Sunday, 12th July 2020

Ensuring business continuity under exceptional circumstances

Many organisations have automated knowledge work processes powered by a range of technologies including Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and this will only continue to grow. By James Ewing, Regional Director UK & Ireland at Digital Workforce.

In fact, within the next two years, Gartner predicts that the majority (72%) of global organisations will have adopted an automation strategy. Increasing the level of automation in the organisation not only frees up workers time for more valuable tasks under normal circumstances but also helps mitigate the risk of business disruption in exceptional situations.

As an increasing number of companies embark on their automation journey, business leaders and IT teams alike must ensure the right automation strategy is in place. We live in a rapidly evolving digital environment so to fully reap the benefits of automation; organisations must understand how to ensure business continuity when things change or go wrong.

Start simple

Businesses around the world understand the power and potential of RPA. According to McKinsey, 88% of businesses want to implement more robotic automation but often don’t know where to start, particularly when working out which processes should be automated first. When considering where to begin their automation strategy, companies often lean on the most complex and business critical tasks – but this is the wrong approach to take.

By jumping straight in and automating business critical processes, organisations risk crumbling under pressure and their automation strategy could fail before it has even started to deliver any business benefits. Instead, businesses should look to automate processes that are low in complexity and carry minimal risk to business continuity if things go wrong.

Organisations looking to implement RPA or other automation technologies should have a thorough understanding of the business processes and their degree of criticality. Failing to plan for business continuity under changing circumstances is likely to lead to implementation problems, inflated expenses and process failures.

Analyse the business impact

The next step to ensuring business continuity is conducting business impact analyses (BIA) to establish response priorities and understand the risks to technology downtime. Companies need to consider whether their automated processes require seasonal scaling and changing in relation to their long-term business objectives and KPIs.

For instance, when we look at the healthcare sector, hospitals see an increased flow of patients during the winter months. As such, during this time, workers will be seeking methods to speed up the time they spend carrying out administrative responsibilities and mundane tasks in order to spend more time on the front-line helping patients - with the help of digital workers, knowledge based tasks could be handled quicker and more efficiently, freeing up human time to take on other responsibilities.

Organisations should also identify potential risks to running automated processes such as annual leave, sick leave and employee departure to mitigate the impact of these circumstances as much as possible. Not only can downtime impact the revenue of a business but also damage the company’s reputation or worse, lead to consequences such as losing a customer, sanctions for failing to keep to service terms and delays to production.

An automation strategy must be aligned with an organisation’s business objectives. Early on, companies should establish exactly what they wish to achieve through their automation solution as well as the risks and costs related to slow RPA development and process failures.

The best way to tackle these challenges is to have a proactive maintenance approach that ensures robots are executing tasks that are running smoothly 24/7. Not only will this resolve issues quickly as and when they arise but also continue to improve the solution and how it executes the tasks at hand. Without effective maintenance, a business’ dream of achieving objectives and boosting efficiency and productivity can quickly slip away.

The value of outsourcing

One way businesses can solve the challenge of downtime is outsourcing the maintenance of their automated operations to third party specialists. This particularly applies when companies are looking to scale their automation strategy further in the business. For instance, if an organisation is looking to grow their automation projects at a per year rate of growth, this will require an internal organisational shift from one to five full-time roles. Businesses often don’t have the resources to dedicate their workforce to full time automation maintenance roles, and other challenges such as training, recruitment, 24/7 rotation, sick leave and annual leave also come into play.

Unfortunately, the demand often leads to a situation where maintaining business-critical processes is considered too difficult or too expensive to arrange. As such, automation is limited to less-critical operations. The inability to dedicate the required resources to maintenance may also mean that processes don’t run in an optimal way or that RPA licenses are underused.

Outsourcing the maintenance of automated solutions can mitigate the risk of continuity failure, allowing the internal workforce to focus on their day-to-day roles. When maintenance is outsourced, the cost of the service normally reflects the complexity of the process and the necessary resolution time.

Third party maintenance also overcomes the challenge of RPA developers getting caught up in maintenance tasks. Typically, developers don’t like maintaining things, instead they like making new things. If talented developers in a hot employment market are spending a significant time on maintenance, organisations risk losing them to more interesting roles. An outsourced maintenance strategy means the responsibility is abstracted from the development team, ultimately de-risking the potential of losing valuable internal knowledge.

As maintenance requirements grow, outsourcing capabilities means organisations will not have to invest in skilled individuals who are available around the clock. Even if organisations only have small volumes of automation, companies can optimise the process uptime by running updates and reports at night with maintenance specialists readily available to respond to any arising issues at any given time.

The capabilities of RPA are endless. If digital workers are trained to take on some human responsibility, businesses can run their operations more efficiently and effectively than ever before. However, a virtual workforce only creates value when the robots are working as intended and new automations can be deployed quickly. Organisations must test their existing automation solution, consider whether automated processes will be able to run 24/7 and if automated recovery systems are in place. Only then can companies prevent productivity disruption, ensure business continuity and know that automation will soften the blow of exceptional circumstances.

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