E – is for Excel | Exception Handling | Executive Sponsorship | Expertise | Employee eXperience | Environment | Expensive | Explore | Eliminate
Welcome to the fifth part of our 26 part series charting the A – Z of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Intelligent Automation (IA) and Digital Transformation (DT). Having looked at the letters A, B, C and D today’s letter is the letter E.
Excel. Excel is a hero application. It is used ever day by accountants and non accountants the world over. Excel combined with Excel VBA is an excellent tool to manipulate data that would otherwise involve volumes convoluted RPA code. Excel combined with RPA can be a powerful combination but this combination can also a liability if used incorrectly. Excel is not a digital transformation tool in of itself no matter how skilled you are at data manipulation or Excel VBA.
“Excel is a brilliant application and is very powerful for analysis. It’s not a good transporter of data for RPA. File and field formats can change on a per user basis. If you cut and paste from an application to excel, how will you know if you’ve brought some hidden characters into the field. This is a very common cause of process termination in production. Please please please consider using a text file csv, xml … whatever that is generated by a script that some clever sausage on your team has developed. If you use Excel for data transport for RPA, I promise you are going on a wild roller-coaster.”Dermot Carroll, RPA Consultant
Video 1: The beginners guide to excel. Source: YouTube
Video 2: Excel for fun; Excel Finance and Cash Flow Analysis. Source: YouTube
Exception handling. When humans come across something that they don’t understand they ask a manager or colleague to query. Robots rely on bot controllers / coders to help answer their queries. How quickly you identify and resolve process (established rules are broken data as data inputs do not conform to business or application criteria) or system exceptions (e.g. application crashes or changes within an application that were not accounted for or planned) will determine how quickly your operations begins to work again. Organisations often only plan for the happy path and are inevitably surprised when things break. The very best organisations plan for what might go wrong from the very start and account for that in their plans.
“If you have documented your process right, you will have identified what is expected in terms of the happy path, or the successful requests. Perversely we are not interested in those. You will have also identified the common reasons why a request might fail, and they are normally captured within an automated process. But the elephant in the room is , “what happens if something unexpected happens?”. Simples – same as with a human team , robot looks at a case, says what the …. , and refers it to a human colleague. This is how business processes work, there is no mystique, or magic. If you design and code it properly, nothing will slip through the cracks.”Dermot Carroll, RPA Consultant
You may not be able to anticipate every scenario a robot might encounter but you can plan what happens when something does go wrong (e.g. if ‘dirty data’ causes a robot to stop working). As you become more and more dependent on RPA | AI fast, automated exception handling is key. If an exception cannot be automated then identifiable and repairable system exceptions must be captured for system administrators to solve or passed to people to complete.
“Prepare to be wrong, prepare to make mistakes, learn to identify them early and course correct fast. Quit the right stuff at the right time!”Paul Arnold, Head of Product and Development at Cortex Intelligent Automation
Executive Sponsorship. Without executive sponsorship you digital transformation journey will surely fail. An organisation’s executive team must evangelise and speak to the importance of your RPA | IA | DT program. If your RPA | IA | DT program is one of your organisations top 5 goals and your executive teams remuneration is tied to it then this will near guarantee your programs success.
“This has to be a given. You REALLY REALLY need a very senior partner, who can break the doors down. When RPA starts to scale, it’s appetite is voracious. I once had an IT support tell me that, “your team got 50 new virtual machines last month, we will be back in six months.” In the RPA omelette some eggs really need to be cracked and fried.”Dermot Carroll, RPA Consultant
Expertise. There are very few companies that are born digital. Most have to learn to become digital. A transformation journey is hard work; involves lots of learning and many lessons along the way. Whilst it maybe tempting for an organisation to save money by using an existing team to digital transform operations it is often more cost effective, and a lot less painful, to stump up the cash to hire in expertise. Where the future of a company is at stage in a digitally enabled world; digital expertise is not one area you should skip upon.
