CIOs and their IT organisations have had to make major adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic in how they and their business stakeholders operate. Robotic process automation (RPA)\u00a0has been pitched as one solution, by automating routine tasks via cloud-hosted processes that allow teams now forced to work at home to get work that used to be manual in nature done more easily.\nBut Asia-Pacific CIOs aren\u2019t rushing to adopt RPA because of the pandemic, according to a Forrester Research survey of 45 firms in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Their pace of RPA adoption\u2014they were interested in RPA before COVID-19 and remain so\u2014remains unchanged due to the pandemic.\n[ Learn the 8 keys to a successful RPA implementation and why RPA implementations fail. | Find out why RPA is poised for a big business breakout and get all your RPA questions answers with our robotic process automation explainer. | Get the latest insights by signing up for our CIO newsletter. ]\n\u201cCOVID-19 has not resulted in significant expansion of tenured programmes beyond existing plans,\u201d Forrester\u2019s February 2021 report stated. In fact, 56% of the respondents saw no change in their RPA pace during the pandemic, and only 11% saw their RPA investments increase by 20% or more. Of the rest, 20% saw investment increases below 20%, and 9% weren\u2019t sure if their RPA investments had changed.\nWhy COVID-19 didn\u2019t accelerate RPA efforts in Asia\nBusinesses that were already digital\u2014and typically had begun RPA efforts within the previous three years\u2014didn\u2019t expect to gain much from an accelerated RPA adoption pace. These companies accounted for about 60% of the respondents. Those that had already established digital business processes were \u201calready realising adequate levels of risk mitigation and did not see a need to significantly increase automation investments,\u201d Forrester found. RPA could refine and improve on that base, but there was largely no need to accelerate the current digitalisation pace.\nDigitalised businesses that began adopting RPA within the past 18 months, largely during the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on adapting to the massive disruption in processes as employees had to work remotely or in changed office environments. Then they began to look at RPA. Businesses that weren\u2019t already digital only started trialling automation efforts after the initial shock of the pandemic had passed, when they could focus on the first steps of digitalisation, Forrester found. Both types of firms\u2014which jointly accounted for about 40% of the respondents\u2014struggled with establishing the value and cadence of business automation. As a result, their efforts tended to be on lower risk, simpler business process automation needs.\nA big reason that the pace of RPA deployment did not increase for all three sets of companies is that RPA does not scale quickly. Forrester found that firms that began RPA efforts in the past three years were working to overcome three challenges to scaling RPA: \u201cidentifying and deploying automation on the right processes, establishing effective governance for the automation program, and managing the cultural and people aspects of automation.\u201d Those all take time and a methodical approach.\nThe top challenges\u2014none easy to solve quickly\u2014were:\n\n24%: identifying the right processes for RPA\n18%: organisational challenges\n16%: budget constraints\n13%: finding the right talent to manage RPA deployment and operations\n\nRPA also requires a governance framework and a set of best practices, which are largely absent in Asia. Only 24% of respondents had an IT-led centre of excellence for RPA for the entire business, whereas 16% let each line of business lead its own separate RPA effort, 16% relied solely on IT, and 4% used an offshore provider or dedicated shared services group.\nRPA\u2019s benefits are real but not dramatic\nRPA is important to CIOs, and 71% of the respondents say their RPA efforts have C-level visibility, underscoring its strategic value. But the short-term value has not been dramatic: Only 18% of Forrester\u2019s respondents saw sufficiently significant benefits from RPA efforts to expand their programme, 7% saw significant benefits but weren\u2019t expanding their programme, 51% saw measurable benefits, 16% saw limited benefits, and 7% saw no benefits. RPA is no silver bullet.\nLeslie Joseph, a principal analyst at Forrester, told CIO ASEAN:\nGenerally speaking, companies adopting RPA in Australia tend to be driven by the goal to reduce costs. In Singapore, as well as in other countries in ASEAN, cost takeout continues to be an important goal, but firms also emphasize service availability and improvements in customer experience as areas of value. In addition to this, workers in ASEAN are culturally more accepting of the idea of working side by side with robots. This makes it somewhat easier for companies implementing RPA to seek broad support and create a culture of automation among their workforce. \u00a0\nForrester\u2019s survey also showed that RPA\u2019s drivers are largely in \u201csofter\u201d areas of value that may be harder to justify a significantly expanded investment during a crisis:\n\n59% could move personnel to higher-value tasks\n30% saw improved employee productivity\n29% saw improved customer service\n13% saw improved business process compliance\n12% saw improved output quality\n6% saw improved employee experience\n5% saw enhanced security controls\n\nThe \u201chard\u201d drivers were:\n\n27% saw reduced employee headcount for support processes\n2% saw deferred expenditures on legacy app modernisation\n\nThe \u201csignificant\u201d benefits experienced, though, favoured the \u201chard\u201d benefits: 23% saw reduced costs from greater efficiency of existing staff, and another 8% saw lower costs from reducing staff. The ability to serve higher volumes of transactions\u2014to conduct more business\u2014accounted was cited by 12% of Forrester\u2019s respondents.