RPA – Hype or Hope?

November, 2016

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tecnology is finding new traction in the CIO community as a new weapon in today’s digital transformation war chest. RPA helps automate processes across many functions and industries. Automation with RPA promises increased efficiency, accuracy and cost savings by having a software robot – instead of a human – execute routine tasks and processes. Is RPA the best possible option for companies?


The benefits of automation – whether RPA or other types of automation – are multifold:
• Decreased cost
• Improved quality and reliability
• Reduced waste
• Better utilization
• Shorter cycle times
• Increased safety and security
• Etc.
Among the many different types of automation, RPA specifically has found new interest for a number of reasons:
• Ability to work within current legacy environment. Companies with a legacy set of applications and business processes do not necessarily have to change them if they want to automate.
• Time-to-impact. In our experience, it takes anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to set-up an RPA application to handle individual tasks or entire workflows, ranging from processing a healthcare claim, a KYC inquiry, or migrating millions of customer records from one application to another.
• Low complexity. Non-technical personnel can be taught to configure and maintain an RPA application. For departments who want less IT involvement in their day-to-day operations, RPA could be a welcome addition.
• Low cost. With prices ranging between $5,000 to $30,000 for one robot instance per year, RPA is relatively inexpensive to adopt. Compare that to the cost of having a human FTE or a custom software application to operate the same tasks or processes.
• Time-to-profitability. Depending on the application, an RPA instance can pay off in as little as a few weeks. More typically, RPA can pay off within the first year.
It is for these reasons that many companies prefer RPA to other types of automation. Particularly companies reluctant to change their legacy set of applications and business processes find RPA as the best option for automation.


For some people, RPA is yesterday’s news. Indeed, RPA has been around for more than a decade and is just another technology option within the larger Business Process Management (BPM) war chest that companies deploy to digitize workflows across the enterprise. When a company more closely evaluates its automation needs and options, it might find that RPA is not always the best option for automation.
Here are some of the reasons why RPA might not be the best option for your company:
• More powerful options. Depending on your circumstances, you might want to consider one or multiple of the potentially more powerful alternatives to RPA:
• Business Process Reengineering (BPR): In the first instance, companies that want to transform their operations should assess whether they need to fundamentally reengineer their business processes first. It does not make sense to automate a broken, unnecessarily complex or obsolete process. A BPR project could drive significant efficiencies without an investment in new technology.
• Business Process Management (BPM) and Application Modernization: Many of today’s BPM applications have automation capabilities natively built-in already. Companies that are sitting on a legacy stack of outdated apps might wish to consider upgrading their infrastructure instead. While RPA could be a quick Band-Aid fix in a legacy environment, companies with a longer-term outlook, healthy IT budgets, and a commitment to digital transformation should consider investing in unlocking the automation capabilities of the latest BPM and BPM-related application stack. While the initial time-to-market and budget requirements might be higher, a more tailored approach could allow companies achieve a much greater and lasting impact.
• Automation-as-a-service: Companies can also outsource the whole automation problem set to their BPO. BPOs already have a full range of advanced BPM capabilities that in many cases have more advanced automation capabilities such as analytics, machine learning, etc. Leading BPOs have begun to offer automation-as-a-service with pricing models that are based on achieving desired business outcomes rather than charging their clients on a time and material basis.
• Lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Although one RPA robot instance can start at only $5,000 per year, companies might require a few hundred or thousand instances to automate a process or work alongside a human worker. The initial set-up and configuration fees also add to the total. Companies with larger scale and longer-term requirements need to consider the TCO before opting for RPA. Alternatives to RPA could oftentimes prove to be more sensible from a TCO standpoint when companies consider a 3 to 5 year-time frame. Companies also have to consider switching cost in their business cases, if they decide to migrate away from RPA in the future.


In summary, the case for RPA is not always straight forward. Companies that want to embrace automation should carefully assess their operations and evaluate their options before jumping on the RPA bandwagon.