4.2 Agile Process Design and RPA Development

The end-to-end vision of the to-be process is defined and guides the following detailed design and RPA realisation activities. The detailed design of the RPA-based to-be processes and the RPA development or configuration are executed in an agile way, realizing the final to-be of a process in stages (Sutherland, Sutherland, 2014). This enables a fast value realisation and minimises risk since stop-go decisions can be included systematically in the design and deployment approach.

In most cases a first use of RPA automates the standard situations handled through a process, leaving the handling of exceptions to the human workforces. An example is the onboarding of mortgage applicants where only candidates with questionable financial background may have to be handled through an exception process. These manually handled processes components can then be automated in following stages – depending on the additional value expected. This “build” approach is explained in figure 9.

Figure 9: Agile Approach to build an RPA enabled process

The development of the RPA solution often requires a combination of different components, including other automation approaches such as Business Process Management Systems (BPMS), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Analytics and more. Hence, an appropriate solution architecture, supporting the process improvement objectives, is crucial for a successful RPA deployment.

It is important not to reduce the agile approach of building Minimum Viable Products (MVP) only to the RPA technology but to define for each MVP also the appropriate intermediate to-be process. This provides for the value to be defined per stage, sets the right expectations and enables an appropriate change management. Business and Information Technology (IT) departments get aligned. It can, for example, be identified, which roles can be eliminated in a specific stage and when existing legacy systems or APIs can be retired. The development of MVP process stages to manage the value-realisation is illustrated in figure 10.

This approach enables a rapid value-realisation while still working within the end-to-end process context, avoiding typical RPA challenges. The agile realisation of different stages is aligned through the overall end-to-end process vision, defined for overall guidance.

Figure 10: Agile development of RPA-based to-be processes

An important component is the appropriate workforce management, enabling the value realisation and ensuring the appropriate processing of exceptions. The handling of a hybrid workforce, including human and digital members, requires appropriate preparation: people need to have clear new roles and expectations and Bots need to be updated and adjusted systematically based on experiences in the ongoing business. The creation of appropriate roles is often a pre-condition to free up people for other activities.

People change management, including information, communication and training, plays a key role (Kirchmer, 2017a). This aspect is often underestimated in RPA initiatives since the changing role of humans for exception handling, which in most cases leads to more demanding work, is not considered sufficiently.

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