According to the Capgemini Research Institute, large organizations will achieve savings of almost $500 billion dollars in aggregate by 2022 using intelligent process automation (IPA). The most mature of the current crop of IPA tools are software robots, commonly referred to as robotic process automation (RPA) products.
We are now seeing the rapid adoption of RPA to streamline and scale a range of front- and back-office activities. While large financial institutions were among the first to aggressively embrace RPA, the trend we are seeing now spans across industries.
But the rapid acquisition of these tools is often accompanied by challenges. The key issues manifest themselves with questions that we, as one of the larger RPA integrators globally, hear on a regular basis:
- “We’ve done some proof-of-concepts, but how do we ‘industrialize’ RPA to deliver benefits faster?”
- “Now that we’ve put some bots into production, what’s a good support model look like?”
- “Before the business lines develop dozens of bots, what kind of governance processes should we establish?”
The answer, for most organizations, hinges on the establishment of an effective RPA Center of Excellence (or COE).
A COE provides the structural framework for managing the growth of RPA within an enterprise and, most importantly, maintaining the benefits realized beyond the initial honeymoon period.
What are the Core Capabilities of an RPA COE?
To drive these capabilities, we see best-in-class RPA COEs supplying five key services:
- Governance: establish the policies, procedures, and standards for bot qualification, development and deployment to meet audit, regulatory, information security, and compliance requirements;
- Technology: select the right automation tools and then organize the maintenance and support of these tools. Drive the integration of RPA into the fabric of IT Service Management (ITSM), including change management and the configuration management database (CMDB);
- Processes: execute and monitor the complete lifecycle of RPA in the enterprise, from evaluating automation opportunities to deploying bots into production environments with a scalable support structure;
- People and Culture: analyze and effect the changes to human roles by RPA, from organizational change management (OCM) to redefined job descriptions and even altered org structures;
- Organization: define the organizational structure of the COE itself, including the definition of a RACI chart to define the roles and responsibilities for all aspects of RPA;
These five elements, whether simply overseen or closely managed by a COE, help define and maintain an organization’s RPA Operating Model. The operating model is the circulatory system for managing RPA throughout an enterprise, focused on the development and support of high-quality bots that deliver the benefits they’ve promised.
Alternative Organizational Structures for RPA COEs
Because RPA innovation can be business-led, we see three basic structures used to support an enterprise-wide automation effort.
- The COE as a support function for the business: this model provides a loosely governed operating model, most suitable for less regulated industries (e.g., consumer packaged goods, industrial manufacturing, etc.). In this scenario, the lines of business establish their own COE guidelines and structures, which can aid speed and flexibility but may hamper scalability.
- The COE as a central RPA provider: this model provides a shared service comprised of business and IT members who manage all aspects of RPA intake, delivery and support. This option supports high scalability but can require more significant discussions with business and IT stakeholders to establish the framework for a true shared service.
- The COE in IT as enabler for business: on the opposite side of the spectrum from the first option is a COE closely managed by IT. While it’s usually easier to get executive support for this model, it can hamper enterprise scalability in some cases.
We find most successful RPA deployments use a hybrid of these options. The recipe for finding the right model involves taking each of the five COE elements and scoring them for suitability in the organization. The scoring could range, say, from 1 to 5, where 1 represents a federated, business-led model and 5 represents centralized control in IT.
These scores help align business and IT stakeholders on the “right” operating model for a given business.
Further, some firms are creating overarching Automation COEs, which encompass business process management (BPM) tools, departmental workflow systems, and RPA. This allows the COE to establish guardrails around which process efficiency tool should be employed for a given automation opportunity.
In short, COEs are a critical — yet sometimes overlooked — factor in building a robust RPA program. While establishing a COE requires time and effort, the payback can be significant.
A COE helps manage the full lifecycle of RPA, from developing the business case for an automation opportunity all the way to supporting a large bot ecosystem within your environment.
Organizations in the midst of adopting RPA — or even considering it — should examine how a COE can maximize the benefits of the ever-evolving scope of intelligent automation products.
About Doug Ross
Doug Ross is the former CTO at Western & Southern Financial Group, a Fortune 500 diversified financial services company. While there, Ross won a ComputerWorld Premier 100 Award as well as an SMA Innovation in Action Award for innovative solutions that helped the organization open new and highly profitable distribution channels.
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