Avoid chaos at scale: How to prevent your robots from running amok

Although robotic process automation (RPA) is at the heart of many digital transformation efforts, it’s all too common for organizations to roll out their software robots in a piecemeal fashion. For example, finance deploys its own set of bots, while manufacturing rolls out another, without coordination between the departments. This decentralized approach presents a risk -- one that leads to problems later.

For instance, automated processes often require robots to interact with each other and access or disseminate data, which means they’re often dependent on related systems and policies. But what happens when one of those policies change or a system breaks down?

Your robots stop working and processes come to a grinding halt.

There’s no shortage of situations in which this might happen. Think about it: Legacy systems and websites evolve; applications are updated; passwords expire; spreadsheets get modified and security patches get applied.

Without some sort of standard or way of managing and maintaining your army of robots, when a policy is changed, the robots won’t know what to do -- and they’ll run amok.

Organizations can prevent the chaos by putting in a strong governance program, which becomes especially important as they scale their RPA initiatives. In fact, lack of governance is one of the most common reasons that initial RPA projects fail, according to EY. Without a strong governance program and the right robot lifecycle management tools in place, organisations put their automation initiatives at risk. Robots need guidance, management and maintenance to continue to work properly and deliver maximum value to the organization.

Thus, organizations need to put three essential components in place: a guiding framework, a Center of Excellence, and robot lifecycle management and analytics tools to support the program.

Lay the Governance Groundwork

To maximize RPA benefits, chief operating officers (COOs) and chief information officers (CIOs) must collaborate effectively to establish an optimal software robot deployment and operating model. In designing and implementing a guiding framework, they lay the governance groundwork for how their digital workforce will collaborate. This is very similar to the compliance policies that human talent sign when they start working for a company.

An effective framework requires three elements:

  1. An enterprise robotics council: This team spearheads the program, defines its scope and sets targets for tracking execution efficiency and outcomes.
  2. A business unit governance council: This group is responsible for prioritising RPA projects across departments and business units.
  3. An RPA technical council or Center of Excellence (COE): This team designs standards, formulates working principles and guidelines, and compiles best practices.

Establish a Center of Excellence

The Center of Excellence is a group of core resources and people responsible for guiding everything related to automation, including managing and maintaining standards and vendors; establishing best practices; training and so much more. Its members include IT as well as subject matter experts from each business unit. With this collection of intelligence, the team is better equipped not only to make decisions on the right RPA tools to deploy but also which processes are prime candidates for automation.

There are three main CoE models, which differ according to how responsibilities are shared across the enterprise.

Centralized operating model: A single team is responsible for running and controlling all aspects of the program.

Decentralized operating model: The responsibilities for running the automation program are replicated across separate business units within the organization.

Hybrid operating model: Some aspects of the automation program are run by a single, centralized team, while others are replicated across business units.

Organizations should choose the model that makes the most sense given where they are today and adjust down the road as needed.

Invest in Robot Lifecycle Management Tools and Analytics

Governance is easy to accomplish when RPA tools include management and oversight capabilities like version control. More sophisticated capabilities, such as Robot Lifecycle Management, help teams manage enterprise RPA robot deployments from hundreds to thousands of RPA robots. For example, the tools help users keep track of changes, compare files and explore changes made. In addition, they also make it easy to store backup files so that if companies have to revert to a previous working version, they can do so effortlessly.

At scale, a strong governance and version control program becomes increasingly important. When a robot breaks down, if you don’t have governance or digital workforce analytics, it’s almost impossible to track which one among hundreds or thousands is causing an issue or where one may have crashed into another and stopped a process in its tracks.

By leveraging a Center of Excellence along with sophisticated tools like Robot Lifecycle Management, organizations can take a more business-centric approach to RPA that goes far beyond simple task automation.

A strong governance program is a key RPA success indicator. When it’s supported by Robot Lifecycle Management and digital workforce analytics, you reduce the risk your robots will run amok.

Image credit: Kritsada.S/ Shutterstock

Bryant Bell has spent over 20 years in information technology and services as a global market strategist and a specialist in automation, GRC, eDiscovery and archiving. A past speaker at several industry conferences, Bryant has provided insight on predictive analytics, machine learning and compliant archiving. He’s initiated governance, eDiscovery and archiving programs with such companies as Wolters Kluwer, EMC, Dell Technologies and OpenText. In his current role as Director of Product Marketing for RPA at Kofax, Bryant’s known as a passionate evangelist for automation as a method to unleash the value of information and human ingenuity and transform the enterprise.

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