I spoke with Peter Quinn, who orchestrated the highly successful Robotic Process Automation (RPA) implementation at a large wealth management firm, about some of his insights and lessons learned. In that discussion, two of his methodologies stood out to me. That’s because they’re great examples of key enablers for achieving superior business outcomes through RPA. His methodologies for funding the implementation and for change management led to capturing greater ROI from RPA.
In our Pinnacle Model™ research at Everest Group, we investigated more than 200 leading companies undertaking RPA adoption. While the cost savings from RPA were similar across all the enterprises we studied, we found that Pinnacle Enterprises™ – those that achieved superior business outcomes – achieved a significantly higher (4X) return on investment. In addition, we found a sizeable gap in generating high impact in strategic areas (78% for Pinnacle Enterprises as opposed to 49% for other enterprises). Moreover, it took the Pinnacle Enterprises fewer months to achieve ROI from RPA than the other enterprises. Understandably, our study found 67% of Pinnacle Enterprises are highly satisfied with their operational optimization through RPA, compared to only 21% of the other enterprises we studied.
As I’ve blogged before, budgeting and funding initiatives are big constraints in digital transformation. Quinn explained how his firm overcame these challenges. From day one, he formed an automation governance committee comprised of people from all the business units and operational units, the IT organization, an attorney, business manager and the account manager from the firm’s existing BPO service provider. This helped gain senior leaders’ commitment to the initiative. The funding began with some modest initial seed money from the executive level to get the automation initiative started.
Meeting every two weeks, the 14 people involved in the governance committee exchanged ideas about what business processes could be automated. The governance committee also created a structure and framework tool that was effective in smoothing the way for project funding along the RPA journey. This assessment framework for identifying new opportunities for automation created an easier, faster path for projects to be approved.
Quinn recalled the firm’s leaders were very concerned in the early stages of the automation initiative. They wanted to know what would be the return on investment (ROI) from a tangible standpoint. He now advises other firms consideration RPA implementation not to try to justify the initial 5-10 RPA projects based on ROI. “Look at it as an investment,” he says. “You will need some level of fixed expense for servers, licenses, and IT support personnel to make those numbers pretty safe from their perspective, but these aren’t multi-year commitments. If you look at that compared to the ROI from just a cost-reduction standpoint, sometimes it doesn’t look like the investment is well justified.”
As I often warn clients, it’s always a mistake to load an initiative’s startup costs onto the first couple of projects because you’ll never get an ROI. It’s best to spread governance and startup/leveraged costs – an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) and getting an integrator in place, for instance –over all the projects as they go forward, not over the first two or three projects.
Aside from the initial seed money, Quinn’s firm ultimately allocated costs for development and allocation of the robot licenses back to the business units.
Our Pinnacle Model research on digital readiness revealed the Pinnacle Enterprises’ sources of budget for RPA implementation as follows:
34% - capital budget
34% - business unit budget
17% - shared services budget
12% - IT organization budget
In addition, we found that 76% of the enterprises with the highest level of digital readiness created funding for innovation.
Our research found a key enabling characteristic shared by Pinnacle Enterprises in RPA adoption is their ability to handle change management in digital transformation.
As orchestrator of his firm’s RPA implementation, Quinn told me much of his focus was on eliminating impediments. He became excited about the operational-improvement opportunities possible with powerful RPA technology when the market buzz began in 2014 and was surprised the firm didn’t want to “go into it boldly.”
“I thought the organization would see the opportunities with the same clarity that I did and would be more willing to take on disruptive technology if they could see the end game. But in taking on changes this dramatic, there was hesitation. They were used to doing things a certain way. The processes considered for automation were operationally critical and had client-impact implications.”
So, they entered the RPA journey in a “well-measured, methodical way” to de-risk the journey to their desired business outcomes. Many companies underestimate the amount of change – and therefore the method for change management – required in digital transformation. Quinn chose to lead the organization into it with carrots, not sticks, so to speak, helping them understand the vision and opportunities rather than forcing them into it.
Consequently, he mandated that they would not do proof-of-concept projects. Instead, they would do production pilots so that people could see the technology running and handling money and securities for live client transactions on a day-to-day basis. This helped to convince them that the implementation would work; otherwise, they might not have been willing to change.
In addition, before they put business processes into production pilots, they did extensive testing by the people in the business units. A process didn’t go into production until the business unit leaders signed off and said it was ready for prime-time production.
Once the production pilots were running successfully, they quickly assembled a list of over 20 candidate processes that people wanted to have evaluated for the next wave of automation. Then they were interested in doing more projects. Quinn stated, “Once their eyes were opened to the RPA tool, they realized it could be used with other automation tools. When this happens, you can get very creative in how you use different digital tools to get the results your business is looking for.”
Among the many business outcomes we measured, our Pinnacle Model research on digital readiness, we found 95% of the Pinnacle Enterprises increased employee productivity between 10-30%, compared to only 54% of the less-ready enterprises. Change management capability is a key differentiator of readiness for driving measurable value in digital transformation.