RPA is not a silver bullet: Why no-code holds the key to digital transformation success

Digital transformation

If the UK’s businesses didn’t need to modernize before the pandemic, they certainly do now. The existential crisis many were plunged into over the past two years has reinforced the resolve of boardrooms everywhere that digital transformation is the future. When deployed effectively, it helps to deliver the agility that every business craves, whilst driving the operational efficiencies and productivity gains essential to survival in a period of high inflation and rising costs.

In this context, robotic process automation (RPA) can be a useful tool. But when deployed the wrong way, or in isolation, it may actually end up worsening legacy dependencies rather than alleviating them. Instead, organizations need to think about the bigger picture -- by bringing together apps, automation and extensible integration in a single no-code platform. That’s the best way to achieve modernization at a pace that fits the business.

Why we need to modernize

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IT modernization has accelerated significantly during the pandemic, in some industries fast-forwarding businesses by several years. Some experts claim that organizations were pushed over a "technology tipping point" which has transformed them forever. As users rushed online during the crisis, businesses followed suit. Now as COVID recedes, both are staying put in a digital-first world. But this is putting an intense strain on internal corporate IT resources. 

Complex user journeys and business processes must be mapped, digitized and, in many cases, automated. Whether it’s onboarding a new banking customer or ensuring an NHS cancer patient is referred to the right clinicians, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Three-quarters of UK consumers say they’re likely to stop buying from a business following one bad customer service experience.

Adding to these pressures are the macroeconomic challenges of the post-COVID era, characterized by soaring energy prices, high wage demands and a scarcity of raw materials. A recent British Chambers of Commerce study found that 62 percent of businesses reported energy prices were forcing them to increase costs. 

A slow death

Against this backdrop, increasing automation makes a lot of sense. It can drive operational efficiencies, enhance employee and customer experiences, and help to keep a lid on rising business costs. Even before the current crisis, RPA was seen as something of a silver bullet to fast-tracking the kind of digital improvements businesses craved. By early 2020, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of firms had either deployed the technology or were intending to start within the year. It was adopted with gusto for good reason, offering businesses the ability to scale their operations, free up staff to work on higher value projects, reduce human error and deliver improved customer experiences.

However, many RPA projects have since been dying a slow death. Why? Because they were mis-conceived. IT and business leaders reasoned that ripping out all of their legacy systems and starting from scratch would result in too much cost and untenable project delays. So they sought to paper over the cracks by connecting RPA to legacy systems. But in many cases that has entrenched these same organizations even further into their legacy environments, creating webs of interdependencies that are hard to unravel and modernize. By creating complex workarounds to bridge new solutions with old systems using RPA, they have painted themselves into a corner. Phil Fersht at analyst firm HfS summed it up back in 2019: "RPA hasn’t inspired enterprises to rewire their business processes -- it’s really just helped them move data around the company faster and require less manual intervention." And herein lies the problem. 

A stepping stone to the cloud

Organizations need to find a way to modernize their hybrid legacy/cloud environments -- in an incremental manner that can still deliver high impact results in just a matter of weeks. This "art of the possible" approach is about leveraging existing processes and legacy systems, without getting locked into backwards-looking dependencies. Where RPA helped businesses to continue what they were doing, combining automation with a no code/low code app development platform, businesses can start to reengineer their applications. In this way, businesses can circumvent digital transformation roadblocks and empower business technologists to innovate, whilst freeing up developers to focus on mission critical work.

However, even here there are challenges. Many no-code tools don’t support legacy solutions across different departments, systems and customer/user journeys, they can also exacerbate data silos.

That’s why organizations must look to consolidate on a single no-code / low code platform that can support application development, automation and integration demands to drive faster, lower cost digital transformation with no technical debt. In this way, they will be able to go beyond automating broken processes via siloed RPA deployments. Instead, businesses can deliver complete solutions that sit across disparate systems, and combine multiple technologies to create seamless digital experiences.

The right platform will be able to pull data from anywhere in the organization to create applications that automate manual tasks, streamline inefficient processes and accelerate transformational change. Legacy isn’t going away any time soon. But with a hybrid approach like this that works, organizations have a stepping stone to a new cloud-centric future. 

Image credit: Olivier26/depositphotos.com

Mat Rule is CEO & Founder of no-code enterprise development platform Toca.

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