Without a doubt, robotic process automation (RPA) is a worldwide success story with proven benefits including process improvements, reduced operating costs, improved productivity, and more fulfilled employees, who are pleased to be redeployed onto more meaningful and value-driven tasks.
The statistics speak for themselves: According to Gartner, the technological research and consulting firm, the global RPA sector saw revenue growth of 31% in 2021, which is almost twice the growth rate of the overall software market at 16%.
However, it is vital that enthusiasm for the positive aspects of RPA doesn’t overshadow the need to assess, understand and mitigate the risks the technology can pose.
Technology investments, such as RPA, require a planned approach to ensure risks such as security issues, and technical bugs and a poorly planned implementation can significantly dent ROI and business workflows.
The following are some of the most frequent RPA risks:
RPA sourcing risks
Any RPA solution will only work as well as the skill of the technicians that implemented it. If a company decides to keep an RPA project in-house and allocates it to the internal IT department because their knowledge of the company’s processes will pass as adequate expertise, then it will be little surprise that the implementation falls seriously short.
If it’s decided to keep the RPA project in-house then either ensure IT staff are fully trained or hire experienced RPA consultants, who are fully up to speed on implementation.
Similarly, choosing an external company with some RPA credentials but an unproven track record is also likely to end in tears. It is essential to source a supplier that has the credentials, the experience, and solid client feedback at the least.
Even smaller RPA projects necessitate a risk management strategy and it’s only when you have sourced a credible RPA vendor that the RPA risk strategy can be completed.
Additional questions to vet an automation vendor include asking about the volume of RPA bots they have implemented, the experience with different RPA tools, as well as the experience with automation governance.
RPA strategy risks
With limited knowledge of RPA, it is easy to overlook the full potential of the technology thereby only reaping mediocre rewards. It’s often the case that implementations are carried out designed around false expectations, poorly defined business goals, and inaccurate KPIs.
Once implemented, a system such as this, simply doesn’t match the expectations, leading to disappointment and uncertainty.
Poorly designed goals and expectations won’t have enough definition to be converted into clear RPA processes. Consequently, the system output will be similarly wooly as the technology is being completely underused.
To mitigate some of these strategy risks it is vital the entire RPA team spend time absorbing and discussing the full aims, potential, and limitations of the RPA plan to create a cohesive RPA risk management strategy.
It’s only with this comprehensive framework in place that staff can find the focus to proceed with developing the RPA strategy itself.
Stakeholder buy-in risk
The reasons why key stakeholders in an RPA project are sidelined are manyfold and complicated. Sometimes the technological complexity of RPA creates an almost elitist undercurrent, while the misguided fears of others over possible RPA redundancies loom as a real threat.
What is clear is that implementing a large RPA project, in which some of the stakeholders don’t feel included, is short-sighted in the extreme. All stakeholders will be able to feedback very useful information, both in implementation and operation, and so their input shouldn’t be overlooked.
Additionally, by feeling part of the whole project the productivity of staff will increase, as will their job satisfaction.
When devising a coherent RPA risk management strategy, the problems associated with alienating stakeholders need to be quantified and mitigated early on so that remedial action can smooth the way for a more efficient implementation.
With all relevant staff positively on board, the implementation and operation of RPA will become much more of a team effort, and the virtuous cycle that entails.
Often, involvement is the easiest and most effective cure. Simply involving stakeholders in open conversation will be enough to demonstrate to them the advantages of automation, as well as provide reassurance that RPA is an additional tool rather than a threat to livelihoods.
Tool selection risks
The success of RPA has led to even more success in the form of diversification. Consequently, there are more and more RPA tools available every year, and inevitably knowledge of their functionality and adaptation in an RPA program becomes more complicated. As with any new product, vendors can be overly enthusiastic regarding their efficiency and flexibility.
We all need the right tools for the job and RPA tools are no different. Employing an RPA tool consultant, who can not only fully interpret the product descriptions but also someone who has the foresight, knowledge, and confidence to see the optimum tools achieving your business goals as part of an RPA program.
A thorough evaluation of the RPA tools by an expert will be able to ascertain their functionalities and this needs to be clearly documented in the risk management strategy. Some of the leading automation tool brands include UiPath, Blue Prism, and
Automation Anywhere, have created a worldwide loyal following among automation companies.
As companies approach maturity, scaling operations is a natural part of the progression. It’s no different with RPA, which also must scale across acquired business units and locations.
However, this scaling can lead to specific problems within RPA. For example, the demand for automation requests may suddenly grow the capability or lack of communication between divisions may result in duplicated work.
Fortunately, none of the downsides of maturity risk are insurmountable. To mitigate maturity risk requires a centralized database, which enhances the efficiency of automation as it matures. This can be in the form of standardized solutions or programs of continuous improvement, which can be drawn on as required.
In the longer term, an RPA program that has been fundamentally mitigated by a solid risk management strategy and a well-defined RPA strategy is much more likely to maximize the potential of the overall project.
Operational and execution risks
To illustrate the concept of operational risk it is easy to look at the example of a company, which decides to employ RPA specifically as a tool to reduce staff numbers and costs.
Often this scenario leads to failure for several reasons including the inappropriate purchase of the RPA tool, taking too many shortcuts, making poor assumptions, and treating security and compliance as an irrelevance
Without a carefully designed and implemented RPA model, staff members’ roles are muddled leading to confusion and errors. By using ongoing training, the risks associated with the operation and execution are mitigated and staff work efficiently as they have clearly defined roles.
Change management risks
Change management projects are particularly prone to be underestimated and under-resourced in execution. In addition, they can fall prey to poor communication plans, which are a product of inertia from staff and a deficiency of operational models to lead the way.
Such a collection of inadequacies can lead to a whole host of knock-on effects between different departments, such as strategy, process technology, and HR. The overall business effect results in serious inefficiency and missed opportunities.
For an RPA program to flourish it needs to have the backing of a change management strategy, which is well-informed, realistic, and which is communicated clearly to all relevant stakeholders.
Launch or project risks
Some projects almost fail before they are launched. This is the case with ‘wrong use’ deployments, where the business goal is ill thought out or simply inappropriate. Using RPA as a method of reducing staff headcount is a case in point. By concentrating solely on the staffing issue, the whole integration of the RPA into the department is almost ignored.
A properly planned risk management strategy and RPA strategy would soon highlight such shortfalls.