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Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Big hype or big opportunity?

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In October 2018, SSA & Company, in partnership with Morningstar, hosted a panel and roundtable discussion on The Future of Business with Emerging Technologies. The event brought together senior operations and continuous improvement leaders from Discover Financial Services, T.Rowe Price, Caterpillar, State Farm, GrubHub, and CDK Global, among others to explore disruptive technologies, process automation, and the evolution of continuous improvement. Panelists from Northern Trust Bank, the City of Chicago, and State Farm shared insights from leading their organizations through change with new technologies such as blockchain, telematics, IoT, AI, and more. At the roundtable, Morningstar shared its history of continuous improvement and recent progress in Robotic Process Automation (140 processes automated, 24,000+ hours given back).

Below we captured some takeaways from the discussions.

Traditional barriers to entry (cost, technology infrastructure) no longer exist, but dinosaur cultures will get in the way
• Focus on culture early. Adopting new digital tools is as much a mindset and cultural shift as a technological one. Identifying, implementing, and sustaining changes from emerging technology requires changes in the way people work, think, and behave.
• Continuously challenge employees to think outside the box and engage in conversations about how advancements can help their business units in order to gain buy-in. Understanding your employees and how they think will take you a long way.
— For example, identify leaders across business units who embrace the changing ways of working and have them coach others in the company. This approach helped one company gain buy-in and build capability across its organization.
• Form hybrid teams that combine business and technology leaders when kicking off new projects. Some organizations successfully drive innovation through methods such as digital hives, experimentation days, and hackathon sessions. Doing so empowers business users to become idea
generators.

Stay ahead of the curve to solve business problems. Technology for technology’s sake will not drive outcomes
• Adopt agile approaches to meet the pace of change. With traditional project management approaches, teams can find that by the time they are ready to implement, the technology and user needs have become outdated.
• Design thinking in conjunction with Lean and Agile can enable better strategy around automation and the use of emerging technologies.
• Be clear on the business problem that must be solved and what tools can help. Do not automate just to automate, make sure it is creating meaningful value for your organization.
• Have the courage to shut down initiatives that do not work. Fail fast and learn often.

Automation is not just about cost-savings
• While hours saved/“given back” is a key metric of process automation, most companies find the more valuable benefit is improving customer and employee experiences.
— For example, even if RPA only frees up 20 hours a year for an employee, manual work at late hours can lead to errors and consequently require future hours of service teams to remedy the impact of those mistakes.
— Some companies have used RPA to create more capacity and free humans up to focus on higher-value activities.
— Measuring the success of automation through the satisfaction of a company’s consumers is another way to determine if it is working and worth continuing investing in.
• Most companies are exploring use cases that combine AI/machine learning with RPA to drive larger impact.

Privacy must be considered early in the design process
• Strategize ways to use new technology and processes, while collecting as little data as possible from users. This will help the user experience and provide consumers with a better state-of-mind about participating.
• Key questions to ask: What technology is needed to solve the problem? What’s the minimal amount of data needed to get this done?


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