What is Strategic RPA?

RPA vendors push the idea that automation is strategic. Maybe, maybe not. Do you need a costly Center of Excellence for automation, if it's not strategic?

It’s become a cliché: “use automation strategically.” That might seem obvious for any significant technology. Many leaders do not distinguish between automation as a strategy and automation in support of a strategy, automation as a means and automation as an end.

Some of this confusion is caused by automation vendors who promiscuously misuse the term ‘strategy’ for almost every feature of their product. We’ll find it very useful to be clear about what strategy is.

Strategy relates ends ends to means. It is thus both a process and an product. Automation strategy is the product that specifies what business objectives should be obtained. Automation strategy is also spoken of as the the way we use automation to achieve our desired ends. To distinguish between these two uses, we call the first sense the Automation Strategy; the latter sense we call Automation Operations.

Automation decisions should always be strategic nor always operational. Like everything in business, it depends.

Should Automation be strategic for your business?

All businesses have common interests: survival and security, economic growth and profits, shareholder and management control, legal and regulatory compliance. The strategic considerations for automation are obvious:

  1. Can automation help preserve the company’s survival and help secure the owners’ investment?
  2. Can automation reduce costs, increase revenue, improve competitive advantage, or enhance market access or other profit-making activity?
  3. Can automation improve operational control of company operations?
  4. Can automation reduce legal and regulatory risk?

One way to think through these questions is to imagine robots performing business tasks. Suppose Widgets Corp. processes loan transactions. What if a robot answered calls form business customers? That would probably be bad. What if a robot processed the loan application, and specified the required documents from the borrower? That might help.

If you could move people away from processing documents to helping customers on the phone, you would:

  • lower labor costs by moving workers from a high-skill/high-cost task to a low-cost one
  • increase the number of people available to help customers, reducing wait times and frustration
  • help underwriters by reducing errors in document collection
  • reduce regulatory fines for failing to document loans properly, because robots have fewer errors
  • increase loan intake throughput capacity

You would risk:

  • entangling your process with the product roadmap of a vendor
  • incurring costs for software licensing and other technology
  • organization integrity by altering fundamentally the management structure of the work
  • incurring change management costs as you move to an automated workflow

Is all that strategic or operational? That depends. If you see labor-force transition as a vital interest for the survival of the company, it’s strategic. If it’s just a cost savings, than it’s operational.

Use this matrix to help guide the level of decision-making.

Use the matrix to help you decide what decision process to take with automation technologies. Don’t believe the vendor hype. You may just need an operational fix. And that’s OK.

Don’t let vendors trick you into treating an operational decision like a strategic one just to increase the vendor’s revenue take. Likewise, don’t let a vendor downplay the strategic considerations just to speed up the sale.

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