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Automating at scale: can you see the big picture? 
Why some organizations live to regret starting small with RPA

By Gautame Vasista

At the start of the RPA journey, most organizations tend to focus in on individual processes, or even a part of a process. First stage RPA projects typically have a small scope, investigating an individual process element to assess whether it might benefit from automation. Key factors to consider in this would be the ROI, how much of the existing process could be replaced, what downtime would be required to make the change and how this could be managed to minimize impact on business operations.

Looking at processes one by one and piecemeal allows a great deal of focus on fine detail – understandably, when organizations are new to RPA and may lack confidence and experience in the transition process. But there is a downside to this granular approach. It means there’s a lack of attention paid to where the process fits into the wider business and operational environment. That could mean the RPA project overlooks important consequences of unilateral automation, or fails to recognize key co-dependencies of one process within a complex organizational process map.

You could say it’s like looking at a single small section of a jigsaw. You can study a single piece, or fit a few pieces together to complete a part of the whole puzzle, but in isolation, it lacks impact and doesn’t make sense. Those few connected pieces need to be integrated with their neighbors in order to create the full, meaningful and coherent picture.

This is what we mean by automation at scale in robotics. For organizations that have ventured into the world of RPA with a small, process-by-process project, it’s time to think big. And that means zooming out to look at the full picture, to consider everything you might possibly automate and how it will work together. If you’ve yet to take your first step on the RPA journey, we recommend thinking big right from the start.

That sounds like a daunting prospect. But with a systematic approach, and the support of an experienced RPA partner like Lanshore, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. From a logical starting point, which could be the processes that most obviously need automating in your organization, you zoom out to consider the overall RPA journey that your business needs to take. That means talking about processes beyond department level, across functions.

This comprehensive RPA assessment is, of course, more time consuming, complex and therefore more costly than a small-scale approach that harvests only the low-hanging fruit that’s clearly ripe for RPA. But in our experience, the overall cost and effort of an RPA project is less in the long term, if you begin with a clear vision of the operation-wide potential and impact. It means you avoid being hit with remediation costs down the line, when the knock-on effects of process-by-process automation create challenges that you have to tackle reactively. In thinking about how processes connect between functions, you can discover all the current, potential benefits across your operation and identify economies of scale and effort from a connected approach to RPA process evaluation.

As well as identifying dependencies and impacts, this means you can schedule a logical sequence of actions within your large-scale RPA project. This removes the risk of later discovering that the arbitrary order of a series of smaller projects necessitates extra work or is challenged by unforeseen connections and conflicts.

In a fast-paced commercial environment, it’s tempting to look for quick wins and small impacts in RPA that will be easy to plan and sign off without disruption to business as usual. And as a test bed, it’s no bad thing to start out this way with a single process automation that proves the approach to stakeholders. But beyond those initial stages, based on the experiences of our customers who are running the most successful automation programmes, we strongly recommend a full RPA process assessment to identify every area for automation and to map the co-dependencies and impacts of the target processes.