“Expertise means doing it the right way now and saving a lot of time, money, and headaches in the future. Experts design systems to be scalable, flexible, and maintainable.”William Roseberry, Owner at RoseberryPi LLC
Employee eXperience (EX). An intelligent automation or digital transformation program must deliver greater operational efficiency or profit. To succeed in the long term it must also improve employee experience.
“I have yet to meet someone who had an issue with the boring, tedious, monotonous part of their day being “evaporated”. Some have told me that “it’s cool – we are now fast forwarded to the decision part of the day, which is the fun bit. Used to happen at 17:00, we now do this at 11:15” No more needs to be said!”Dermot Carroll, RPA Consultant
There is simply no use installing intelligent automation tools if the employee experience is not enhanced. Employees expect to work smarter not harder as digital technologies are introduced (e.g. very few people would revert to writing letters to communicate with the ubiquitous nature of email or video conferencing (although that might be nice); or queue in a bank when online banking is available). Organisations need to make life better, simpler and faster for their teams to get and keep their teams buy-in.
“RPA is not about talent replacement, it’s about talent augmentation. – not Just about cost optimisation, it’s also about organisational transformation. – not about taking the robot out of the human, but bringing the human back inside the human “Shail Khiyara, RPA & Intelligent Automation Executive
Explore. Digital transformation is a journey. For many organisations it is a lonely journey as there are no blueprints for immediate digital success. Most organisations need to go on a journey of discovery. They need to explore new technologies and ways of working much like the great explorers or the past. Organisations need to be willing to experiment and fail before they find their unique winning formula.
Figure 1: RPA learning Curve. Source: Ralph Aboujaoude Diaz, Director, Core Tech
Eliminate. Within reason any process can be made more efficient with intelligent automation tools. However, before intelligently automating processes end to end you need to ask the question ‘what value is this process adding to my business outcomes?’. Businesses are ran on processes, many of which have existed for multiple years. During that time more and more bits have been added on but very few times have bits been taken away.
“Before diving into your RPA journey, you need to be certain that your processes and people are ready. If you select the wrong process, then you will not succeed“.Matthew Coffey, RPA Delivery Lead at Pearson
Environment (technical and cultural). If a digital transformation or intelligent automation program is to succeed both your technical and cultural environments need to be right. An organisation that has ‘flaky’ applications that regularly fall over due to poor coding or weak infrastructure does not have the robust, predictable environment, needed for a digital program to succeed. A workforce culture that truly embraces change will provide a platform for you to succeed at almost anything. A siloed, broken culture, riven by personal interest will stop any program, technology or otherwise, in its tracks. Which is yours?
“Organisations should need to fix broken technical or cultural environments before they transform. Otherwise a lot of money might get spent for no real reward. RPA | IA can play a transformative role in automating processes within your organisation. However, if you don’t prepare properly then a transformation program can become a sink hole that swallows vast amounts of resources and time for no reward.”Kieran Gilmurray, Global Head of Intelligent Automation
Expensive. An intelligent automation or digital transformation journey need not be expensive. With 52 plus RPA products on the market there is a product to suit all budgets.
Thanks to the growth in cloud services organisations can avail of many online resources without the need to purchase expensive hardware or hire multiple data scientists. Crowd source sites also offer the option of offering prizes for code that can be used within your organisation of co-sourced for your data science team to own and progress forwards. Money no longer need be a blocker but there is no substitute for hard work, perseverance and persistence when attempting to digitally transform an organisation.
“Another common myth about RPA is that it is expensive. One should remind themselves, RPA typically results in cost savings of 40 to 75 percent. In addition to that, the wasted time and energy of a full time employee is likely to cost more than the initial implementation cost of RPA.”Hazal Beegan; Head of RPA Projects
This article highlighted all things relating to intelligent automation and digital transformation beginning with the letter ‘E‘. There are many E‘s organisations need to consider but what E’s do you think are the most important?
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- 8 questions to ask to ensure you select the ‘right’ processes to automate using RPA | IA.
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