Embracing RPA: The Benefits and Steps for Success

Investing in RPA now is imperative for enabling the procurement function to take advantage of other advanced technologies and intelligence.

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We’re on the cusp of a new age for procurement. With autonomous procurement well within reach, many companies are doubling down on foundational investments in robotic process automation (RPA).

Even still, implementation challenges and misconceptions can prevent organizations from reaping RPA’s full benefits. There are several practical steps procurement can take to ensure the organization gets the most out of the technology.

But first, what is RPA?

RPA is a widely misunderstood technology. The term might conjure up the image of physical robots like what you would see in the Matrix, but RPA is really computer software. These “robots” are configured to mimic human actions within a digital system.  

The rules-based technology captures data, manipulates applications, interprets and triggers responses and then communicates with other systems to perform business processes, such as opening emails, completing forms, recording data into a spreadsheet and more. When RPA is applied with artificial intelligence and machine learning, the technologies can go further to deliver a cognitive decision-making process.

What are the benefits of RPA?

The biggest benefit is that RPA handles low value tasks in the background so procurement professionals can concentrate on strategic objectives and other important activities that require human intellect and creativity. By automating routine and repetitive tasks, you unleash the power of your talent. Your organization can become more agile, reacting more quickly to new opportunities because the team isn’t bogged down with back and front office processes. This boosts retention and employee satisfaction because the team can engage in more rewarding work.

RPA boosts team productivity because it works faster and more accurately than humans. The technology can work around the clock and on multiple tasks at a time, which also lowers operating costs. The fact that RPA is rules-based also means it can ensure compliance with set requirements and detect fraud easier than humans can alone.

From requisitions and invoicing to market intelligence-based pricing and award analysis, the use cases for automation in procurement are plenty. RPA is also business user friendly as it can work on existing applications and infrastructure and requires no code or major technology overhaul.

3 ways to get the most out of your RPA implementation.

Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure that your RPA implementation runs smoothly.

1.      Engage stakeholders early.

RPA implementation isn’t just another IT project. It’s a big change management exercise, which requires communication and collaboration across stakeholder groups – executive leaders, operations teams, data security and IT departments and more. Otherwise, misaligned or unrealistic expectations can slow or impede progress. Those who are unfamiliar with RPA, for example, might incorrectly hope for instant results or complete transformation of processes overnight, which can lead to disappointment.

Set up a center of excellence (CoE) with representatives from each stakeholder group at the outset of implementation. Clearly communicate your goals with RPA, the specific internal activities that will be automated, the overall implementation process and ideal end state to avoid confusion. This alignment at the beginning sets the stage for the implementation’s success.

2.       Identify and qualify target processes thoroughly.

Not all processes can or should be automated. Every RPA implementation should start with a qualification process to confirm whether the tasks and workflows you’re looking at are suitable for automation. RPA is all about streamlining repetitive, tedious tasks and freeing up human employees. Identify the processes that if automated would make employees’ jobs easier.

Labor-intensive and rule-based processes that involve structured data with inputs and outputs tend to be prime targets for RPA. Once you identify the processes, automate in order of which will drive the most value for your organization. Tackling too much too fast can be overwhelming and end up impacting adoption and ROI. 

3.       Build excitement and get employee buy-in.

RPA can be a scary word for employees in non-technical positions. Some staff might view RPA as a threat to job security. The goal of automation is not to replace staff, but to augment the human workforce and enable employees to focus on high value and strategic work. Communicating that message is critical to getting RPA initiatives off the ground as it builds trust with employees and encourages adoption of the technology.  

Before implementation, hold a workshop where employees can design a simple bot. This fun training relaxed environment gives staff an understanding of how RPA works, the end goal, and the benefits to their specific role. Start the implementation process by automating the tasks that your team has been wanting to change or improve. This approach goes a long way in getting staff’s buy-in and builds enthusiasm, ultimately making the implementation process much smoother.

Why invest now

Organizations are increasingly asking procurement teams to be more proactive and strategic. The function’s core mandates are expanding beyond cost savings to include revenue growth, brand protection, diversity progress, sustainability goals, risk reduction and mitigation and more.

Teams can’t focus on driving these objectives forward when they are bogged down in routine work that is better performed by technology. RPA opens teams up to work on the initiatives that will not only move the needle for the business, but also make procurement a more exciting and rewarding place to work. Investing in RPA now is also imperative for enabling the procurement function to take advantage of other advanced technologies and intelligence.