How a “scattered” RPA delivery model can help your robotics ecosystem mature

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It is standard operating procedure these days to try to get as much value as fast as possible by making one good decision and securing a big win. Three to five years ago companies hoped they would win the RPA lottery. They asked consultants: How should we tackle robotics? The answer: Caching and end-to-end, corporate-level automation on a grand scale (and with a grand price tag).

Believe or not, in 2018 we are dealing with the results of those decisions. Frustrated companies are still trying to build object libraries and find opportunities to justify sky-high license fees with positive ROI and measurable robotics impact. From a cute newborn, RPA has become an unbearable teenager, and companies — like parents — need some counseling to make sure that their kids will eventually become  responsible adults.  We believe that a shared, bottom-up approach to automation — what we call scattered RPA (S-RPA) — can establish an automation-friendly environment that will help a robotics ecosystem mature without unnecessary drama or expense.

RPA Ferrari vs. VW

I will not deny that a few years’ back I was also a fan of sophisticated software, a full-fledged robotics strategy and an approach that encompassed organizations’ top-down operations. Many big players tried it. By performing advanced research and real-life experiments around this area, we have definitely confirmed that building one global robotics organization that smoothly brings expected results is a challenging task and can easily become impracticable.  Issues include the ongoing cost of a variety of licenses and the accompanying IT backbone, corporate level support, lack of skilled robotics crews set up around the world, and the many approaches demanded by clients, to name only a few.

Luckily in 2017 I was introduced to my new leader, Olivier Gomez, DXC’s Global Head of Automation & Robotics, who changed my perception on many automation aspects.  One of the first questions he asked me was, “If you are unable to consistently create small positive impacts with robotics or automation, what drives your confidence that you will be able to do it on scale? Are you sure that you will be able to build capabilities strong enough to overcome tough organizational challenges and provide a return on substantial investments?”

My first impression was – what is this guy telling me? To do only small stuff, stick to a very tight budget and make a difference with robotics peanuts? It sounded crazy then. Now I would say it was brilliant. Making RPA more approachable is like selling Volkswagens rather than Ferraris. You can build a Ferrari and eventually sell it to a few customers a year, but it takes highly skilled engineers to develop it, it is pricey, it is hard to maintain properly and even though it can go 200 miles per hour, the driver will be still limited to 25 miles per hour in school zones just like everybody else. At the same time, you can build a VW Golf and sell thousands and thousands of them a year. Because it is available for an average consumer, you can build it for less, the owners can fix it almost by themselves and drivers can go from A to B with a speed that is also not a slouch.

Investing in the RPA “Ferrari” — pitched end-to-end automation solutions — is a good option to keep in mind, yet there is also a heavy risk factor to consider, as it normally takes much more time and more skilled engineers, and the results still may not pay your costs. Imagine what companies felt when they had spent millions on uniformity across the company and the global robotics scientist started to see that the real value was not just in simple RPA but in AI, machine learning and pattern recognition solutions that were not included!

Foster robotics fun

When you invest in simple robotics in a shared S-RPA approach, you are getting freedom and amazing flexibility. With a license cost of around $300 rather than $10,000, you are able to scatter your robotics team to include almost everyone that shows interest. Millennials doing basic operations in back offices who were born around computers and with cellphones in their hands are able to build automations and digital workflows without a single blink of their eyes. All you need to do is to make RPA available and gamify the experience to make them compete and enjoy it – and at the same time, willingly participate in creating and sustaining change with basic robotics.

My experience is that in the very beginning, everybody is disoriented and a bit skeptical. There is still considerable fear of automation in the hands of unskilled staff unfamiliar with this technology. But this will soon change. Kids today begin interacting with technology as toddlers. Children can now build and program small robots with Lego bricks. Making similar automation as adults using basic robotics is even simpler. What you are gaining is a totally new culture of workers who can easily make everything somewhat faster, better and basically automated in both attended and non-attended modes.

Interest in work efficiency is growing and knowledge is spreading, so you will no longer be relying or hiring “super-duper robotics experts,” as all your team members will be able to help, build and deliver. You are also becoming less constrained and limited by the need to build comprehensive, ROI-friendly cases every time someone discovers a way to do things automatically. Meeting the price tag for robot licenses is less demanding if everyone participates, shares and experiences automation with you.

Of course, as with everything else, in this internal automation crowdsourcing endeavor you need to set some general rules. S-RPA is fun, yet requires some setup:

  • First and foremost, choose one platform. Don’t make the mistake of giving people freedom to do a bit of .NET, VBA or Java, with C# and UiPath on top. Recommend and agree upon one platform for simple automation.
  • Then, communicate well that if a license is utilized, it becomes available to everyone, as long as they register and document the automation and are able to support it in case of change requests or robot failure
  • Try to build one single point of truth — a knowledge management, metrics and license repository under one management group. This will further simplify activities along the way.
  • Promote, gamify, sponsor and broadcast robotics at every company meeting or through a major communication channel like Workspace or SharePoint.
  • Manage the robotics effort well and see how it is developing and where it is leading your company.

Am I suggesting ditching more sophisticated forms of RPA/automation and relying only on small, incremental savings from robotics peanuts? No, I’m not. There is a fair amount of space for machine learning, pattern recognition, OCRs, AI, big data and chatbots. Just let those be your next steps. In the meanwhile, focus on enabling your whole organization to become an automation-friendly environment that enables the robotics ecosystem to mature gracefully. Count on the positive impact of hundreds of small robots bringing good ROIs and erasing manual errands. This will provide a fair amount of breathing room that your skilled robotics-minded staff can draw on in harsher and more demanding automation undertakings.


Piotr-Osipowicz-headshot-ironman_maskPiotr Osipowicz is a DXC Robotics and Automation Partner and a manager with more than 10 years of experience across several disciplines including Finance and Accounting, Lean, IT Support and PMO. An evangelist, strategist and digital transformation consultant, Peter focuses on empowering business decision-makers to integrate into their processes the new IT opportunities come from industrial revolution 4.

Comments

  1. Peter Read says:

    Excellent

    Like

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