by Peter B. Nichol

Why RPA is a CIO priority

Dec 02, 2019
Digital TransformationRobotic Process AutomationTechnology Industry

Cognitive automation technologies are changing our business. RPA is the first step in that evolution. Be part of the business-value realization with RPA.

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Robotic process automation (RPA) is the game-changer your organization doesn’t know about. There are only a few leaders in your organization who fully appreciate the potential of RPA. The hype about RPA reminds me of the hype about the Internet in the mid-1990s. We know it’s going to take off, but we don’t know where or how this idea of knowledge-sharing will be adopted.

RPA applies AI and machine-learning capabilities to perform a repeatable task that previously required humans to perform.

Similar to the concept of a blockchain, a large part of the slow adoption of this technology is related to education. Once you’ve internalized the power of RPA, you’ll quickly apply RPA-type concepts throughout your organization.

RPA isn’t a physical robot. It won’t deliver your FedEx package with a smile. It’s also not going to delivery your Amazon package in an air taxi on Sunday. The beauty of RPA is that it can automate activities based on rules and relieve your team of the burden of performing manual processes. Processes that are manual, repetitive, and have high error rates are where RPA excels.

RPA does three things well. It reduces cost, improves quality, and improves operational controls. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using Blue Prism, WorkFusion, Kryon Systems, UiPath, Automation Anywhere, or NICE. Each of these tools can help you realize better business outcomes.

Let me guess. You need to improve business outcomes quantifiably. You’re searching for that 10x game-changer for next year. You already promised business leaders some magic, and you have no idea where that magic powder will come from. Not to fear.

RPA has some fascinating applications for the next-generation CIO.

RPA for advanced analytics

Building a data lake? RPA can help. Starting a data-enablement initiative? RPA can help. RPA streamlines and automates time-consuming, high-volume, and repetitive activities. Big data requires data aggregation, curation, data cleansing, normalization, data wrangling, and tagging of metadata.

RPA offers amazing benefits to enable advanced analytics:

  • Removing the need to rekey data sets manually
  • Migration of data
  • Data validation
  • Producing accurate reports from your data
  • Foundation for an action framework: “good to know” (within tolerances), “interesting” (better than expected) or “need to act” (action required)
  • Process mining technology to visualize the actual process
  • Ingestion from acquired sources
  • Data rules for accuracy, consistency, validity, timeliness, and accessibility
  • Data deduplication
  • Performing vendor master file updates
  • Data extraction
  • Advanced-processing algorithms
  • Formatting

RPA can handle even the most complex environments. If you’re able to record and play the activities, RPA can be a welcome operational improvement.

RPA for business-process waste removal

Data integration is the initiative that never gets finished. Somewhere along that last mile to fully automating the integration of those systems, there’s either no budget available or no interest. RPA can pick up and connect that last mile, removing waste in the process. RPA will be leading the next wave of increased productivity, and it can help tackle the eight major types of transaction-processing waste:

  • Defects; e.g., highlighting missed deadlines or overspend
  • Overproduction; e.g., extending reporting based on the severity
  • Waiting; e.g., waiting for approvals
  • Non-utilized talent; e.g., issuing and tagging training to employees when necessary based on events
  • Transportation; e.g., facilitating handoff between functions—like when an approval system isn’t talking to the PO and invoicing system
  • Inventory; e.g., processing data for entry into a larger system
  • Motion; e.g., removing repetitive keystrokes when switching between applications
  • Extra processing; e.g., formatting reports, adding details.

RPA is disrupting digital transformation and operational excellence. RPA’s fast and inexpensive approach to automation saves labor, extends capacity, increases speed, and improves accuracy.

RPA for project, program, and portfolio management

Haven’t heard of RPA and project management in the same sentence? News flash: RPA isn’t going to replace the human need for project managers.

Managing project budgets, monitoring risks, and balancing resource capacity all are functions central to the role of program and project managers. RPA can freshen up the definition of the standard of what’s deemed “good” when it comes to IT portfolio management. There are multiple ways in which automation minimizes risks and can streamline portfolio management activities. Here are the big hitters:

  • Create multi-thread, digital approvals for statements of work
  • Generate contracts using the company’s “gold standard”
  • Automate the creation and distribution of portfolio reports
  • Generate documents
  • Push communication of project variances
  • Balance resources; e.g., reporting on utilization and reallocating resources
  • Reduce the dependence on spreadsheets to manage information
  • Answer the question, Are we on track?
  • Collect and disseminate project-specific information
  • Screen, filter, and track candidates for the recruitment process
  • Create financial-scenario modeling based on thresholds
  • Automate data ingestion for dashboards; e.g., PowerBI or Clarity PPM
  • Provide sensors to continuously identify progress wins and capture value delivered
  • Forecast based on historical data
  • Assure PMO policy adherence; e.g., process documentation and project audits
  • Automate project and program SDLC process-step progression

RPA can play an important role in your IT portfolio ecosystem. The short duration (1-2 months) and low investment cost ($50-100k) makes an RPA pilot an easy win for your organization. RPA makes quantifying improvements easy. This metric-driven approach simplifies business-partner discussions when outcomes are immediate and visible.

