Imagine this scenario: you’re the CIO of a regional health insurance company determined to increase claims processing performance and lower costs.
You’ve been looking into a business process management software (BPMS) solution but business stakeholders have begun talking about using a technology called robotic process automation (RPA).
The question you’re asking yourself is, “Are these two automation technologies essentially the same?
If they’re not, which one is the best choice for us?
As a CIO with a background in the delivery of various IT projects, you’re familiar with BPMS as automation technology linked to Business Process Management (BPM) methodology and practices. In your experience, BPMS is the second step in a two-step approach.
First, BPM practitioners tackled an inefficient process (or processes) by documenting and evaluating the current state; establishing key process performance indicators (KPI) and defining metrics and goals; then re-engineering processes to deliver an optimized, future state performance.
Second, a BPMS project implemented a software application suite which supported the BPM optimization work with process automation and monitoring capabilities. BPMS implementations are typically complex and lengthy, particularly when BPM work cuts across several business units or operating groups.
Back in 2012, just prior to becoming CIO, you led a complicated but successful BPMS project that integrated independent agents via a web browser with legacy billing and underwriting systems. But RPA is unfamiliar territory. Is it just a different flavor of BPMS, or could it offer new ways to tackle the business’s goals of better performance with lower costs?
To get some answers, you asked one of your senior reports to meet with the business people talking up RPA; understand their thinking, then put together a realistic assessment of the technology. After reading his report, you finally had some answers for your questions.
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You learned RPA is the antithesis of automation technology solutions such as ERP or BPMS in several significant ways:
- No complicated systems integration: since RPA typically automates by mimicking human actions at the user interface (UI) level, this automation solution doesn’t intrude upon the underlying systems themselves.
- No Database Intrusion: by engaging data on the presentation layer exactly as the humans it replaces have been doing. RPA automation avoids raising any data security issues or concerns.
- Modest, iterative project scope: aimed at eliminating repetitive rules-based work, projects can begin with simple unit-level business processes and move on to progressively more complex automation, or not.
- Small IT department footprint: by avoiding complex systems integration scope, RPA doesn’t place the resource demands of a large scale implementation project on the IT department.
It was clear RPA’s attractiveness to the business owners was it’s essential simplicity they wouldn’t have to wait for the IT department’s annual budget to finally include a large automation project; quick results (weeks rather than months or years) and a proven, phenomenal potential (up to 65 percent cost reductions; 75 percent reduction in cycle times) to meet their operational goals.
On the other hand, your manager’s report cautioned, RPA shouldn’t be considered a replacement for BPMS at least not in the foreseeable future. While robotic automation capabilities are growing quickly, BPMS’s ability to incorporate flexible, powerful workflow engines with complex, dynamic business rules sets it apart.
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Making the Right Choice
Having drawn this distinction between technologies, your manager went on to state that, in order to choose the correct automation solution, careful attention had to be paid to business cases. For example, in the current circumstance he met with business owners and learned that “last spring the company bought several books of business.
While the policies could be imported into one of our legacy systems, they’re only partially integrated with the 2012 BPMS system and not integrated at all with our two ERP systems. Manual workarounds sufficed up to this point, but new compliance reporting requirements, effective after January 1, will likely mean adding up to 50 FTEs.”
From where you stand, it’s clear this business case overwhelmingly favors either an RPA or a BPO solution. Just from a timeline perspective, specifications for either a BPMS or ERP project could never be completed quickly enough not to mention review, budgeting, approval and implementation.
On the other hand, a factor of months appeared reasonable for RPA to scoped, approved and implemented. Just the fact this new technology wouldn’t require integration with any of the legacy systems and could handle your ERP’s Citrix environment made it a promising option.
Of course, the odds were good that a BPO solution could be implemented just as quickly and, being FTE-based, would also avoid integrating with legacy systems. But it would also very likely lock the business unit into a contract for much higher costs than the robotic solution.
Asking the Right Questions
Since you wear the CIO’s hat, you know the potential performance and cost benefits of the RPA solution make a serious due diligence exercise necessary, particularly in the following areas:
- Innovative Technology: can RPA providers deliver technology that implements quickly, maintains reliability over time and scales rapidly?
- Auditable: since this business case is fundamentally about compliance; will the technology support compliance reviews with features such as auditable log files that cover all software robot actions, outcomes, exceptions and resolutions?
- Enterprise-ready and Secure: is the RPA technology platform built on industry-standard components (e.g. Microsoft Stack); will it support robust identify management and provide a unified authentication system; are all data flows encrypted?
- Support: what level of support will do software vendors provide? Does it cover training and accreditation; long-term technical and user support; implementation and ramp-up methodologies, best practices and lessons learned?
From what you now know, it’s clear this new automation technology has the potential to not only satisfy the specific compliance needs of business stakeholders but also meet the company’s larger objective of increasing claims processing performance with reduced costs.
Further, for properly defined business cases, this automation has compelling advantages over the existing options of BPMS and ERP: its quick implementation time, modest cost and lack of system intrusion makes many process automation opportunities feasible for the first time.
Yet for all these upsides, RPA remains a relatively new technology: defined by proven performance; filled with promise but undoubtedly capable of any number of surprises. Regardless, the benefits are too compelling for you or any CIO to ignore.