When it comes to new technology solutions, Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) has received plenty of attention and buzz at conferences and in the trade press, and it has translated into tangible benefits for companies that have taken the plunge. But to the uninitiated, IPA has often been poorly positioning or communicated in the marketplace in a way that instantly stirs business leaders and process owners into action.
If you’ve been wondering what the hype is all about, and how to get on the bandwagon and take advantage, this blog is for you. If you’ve already gotten a clue and are in the early stages of putting IPA to work to reduce repetitive, wasteful and error-prone work, this Blog is for you, too.
Before we dig into some concrete steps you can take to embrace IPA, let’s start with a simple definition of what IPA is—and what it isn’t.
When I first explained IPA to a peer with decades of experience in ERP system technology and process automation, is reaction was, “That sounds like macros,” referring to the recordable repeatable actions you could embed into a spreadsheet. He wasn’t too far off in that observation, particularly when it comes to robotic process automation (RPA), which is like IPA’s dumber brother.
Robotic process automation allows users to quickly and simply automate keystrokes and mouse actions on a computer to automate repeatable actions that can be triggered in a number of ways. Intelligent process automation takes the next step by making the steps that can be automated more flexible and adaptable to the real world, so that every exception doesn’t have to have its own rule, requiring additional user intervention (which is what we’re trying to avoid with all this automation).
So, before we dig into a few ways to get started, picture any high volume process in your organization or your department that includes lots of tedious, manual work. Like data entry. Or document sorting. Anything where there are manual keystrokes and lots of data, documents or systems that may or may not be integrated might be a good candidate.
Chances are, if you begin to envision all the tasks linked to processes within your business where the mouse and keyboard are the tools of the trade, you’ll find lots of places where intelligent process automation can help out. Often, it’s back office processes where the volume of data and documents threatens to overwhelm your staff and risk the introduction of errors.
If you want to further prioritize the kinds of tasks that IPA can best handle for your organization, ask yourself and your team members the following questions:
Now that you have a sense of which processes within your organization might benefit from IPA, it’s time to do your homework and look at the existing platforms and applications available to automate those processes.
RPA and IPA is a surprisingly mature market at this point, with lots of vendors out there. This is good news and bad news. Lots of choices—but many of them can be confusing.
Your best bet is to talk to a variety of vendors and focus in on specific use cases. Look for vendors who can:
Once you’ve defined a case and found a vendor you’re comfortable with to automate your process, it’s time to build out your business case and secure a budget. In doing so, make sure to anticipate questions about immediate and long-term cost savings. Look at the first year, three years and five year projections and quantify the cost of not doing anything.
As a rule of thumb, an IPA project should be able to demonstrate ROI within a year. Depending on the process and the systems involved, many can be deployed in as little as 180 days and deliver an ROI in as little as six months. If you can’t cost justify an IPA project within those parameters, that’s fine, but consider scaling your initial project to make those kinds of milestones achievable. Hit those early KPIs and you can build upon your early success.
Often the challenge with measuring ROI from an IPA project is truly understanding the costs and inefficiencies associated with the status quo—and setting relevant, appropriate goals for automation.
Factors to consider include:
Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) may reflect cost savings in terms of headcount, or it may reflect the costs associates with early or late payment of an invoice. Or, you may strike to measure and manage towards KPIs based on employee feedback to measure whether IPA is allowing your staff to execute more higher level, problem-solving work because they are less burdened by mundane manual tasks. At the same time, consider the costs and risks associated compliance and current processes. What is the cost of an audit and the related preparation time today? What is the value of having more timely, accurate access to the same data and process audit trail, minus the manual effort?
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