Getting Started with RPA

The Hackett Group, in conjunction with Symphony Ventures, recently published a whitepaper regarding Robotics Process Automation (RPA). (You may recall that Symphony Ventures conducted an excellent RPA proof of concept at the SIG 2017 Spring Summit with American Honda.) In this whitepaper, the authors provide a blueprint for selecting sourcing opportunities appropriate for RPA. Any sourcing professional worth their salt, should be considering RPA as a viable strategy after reading this statement, "Individual tasks of such processes may be fully automated with RPA, eliminating 100% of labor and up to 90% of cost. The total efficiency improvement achievable through holistic transformation using RPA across end-to-end transactional process can add up to 50% to 75% of baseline cost."

So how does your organization get started? Consider your experience with writing statements of work (SOW) and/or requests for solutions (RFS) - if you have that experience then you already have the skills to consider RPA. The authors liken this to the process of building a house - first draw up your plans and hire an expert, and then procure the tools. You should first think "transformation," which is different than outsourcing. In this case, you are not just moving operations and jobs, but instead automating tasks to free up your workers. Second, define all of your objectives - especially those beyond hard dollar savings. Again, this should be no problem for a sourcing professional who is accustomed to defining soft savings or cost-avoidance. Next, identify the areas that have the greatest potential. The authors provide a comprehensive checklist for auditing possible categories or functions. Remember the initial days of using electronic auctions for collecting pricing from qualified bidders? This is no different. Find the categories that will provide quick wins and start there. Like auctions, it is a good idea to benchmark at this stage. The Hackett Group is an excellent source for benchmarking data—I refer many of our SIG members to them for the latest market intelligence and/or to learn from their groundbreaking advisory work.

Just like any other sourcing initiative, you will want to establish an effective framework for governing the work and reporting the outcomes. This is even more critical in an initiative such as RPA where the strategy may not be widely adopted, but where you would like to convince others of the potential. Something that the authors mentioned which was also a major component of the pilot completed with American Honda, is the partnership with your IT function. Not only should they be involved from the initial stages, but also must be part of the governance framework. If you think about important factors such as data hosting, privacy and security, you will understand the importance of this.

When is change management NOT essential to the success of a major sourcing initiative? By now, sourcing professionals are experts and recognize the criticality of managing change well. It is no less vital in implementing RPA as a solution. Your executives, business unit stakeholders and third parties should be well aware of the objectives, expected transformation and outcomes that will result from implementing RPA.

Finally, the authors recommend conducting a pilot. This is exactly what we did earlier this year in conjunction with American Honda. The Director of the Strategic Procurement Group at American Honda identified a need to automate the process of onboarding employees. Third party providers such as Denali - a WNS company, who manage the talent sourcing process, and PeopleTicker, who provide the rates for employees, got together with Honda and defined a scope. Then they approached Symphony Ventures, as the RPA provider to map the process. Prior to the SIG Summit, we worked with the business unit stakeholders at Honda, including members of their sourcing organization, their contract managers, their HR managers and their IT team, to obtain the necessary information about the systems affected and obtained permissions from the IT team to access the data and hardware. Onsite at the Summit, developers built the code to execute the process of collecting data, input it into the various systems and onboard a new employee. It was pretty incredible to watch and helped people better conceptualize how RPA might work in their own organizations. 

You can find whitepapers, market intelligence and more case studies about the application of RPA in the SIG Resource Center about the application of RPA. Additionally, at the upcoming SIG Summit our SRC Thought Leaders Council will make a presentation on RPA, Artificial Intelligence and Algorithms. This presentation will include insights on how RPA fits into existing businesses and technologies, different strategies for RPA implementation, who the major players are in the marketplace, different flavors of RPA, example use cases, what to look for in a provider and pricing models.

For more on RPA, visit the SRC or look at some of these specific articles:

Mary Zampino, Senior Director of Global Sourcing Intelligence, SIG

Mary Zampino is the Senior Director of Global Sourcing Intelligence at SIG and has over 20 years of experience in information technology and over 15 years of experience in sourcing. Prior to joining SIG, Mary worked at Enporion, where she was responsible for the analysis, configuration, execution and award evaluation for over one thousand sourcing events, across a diverse range of direct and indirect categories. Mary is committed to customer service and considers information sharing and usability the top priorities for any project or organization. Mary holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Science from the Florida State University and has completed certifications in Health Information Technology and Requirements Gathering.