Woman using a RPA Robotic Process Automation system by pressing a button. Composite image between a … [+]
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is software that helps to streamline tasks and activities within the workplace. The technology has been shown to lead to significant ROI (Return On Investment), as seen with companies like Intuit. Back in 2018, the firm launched an RPA pilot program using the UiPath platform and the initial focus was on the finance department, which had about 450 full-time employees.
All in all, the results have been standout. For example, Intuit created a bot to verify chargebacks, which shortened the process from one day to on-demand—saving 745 hours. Then there was another bot that processed customer returns, which cut the time from ten days to on-demand. There were about 450 hours saved.
This success, of course, was due to a variety of factors like buy-in from senior executives as well as extensive planning. But there was something else that was critical: the creation of a Center of Excellence (CoE). This is a team that helps to manage the RPA system.
“There are two major things that successful CoEs accomplish,” said Yasir Qureshi, who is the senior director of strategy and business development of IoT and Analytics at Software AG. “First, a COE helps standardize on the framework for deployment for the company so that it can execute a project that has faster time to market. Second, CoEs provide leadership in helping a business unit define the requirements for a successful business case and optimize the resources required to implement and operationalize the project. At its core, a CoE is a central governance structure that provides leadership, best practices and support for any business initiative. A CoE also allows these disparate technical and operational groups to quickly align on the initiative and openly collaborate, discuss and sort through any roadblocks or challenges along the way.”
No doubt, assembling the team should take much consideration. “A CoE that isn’t agile by definition or exists solely in conjunction with IT or one specific business area is likely to fail, given that the CoE’s role is to align areas that typically are disjointed,” said Agustin Huerta, who is the VP of Technology, AI and Process Automation Studios at Globant. “To achieve this, RPA should be executed, when possible, by teams that are close to the business and specialized in a certain domain. The CoE must also avoid becoming static, as it’s crucial the team can adjust as quickly as business and customer needs change, and evolve the technology as necessary to remain competitive.”
As for Intuit, it’s CoE has a team of four:
- Leader: This person is responsible for the strategy and execution of it.
- Analyst: He or she manages areas like the roadmap, backlog, business process assessment, reporting and tracking of ROI.
- Two Developers: They design, create, test and deploy bots. They are also responsible for ongoing support and enhancements.
The team has a set of guiding principles to help with the decision making. Here are some of them: partner with tech teams to achieve digital transformation; optimize a process before automating it; minimize the technical debt; follow the Software Development Life Cycle methodology; and ensure security and controls are maintained. To help with this, Intuit also uses project management tools.
“We use Aha for backlog management as an intake tool where we go through prioritization and roadmap for each quarter,” said Maaly Mohamed, who is Intuit’s Finance Automation COE Leader. “We also use it as a development project management tool, where we track RPA development life cycle phases and its related activities, starting with completing an assessment to determine the right approach for automation, as well as define any process improvement that needs to take place before automation, followed by solution design, build, test and deploy. We track each phase with a related set of deliverables in Aha to help us report on SLA and identify where we can improve our development process.”
And of course, there is ongoing education. “We encourage our employees to become certified developers, leveraging the UiPath academy online program to build the skill set and capability in their teams,” said Mohamed. “So far, we have two finance employees complete their certification and 25 others signed up to get certified and develop automation processes for their teams.”
Bottom Line About The CoE
There are certainly many ways where a CoE can go off the rails. Hey, there are enough jokes about committees to attest to this!
So what are some ways to help keep things on track? Well, consider this advice from Pat Geary, who is Blue Prism’s Chief Evangelist:
- Ensure that the CoE is aligned to a company’s vision for digital transformation (which, of course, assumes there is one).
- There needs to be some level of technical expertise.
- There is a clear-cut definition of success and how to achieve this.
- There must be an understanding of business processes before there is an RPA implementation.
Yes, all this means that the CoE needs to be a priority. But it is well worth it and will provide the foundation for going beyond RPA, such as with implementing AI and other next-generation technologies.
“As we think about the larger digital transformation happening, Intuit is constantly innovating to stay ahead of the pace of technology, which includes finding ways to be more agile as an organization and provide better overall customer experiences,” said Mark Flournoy, who is the VP Corporate Controller & Chief Accounting Officer at Intuit. “Our approach is to optimize our usage of existing systems through continuous enhancements, invest in new systems in core capabilities like Month End Close management tools and Money Movement. We are also exploring how to combine AI with RPA, as well as exploring Business Process Mining.”
Tom (@ttaulli) is the author of the book, Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction, as well as the upcoming book, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems.