Inflation is rising and businesses are struggling to keep hold of their key talent as the Great Resignation continues. The automation industry is experiencing changes of its own with reports of the RPA market in flux. In truth, the real value of automation has always lain beyond RPA. Its most significant opportunities arise when automation is applied across unstructured data in complex workflows across the business, incorporating technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and human-in-the-loop, as well as RPA. At our company, we have witnessed some of the ways in which automation of core business programs has a positive impact on an organization’s top line, whether via improved customer experience or boosted customer retention, for example.
Measuring Automation’s Effectiveness
However, when automation is applied across a number of processes or comprehensive end-to-end processes, it becomes more difficult to define and measure success, compared with straightforward cost-related calculations. It can take many tools to deliver this type of complex automation because several processes need to happen simultaneously to ensure everything runs smoothly. Unless there is full visibility of the entire automation process, it can be almost impossible to quantify its costs and gains.
This leads to the need for true cross-departmental collaboration. When automation is deployed across multiple functions, issues can arise, such as teams working apart with no full visibility of the end-to-end process. Also, while organizational automation programs are mostly led by IT departments, measuring their impact can often be left to other areas of the business. This creates a disconnect between the project implementation and the work to measure its effectiveness. We are entering a new era of automation and it is no longer solely the domain of IT.
Define Target Levels
Developing clear target levels for automation key performance indicators (KPI) allows you to establish how these contribute to the big picture, which enables an enterprise to garner necessary support from stakeholders across the organization. Some enterprises have state-of-the-art reporting systems and dashboards in place showing automation KPIs. However, unless they have pre-defined targets and easily accessible strategic visibility into this work, these metrics become more of a “nice-to-have” than a true tool for leadership. Automation results should also inform the continuous development of an automation program. It’s not a case of “set and forget”. Seeing what works (and what doesn’t) allows you to make informed decisions about how your automation workflows could be improved.
Why Automation Measurement Matters
As with any business tool, the success of automation programs should be steered by an enterprise’s overall strategy. If customer retention is a crucial KPI, then the enterprise should prioritize processes for automation that support this objective and work cross-departmentally to effectively measure its contribution to achieving this goal. In the past, organizations kickstarted their automation work by cherry picking processes that were, by nature, easy to automate using RPA. Today, we are shifting toward a more holistic approach to applying automation across the entire business and strategic end-to-end processes. Enterprises are selecting programs to automate based on their importance to the business, rather than their ease of automation. For enterprises who get this right, automation could offer a solution to some of today’s most urgent challenges as well as a longer-term driver of top line growth and competitive edge.
Finally, automating across entire business programs can be complex, which is why analysts are predicting a higher rate of growth in the services side of automation. RPA-related services are predicted to reach $16 billion by 2025, almost three times the software it’s helping to deploy.