RPA and the Role of IT: Workbench or Center of Excellence?

Despite immense growth figures, the automation of repetitive processes is often driven by business aspects. Users in departments such as purchasing and controlling are implementing RPA because they want to increase efficiency and data quality, while minimizing error rates. But what is the role of the IT department? RPA is still a software technology – and its complexity does not lie in simply linking workflows together. In addition to infrastructure issues, the IT department has important knowledge and skills for operating and scaling RPA effectively and efficiently throughout the enterprise.

Our appeal: Don’t get shut out

According to market analyst Gartner, Robotic Process Automation is the fastest growing segment in the enterprise software market – for the second year in a row. The software robot technology for the automation of recurring processes and tasks is well received: It is relatively easy to use and inexpensive. Users can achieve success within weeks even without IT knowledge. There is no need for complex consulting or even intervention in existing systems, because RPA primarily accesses programs via the user interface, imitating the activities of a human user.

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Option A: Extended workbench and IT support 

Yet surprisingly, many IT departments are still not addressing the issue. In many markets, the “digital pure players” are industry leaders, digital transformation is virtually omnipresent, and the pressure to reduce costs is increasing everywhere. The IT department has the expertise, methods, and models to successfully operate and scale a technology company-wide in a “factory approach”. Moreover, it is already responsible for the existing software applications and systems within a company. When a process is automated, the executing software robot or RPA robot (“bot”) accesses these systems managed by IT. This means that there are points of contact with Robotic Process Automation anyway, at least with IT Service Management (ITSM). After all, if important IT systems such as SAP or central document management systems are down or unavailable due to an update, then the bot cannot carry out the automation. Therefore, communication with IT Service Management (ITSM) in particular is important for stable operations. And the RPA solution, which is software, also needs to be maintained and updated. That’s where the IT department comes in handy….

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Careful: No-code doesn’t mean uncontrolled

Yes, the no-code trend is in full swing. For enterprise business users, no-code offers a great user experience. They can use the technology independently, benefit from it, and do so completely without programming. Automation leaves them more time for innovation. For the time being, the no-code approach is good for broad acceptance and thus for the rapid spread of automation across as many areas as possible. However, the growing number of users, also known as RPA developers or citizen developers, and the increasing number of RPA projects and bots also has to be managed. Otherwise, the result will quickly be uncontrolled growth. In addition, there are issues involving the governance, compliance, and scalability of process automation. Specifically, these include questions such as:

  • To what extent does RPA support the corporate and digitalization strategy?
  • What use cases are there for process automation and which are best suited?
  • Who is centrally responsible for the topic?
  • Which processes are needed, for example, for approvals or handovers?
  • Who automates at all in the company and what is being worked on?
  • Which internal or external legal or regulatory requirements need to be taken into account?
  • What about data protection and privacy?

All these questions show how important the internal exchange and the overarching, strategic consideration of RPA are. Roughly speaking, they can be summarized under the topic of “RPA governance”. Governance stands for the general control of automation. In particular, this requires transparency and information about internal automation projects, their progress and success. Some departments might already be dealing with artificial intelligence (AI). Contact with IT experts is essential to answer all these questions. The possibilities for process automation naturally increase when combined with AI and machine learning, for example, by integrating (intelligent) chatbots. Such additional components can usually be connected to RPA solutions easily via appropriate interfaces – and intelligent automation is already created.

Option B: Demand Responsibility as a “Center of Excellence” for Process Automation

It is now up to the IT department itself to actively demand responsibility for Robotic Process Automation at the company. After all, well-implemented digitalization and automation requires IT, as well as developers with more in-depth expertise and skills in the areas of maintenance, monitoring. and governance occasionally. This is also confirmed by market analyst Gartner. Back in 2019, the RPA analyst already noted that many organizations underestimate the complexity of Robotic Process Automation. The biggest challenges or success factors for RPA deployment are: (1) transparency, (2) interdisciplinary collaboration (especially between business departments and IT), (3) governance, and (4) scalability. Therefore, these aspects belong on the requirements list for any RPA solution.

Instead of first-level support, “first contact person” for process automation

The IT department is very experienced in all these topics – from planning and implementation to operating models and scaling. It is the department that has deployed the most software robots to date, for example, in automated testing or end-user experience monitoring. Take advantage of these competencies and expand them. If you don’t want to be seen purely as a service department or even a cost center, you should actively embrace your role as an expert and approach your (internal) customers. A successful automation journey takes both sides: the business departments know their processes very well, while IT knows the existing systems.

Our recommendation: Put together an initial agile RPA team that examines the topic and explores possibilities. With robotics, you can establish yourself as a value-added business partner in your company, help shape its future and, of course, further automate IT processes. Incidentally, the consultancy Deloitte quantifies the added value of process automation in very specific  terms: productivity increases of up to 86 percent, improvements in compliance and data quality of over 90 percent, and cost reductions of up to 59 percent. Therefore, their application also adds to your bottom line, in addition to positive side effects such as optimization of processes, advancement of digitalization, and a more automated organization overall.

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