Q&A with Symphony Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer David Brain
What is the initial feedback from IT? Where does the resistance lie?
As you might expect, resistance generally comes from engaging any team late in the process or without sufficient information or sponsorship. Generally, we have found IT teams to be hugely supportive of RPA when it is deployed within IT governance and addresses a challenge that IT is not already addressing through other programs of work.
Information security is generally the IT team we spend most of our time with. RPA provides a new model for understanding and constructing appropriate controls. The thought of a robot performing transactions on an unlocked machine accessing sensitive data has obvious risks. Working with the information security team to propose, review and implement controls to manage these risks is essential to a successful deployment.
How should business leaders message the value of RPA to IT?
RPA has numerous benefits to a business, such as improved quality and consistency, reduced transaction times, business continuity and agility – not to mention the obvious cost savings. That said, it is not the only tool in the tool box and IT teams may have different approaches they are already pursuing to solve the same challenge the business is trying to solve with RPA. Understanding the IT roadmap prior to embarking on any implementation is therefore imperative to avoid conflicting agendas.
It is also essential that a business sponsor with sufficient seniority is identified to allocate project budget and prioritize RPA among other initiatives. We’ve found the key to obtaining sponsorship is to perform a ‘Future of Work Assessment,’ or FOWA, across the area of the business. The FOWA evaluates potential solutions, proposes a Target Operating Model (TOM) and compiles a business case to articulate the value of RPA and the cashable and non-cashable benefits it will bring. Once the investment and benefit are quantified, it’s easy to justify RPA and resources in supporting its implementation.
Why is it important for IT to be involved in implementation?
While RPA is often managed by operations teams to provide a virtual workforce, it is still an IT implementation, and therefore has to be deployed and managed within an IT governance framework so that the risks associated with automation can be effectively managed.
We have seen some organizations take a different route in implementing RPA without the involvement of IT. In every single instance, this has caused additional delay and/or risk to the business, and in the vast majority of cases, has resulted in a lag in adoption or the RPA initiative being shut down altogether.
IT teams tend to be the budget holders for the infrastructure that is put in place (new robots), and are responsible for infrastructure and system availability, up time and recovery. IT teams also tend to hold the licensing and roadmaps for the target applications RPA is automating (office, SAP etc.).
Regardless of which function manages the implementation, for RPA to be successful both operations and IT have to be bought into the initiative and actively involved.
When should IT get involved?
In our experience, it is best to involve IT from the outset. This doesn’t mean heavy involvement – just the socializing of the investigation, which may or may not lead to a business case for RPA. The earlier the engagement, the less risk to the project as you may discover that the application you wish to automate is due for replacement in the following year or that there is already another RPA pilot in your organization that you could leverage.
Once the idea has been socialized, and ideally once the sponsorship is in place, the next step is to perform a FOWA assessment. We have found that a strong business case is far more convincing to leadership than a compromised proof of concept that proves the software can work in your business as it does now in countless other organizations. Once the FOWA is complete, IT needs to be involved in validating the security model and providing the governance within which the deployment can take place. Often the IT team will be required to provide access to non-production environments that mirror the live systems for the purpose of developing and testing RPA.
Once the implementation is complete, IT involvement is more important than ever, as they need to manage any upgrade or change to the systems being automated to ensure continuity of automation.
Where has IT seen value? How have their jobs been made easier?
RPA is a great means to address the projects that IT cannot prioritize. We’ve worked with several CIOs and CTOs who have told us that they now look at RPA in their triaging of investment requests. If the opportunity is not significant enough to make it onto the roadmap, then the IT teams look to see if RPA can provide a lower cost pragmatic solution. This is a great dynamic to create as our clients that deploy RPA do not want to compete with the initiatives to replace systems or upgrade their functionality, rather they want to find a more effective solution than dealing with these problems manually as they do today.
With many projects delivering a typical payback period of less than one year, there is often a case for implementing RPA even when there are longer term strategic solutions for addressing the same challenge.
Another way RPA can be used by IT teams is as a means of prototyping automations which can then be transferred into the underlying applications when stabilized.
How do you see RPA impacting IT day to day in the next five years?
I think RPA will become a more valuable tool to IT departments where they can provide operations teams with a means to provide automated solutions to problems that are not addressed through the IT roadmap.
We do not see it as a means to reduce IT spend or channel away the limited funds IT teams usually have available to them. Instead, we see it as a way to extend the amount of opportunities they can support by enabling operations with tools that have been approved by IT and are managed effectively and securely.
There is also the potential to grow hybrid IT / business roles by bringing the functions closer together.