Robotic Process Automation: What CIOs Need to Know #ILTACON18

Session Description: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) gives CIOs the chance to help their firms rethink its business model. Beyond the cost savings, automation offers high value in the form of improvement in process efficiency, cycle time, productivity, quality, scalability, and governance and regulatory compliance. The value is easy to understand but there are important things to know as you move to automation in order to get it right and achieve the expected value. This session gives perspective on the value, goals, and best practices of RPA.

Speakers:

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • What is Robotic Process Automation?  Software that can be easily configured to do basic tasks across applications just as human workers do. RPA software is designed to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees. (Source: Investopedia)
  • It automates the actions of everyday users.
    • carry out repetitive processes within applications
    • configured by business users (no development or coding required!)
    • scalable workforce to meet variable demand — you can build more bots to satisfy increased workload, you can take them down when workloads decline
    • work within existing IT infrastructure — no integration required — just trigger a bot by emailing that specific bot (they each have their own email addresses at Seyfarth.)
  • What does RPA look like?
    • Every RPA implementation is different but there are common elements:
    • central management software for bots: blue prism, automation anywhere, UI path
    • Built for processes (time-consuming repetitive tasks)
    • Tackle time-consuming repetitive tasks
    • Bots do more than a macro/script — they can tackle an entire process
    • You get the most value when you deploy bots on an organization-wide basis. (You may want to start within a department first.)
    • You can create off-the-shelf bots or custom bots; you can layer bots on top of each other.
  • How do you identify and measure ROI?
    • Any high-volume, business-rules driven, repeatable process qualifies for automation
    • ROI factors
      • Processing time — start time/end time of a process
      • Productivity — length of time a human worker versus a bot takes to complete the task/process
      • Reduction of error rates — accuracy of bot output — neither bots nor humans are error-free but bots have a lower rate of error and can be stopped easily when they encounter trouble.
      • Redeployment — when bots can handle “reactive” processes, then the humans can focus on more proactive work
  • How is RPA different from AI. Automation technologies speed up or replace human decision making.
    • RPA and AI are on different ends of the continuum. RPA involves less complexity than AI.
      • On the RPA end = RPA and Rules Engine (where the rules are explicitly provided) — primarily works with structured data
      • On the AI end = machine learning (rules deduced by statistical techniques), natural language processing, deep learning, computer vision (using input from sensors) — primarily works with unstructured data
  • RPA is being used across all departments in all industries.
    • New business intake
    • Sending calendar reminders
    • Tax automation
    • IT asset management
    • Employee lifecycle (HR)
    • Finance/Accounting (help automate processes that transfer, aggregate, and report on data)
    • PDF creation for estate tax reporting purposes
  • Gillian Power: The inability of a bot to handles process ambiguity is an opportunity to clarify your process.
  • Seyfarth Shaw’s RPA experience.
    • Launched a RPA Center of Excellence. (This sits outside the IT department.)
    • They got the idea from seeing bots used in other industries and organizations
    • Deployed in Finance, Marketing, IT and Client-facing technology (e.g., extranet)
    • Utilized by various practice groups — initial proof of concept was in their immigration practice. They were able to convert a 25-minute human process into a 4-minute bot process.
  • Other things to consider
    • Security — the bots need credentials to get into your system so they are storing that information. What level of encryption protects this?
      • Be sure to work with your IT security team
    • On-going management, changes, staff, etc.
      • help the displaced humans shift to higher-value work
    • Negotiating strong agreements with vendor
      • work collaboratively with your IT department so you evaluate the new software and vendor in a systematic way
    • Protecting IP
    • Lessons learned
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Rethink Your Routine

In Tom Davenport’s terrific post, Microdecisions for Macro Impact, he reminds us that fortunes can be won and lost in the little decisions we make every day. As he astutely notes,

What many companies don’t realize is that microdecisions — small decisions made many times by many workers at the customer interface — can have a major impact on the business. How they are made can be the difference between sloppy and effective execution, and between profit and loss.

Equally, small decisions made in the course of routine procedures can have a profound effect.  If you’re not sure about this, think about the huge beneficial change in health care derived from the simple act of hand washing.  Or, imagine what would happen if your pilot decided to “wing it” and disregarded the standard take-off checklist?

In knowledge management, we regularly spend time thinking about work flow and business process.  And, especially when we’re considering bringing technology into that flow, we have an opportunity to ask whether the individual steps within a process are sensible given current circumstances.  Do they yield the best possible outcome on a predictable basis?

The fact that something is routine does not mean it is optimized.  As you go through your day, take a closer look at the many repeatable acts you perform and consider whether there are small decisions you could make differently to yield much better results.

[Photo Credit:  Wisconsin Historical Society]

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