Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is on the rise, thanks to the potential for cost reduction, increased efficiency and accuracy. But Mark Davison, a former CIO and now a director in the RPA practice at Alsbridge, an outsourcing and technology consultancy, explains that business leaders often bypass IT when implementing RPA solutions. This creates a disconnect between business leaders and IT departments, and can lead to conflicts between existing IT protocols and standards and the new software. Davison argues that IT involvement in the selection and implementation of RPA tools is imperative to mitigate operational and financial risks and optimize automation benefits.
In a conversation with Stephanie Overby of CIO (found in full in the article, “Should CIOs be chief robot wranglers?”), Davison explains the importance of CIO involvement in RPA adoption. Because CIOs are responsible for managing IT and overseeing its role in supporting an organization’s operations, they should be working in lockstep with business leaders in order to understand exactly how RPA will affect IT infrastructure and human resources. With the CIO’s involvement and support, Davison suggests, an organization’s RPA implementation is more likely to meet business leaders’ expectations for cost-cutting and efficiency. Overby and Davison’s conversation is excerpted below:
CIO: How important will RPA initiatives be to companies in the near future? Why?
Mark Davison, director, Alsbridge: Businesses are recognizing the benefits [of RPA]. The most apparent is cost reduction: a robot that costs $10,000-$15,000 a year to implement and maintain can, in many cases, replace five to 10 humans. But in many cases other benefits are more important. For example, robots produce work that is more dependable, accurate, documentable and auditable. This helps improve process consistency as well as regulatory compliance, which is critical to highly regulated industries such as banking and pharma. With robots in the environment, transactions also get processed more quickly, which means more efficient payments and logistics. And, robots enhance analytics through their ability to rapidly process and collect huge volumes of data, which is a boon to industries such as healthcare and retail seeking to leverage big data.
CIO: Why do RPA initiatives often bypass the CIO?
Davison: IT is often focused on other issues such as managing infrastructure or applications, or on strategic business issues or major systems implementations. As a result, RPA projects tend to fly under the radar, and are sometimes perceived by IT as being a relatively low priority.
CIO: What operational and business risks result when IT is not involved?
Davison: One risk is that the business benefits of the RPA deployment will be delayed. If IT is brought in as an afterthought, technical issues that the business didn’t anticipate can arise and the project can be delayed. And that delay can be a significant issue for the business sponsors of the initiative, who likely built a business case that promised to deliver RPA benefits by a specific date.
On the operational side, if the CIO isn’t involved in vetting the RPA vendor and solution, there’s a risk that the solution won’t conform to performance standards or technical environment and configuration requirements. There are also potential issues around whether to include an RPA implementation and robots in disaster recovery and change management processes. Once deployed, robots can run around the clock, and if IT is out of the loop, application or infrastructure updates could compromise the robots’ performance and results.
CIO: What specific steps can CIOs take to support business RPA programs?
Davison: CIO’s should be involved as part of their role of overseeing strategy and governance. More specifically, since the CIO controls IT resources, they need to be involved in managing how those resources will be used to install and support the initiative in terms of infrastructure and applications and change management. The CIO needs to ensure that the changes resulting from the RPA solution are in lockstep with IT. In a BPO solution, the provider may bring their own proprietary RPA tool into the environment to connect to the client’s system or may propose a third party solution. So the CIO needs to understand the technology in order to optimize performance and resource allocation, and effectively support users.
From an organizational politics standpoint, a CIO’s endorsement can facilitate buy-in across different business units, which is essential to ensuring results.
CIO: Are there lessons to be applied here from how CIOs have effectively (or ineffectively) handled other forms of shadow IT?
Davison: In many respects, the dynamics at play with shadow RPA are similar to what we’ve seen in the past. Years ago, departments would buy their own PCs that didn’t conform to enterprise standards for capability, performance, documentation and backup—and consequently you’d see problems downstream. The net results were the sub-optimization of funds spent, poor performance, inability to integrate into the enterprise, and—ultimately—replacement of the systems. The result then, as it is now, is that if IT isn’t involved, the solution will be sub-optimal. So the lesson for IT is to get involved early and often, and to be perceived as an enabler rather than an obstacle.