The ever-increasing technical divide has always fascinated me – the idea that we are continually pushing for the latest and innovative technology, whilst at the same time not implementing or using existing technology. I recently stopped in my tracks while boarding a plane to marvel at the airport’s continual use of dot matrix printers for passenger itineraries.
This fascination regularly extends to RPA and other “internal excellence” topics. If you’ve ever been to a recentRPA conference or other event, I’ve found a significant gap. One on side, you’ll see a plethora of cutting-edge, innovative technologies; on the other, a lot of company IT staff trying to understand how to get started in RPA and internal excellence. Most people I talked to in that conference hadn’t even deployed basic OCR for paper forms, a technology that has been around since the late 1970s!
There is always a temptation to chase the cutting edge, but for RPA and internal excellence in general, I’d strongly recommend getting back to basics:
1. Formalise Internal Excellence as an official area of study within your organization
The biggest issue I see in corporations is that people simply don’t take RPA seriously. They see Internal Excellence as junior IT staff developing macros for Excel spreadsheets and setting up 100 SharePoint sites (and even those sites are quickly generated and forgotten about for the most part). Some argue that RPA is not as interesting as flashy, digital engagement with external stakeholders or as intellectually engaging as advanced business intelligence topics, but with ever-increasing maturity and return-on-investment of automation tech, it needs to be taken seriously.
Establish “Internal Excellence” as an official service-line within your IT organization (like Digital or Business Intelligence), covering such topics as RPA, internal communication and collaboration, as well as gaining extensive experience in internal processes and behaviours.
2. Adopt the service-line approach in your team structure
Modern technology has so many distinct branches with differing expertise that it is almost impossible to have an efficient, strong performing generic IT team in today’s corporate world.
A service-line approach will ensure your team members focus their expertise on a sub-set of technology.
The setup will differ depending on the industry you work in and the size of the team. I group service-line managers at an Asia level; one manager for “Digital and Patient Engagement”, one manager for “Commercial & Business Intelligence”, and one manager for “Innovation & Internal Excellence”. These managers then work with market IT staff and interface with the relevant global functional leads. It works well – IT staff in the markets don’t get bombarded with global requests and don’t have to deal with huge numbers of stakeholders across the company; Asia-level managers don’t have to gain expertise on a multitude of technologies and be focused on their value delivery.
3. Create a service catalogue for Internal Excellence solutions
I’ve seen many companies create “IT-only” service catalogues detailing the various technologies within the organization. All well and good; but if you don’t have a “business-friendly” catalogue that includes RPA solutions, the business is never going to take the practice seriously. A true IT service catalogue will have no technical jargon, clearly articulate the solution including estimated cost and timeline, what is involved from both business and IT teams, and what the resulting benefits will be. For RPA, dedicate one page to each workflow, bot or macro that has been developed. A PDF version of the catalogue will be more than good enough to share with your business.
4. Treat Internal Excellence not as ad-hoc workarounds, but “holy grail” solutions
Many times, the business comes to the IT function looking for quick wins in the Internal Excellence space. Going back to ensuring the business and IT take RPA solutions seriously, implement proper projects (over change requests) with proper teams and regular meetings. Also plan not simply for the immediate request, but the perfect end state. For example, the business may come with a request to create an internal online form to collect and process data. But as a true business partner, we should be thinking through: Ok, who has access to read / view? How will manage that access and how? Does access need to be given when someone with a certain role onboards? Are there any analytics or reports that need to come out of the automated solution?
All-in-all, I believe that RPA is fast becoming one of the leading areas of innovation in commercial IT. But with a growing divide between bleeding-edge automation tech companies, and IT teams within corporations, we need to go back to basics and formalize. When business and IT maturity has increased, the business (and IT!) will be more ready for the “sexy” stuff such as self-learning RPA, cognitive automation and “self-healing” bots.