RPA and the Role of the Tech Buyer

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Alishah Novin teaching technology concepts to students

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a tool with the potential to transform a business, and IT involvement has always been critical in one way or another. However, since RPA initiatives are typically led by Operations, IT departments may be left out earlier in the process where their input could have been valuable. We sat down with John Agnitsch, Global Technology Leader at HPA, to learn why tech buyers are so essential to successful RPA selection and adoption.

Q. Tell us about the role IT plays in RPA adoption and implementation. Why is it so important for IT leaders to be involved throughout the RPA initiative?

IT departments used to be very tactical inside an organization. But things have changed, and now, instead of simply serving as a hardware facilitator, IT departments are called to lead and guide software strategy.

RPA is not a solution to be implemented in a silo. IT leaders must look across the enterprise to maximize the investment in RPA licenses and infrastructure. It is critical for IT leaders to take an active role in adoption, not take a “build it and they will come” approach, similar to the Big Data trend in recent years: technology was introduced to utilize commodity hardware that could process large datasets. Couple that with inexpensive storage and a few enterprise success stories, and IT leaders were all in. They set up massive Hadoop clusters and loaded the instances with data, expecting that valuable business insights would magically appear. Unfortunately, many companies learned a hard lesson: they ended up with a complex environment with unnecessary overhead to solve a problem they never even defined. Some companies regrouped and were able to salvage their investment, but others were forced to retire the environments and admit defeat.

The same pitfall exists for RPA. If the RPA value across an enterprise is not understood, along with a clear mission established and the right expertise in place, the likelihood of a successful RPA implementation and expansion is unlikely, at best. For companies with existing RPA implementations, IT must take the lead in driving adoption across the enterprise. For organizations considering RPA, IT must be part of the Center of Excellence to help define the success criteria, understand the goals, and unify the enterprise.

When it comes to selecting RPA software, IT should be directly involved so they can assess all the system requirements. As with any technical purchase, tech leads need to make sure that the software and hardware are compatible with the architecture of the company and align with their business goals.

Q. What is the general impact of RPA adoption on IT?

When RPA emerged several years ago, IT’s role was limited to establishing the infrastructure and managing the licenses. However, IT is now playing a much larger role earlier in the process. This shift in role is driven, in part, by the need for traditional technology project staffing for enterprise automation initiatives. Early adopters typically leveraged third parties to do implementations, but as adoption grows across the enterprise, IT is having to take on the documentation, configuration, deployment and operation of licensed enterprise automation. Additionally, as more work is shifted to robots during turbulent economic times, RPA solutions become a critical part of business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

IT must also consider the impact on RPA as the transition to the cloud accelerates. Generally speaking, hardware requirements vary by the vendor, the types of processes being automated, and the intelligent automation components being executed.

Q. Has the role of the CIO changed in recent years relative to RPA initiatives?

The role of the CIO has shifted from business enablement to leading strategy. Cost savings and FTE reduction are important factors in RPA, but it would be shortsighted for these to be the only reasons you want to automate. As an RPA initiative matures, the desire to improve customer experience and add business value is dramatically increasing. While companies want to save money and become more efficient, providing an excellent customer experience is an increasingly common driver for RPA implementation.

Take mortgage origination, for example. A red-hot real estate market coupled with historically low interest rates means that digital lenders won’t be able to maintain a quick loan cycle as volume increases. Operations can’t hire fast enough to meet the demand, or train well enough to ensure the level of regulatory compliance and accuracy needed. Technology has to fill the gaps, and automation is the ideal solution to normalize operations in times of unpredictability.

CIOs must look to solutions like RPA for their businesses to not only thrive, but ultimately survive.John Agnitsch

In the past, RPA software required physical on-premises installations. As SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) models have emerged, the demand on IT services to install and maintain software is reduced. However, the CIO still plays an important role in integrating RPA within the wider IT infrastructure. RPA should not be approached as a Band-Aid on legacy systems; it should be an integrated strategy that evolves with the business.

Of course, CIOs are also tasked with balancing the needs of the program with competing business priorities. The software selected and the automation needs of a company will drive IT’s level of involvement. The more sophisticated the program, the more IT must be involved to support, or even own, development and governance.

Q. What level of collaboration and communication needs to occur between Operations and IT for successful implementation?

Often, the divide between IT and Operations can present challenges for an organization. Operations has a specific need: they evaluate vendors, make a selection, and then bring IT in to set up the infrastructure. Unfortunately, an optimal solution is not that simple. A strategy has to be built around RPA to ensure it is integrated into systems upgrades or digital transformation initiatives. In most companies, IT resources are already spoken for at the start of the year. So, IT leaders are potentially forced to re-shuffle or make tough decisions around how they can properly support the RPA program. Enterprise-wide collaboration from the start of an RPA journey makes it easier for everyone involved, and probably aides in faster adoption too.

Have a question for John? Let us know in the comments, or connect with him on LinkedIn.