RPA for IT asset management

Do you know when your licenses are due for renewal?  RPA and AI are going to transform IT asset management (ITAM). The nature of IT asset management is repetitive and standard. This taps directly into the sweet spot for RPA. Several applications exist for RPA within IT asset management. Here are the most impactful:

  • Automate software audits
  • Compare licenses purchased to licenses contracted
  • Manage source-code control
  • Oversee vendor and resource on-boarding and off-boarding; e.g., delete domain users or modify distribution lists
  • Provide reporting and analysis
  • Manage incident resolution; e.g., server restarts, password resets, etc.
  • Self-heal; e.g., system health checks, automating backups, and event monitoring
  • Automate fulfillment processes; e.g., IT asset requests

RPA won’t fix your broken workflows, but it can help automate them to ensure human errors are removed and process-cycle time is reduced. You’ll still need to spend time fixing the gaps in the process, but intelligent automation can integrate data extremely well from disparate data systems.

RPA for financial management (procurement-to-payment)

Financial processes are riddled with searching, transferring, sweeping, copying, pasting, sorting, and filtering. Financial-process automation will improve relationships with your suppliers and internal partners as well as improve efficiencies within the finance department. RPA can be used to validate contract terms against invoices and validate that standard data such as address and billing information wasn’t changed in recent invoices.

While the most obvious benefits are around financial risk and controls, cutting down on manual processes often presents even more positive organizational impacts. Freeing up overworked and overcapacity financial leaders can improve morale. By shifting resources from mundane, tactical activities to strategic, high-value-added activities like performing analysis and predictive modeling, RPA can become a force multiplier for financial-management teams.  Let’s look at a few of the many use cases for RPA for financial management:

  • Supporting the quarterly close
  • Calculating and anticipating accruals based on real, invoiced (and what’s not invoiced) data
  • Moving data from Excel to readable reports
  • Uploading transaction data from various financial systems
  • Generating standard journal entries
  • Identifying atypical and exception spending
  • Calculating and processing annual vendor rebates
  • Communicating to vendors missing or late invoices
  • Tracking vendor adherence to billing policies and best practices
  • Autoloading quarterly forecasts into the financial system of record
  • Reconciling forecast to actuals for departmental category spend
  • Monitoring CapEx and OpEx forecast to actuals variance

Operational financial and accounting processes are great examples of where RPA can shine. These processes often are repetitive and typically result in human error of some kind. Financial review prep, interdepartmental reconciliation, and financial planning and analysis all present opportunities for automation.

RPA for security

Protecting an organization from cyberattacks is a 24/7 job. The problem is that humans need sleep. RPA can humanize the role of the CISO and, almost more importantly, the role of cybersecurity managers. By leveraging RPA, we allow the function of the CISO to “get to human” by being visible in projects, developing organizational relationships, and inspiring new leadership. This isn’t possible when resources are consumed by cyber-threat prevention and mitigation at all hours of the night. RPA can strengthen and simplify your security operations in multiple ways:

  • Deploy security orchestration, automation, and response to improve security management
  • Shut down unauthorized privileged access
  • Robotic security and password configurations are encrypted and can’t be accessed by company personnel
  • Identify and prevent zero-day attacks
  • Cyber-threat identification, bot creation, and threat cleansing
  • Filter out false-positive threats
  • Issue consistent credentials enterprise-wide
  • Automate password rotation
  • Review 100% of access violations in near real-time
  • Improve security and auditing of data
  • Implement intelligent automation using artificial intelligence; e.g., creating tickets in ServiceNow based on threat analysis and immediately shutting down that risk
  • Identify atypical user and machine actions based on behavioral analysis
  • Lower the cost to detect and respond to breaches
  • Rapidly detect, analyze, and defend against cyber attacks
  • Identify behaviors that are unlikely to represent human actions

AI-enabled cybersecurity is increasingly necessary. The volumes of end-point data are exploding, and our budgets are not. Organizations need to turn to RPA as threats overwhelm security analysts. Detection, prediction, and response can all benefit from applying RPA to transform your organization’s cyber defense.

Intelligent automation shares the workload

Becoming more strategic starts when you stop spending all your time on tactical activities. That’s a difficult process when these tactical activities are required to keep our businesses running day-to-day.

Step beyond simply establishing an RPA center of excellence (COE). First, find the early adopters (the believers). These are the folks that push normal off the table and continually challenge what worked okay yesterday. Second, be collaborative. Seek out cross-functional leaders that you can educate to be champions in the pilot. Third, identify a problem. Focus in on a specific business challenge and articulate a business case where RPA is fit-for-purpose. Quickly move from a proof-of-concept (POC) that takes 2-3 weeks to a proof-of-value (POV) that takes 6 weeks.

Blockchain, cognitive analytics, augmented reality, and robotics all present huge and largely untapped opportunities for organizations. Your business model is changing. Be part of the change. Ideate together. Adopt quickly. Embrace the total value of ownership and apply RPA to accelerate business value.