Robotic Process Automation is the new star in the digitalization sky. Forrester predicts that the RPA industry will increase 10 times in the next five years. The potential is enormous! But we also see an immature industry with RPA currently used by 39% of businesses and only 3% of organizations having scaled RPA to 50 or more robots.

The immaturity can also be viewed from a benefits perspective where around 50% of potential benefits are realized by companies implementing RPA. We saw (at least in the Nordics) the same trend concerning the hype of innovation a couple of years ago where businesses were unable to leverage their investments and make it economically sustainable. A digital strategist expressed the situation as being stuck in a maze of technology and consultants without seeing the full picture.

During the last few months, we have analyzed numerous RPA cases and tried to understand why some are more successful than others. Is it a matter of technology or is there something more complex at hand that need to be addressed? It was possible to conclude that high maturity in six capabilities were required for a successful RPA project and in most cases, only two or three of these were managed (mainly technology and competence):

The analysis is interesting in that is not primarily technology or consultants (competence) that distinguish successful implementations from unsuccessful implementations but rather softer aspects relating to business focus, leadership/culture, governance and innovation capabilities. Digital strategists say that technology is important to start-up the automation initiative (test and try) but when it comes to scaling and going after the full benefits – something else is required.

When studying the innovation hype – we see the same trend. Innovation was launched with high focus on technology (tools), processes and consultants with limited success. When the innovation initiative did not gain the set-up benefits and scale, it was more or less closed down. So why did it not work? It is clear that an innovation practice requires a different type of governance, atmosphere and leadership to be successful. Those companies who also invested in change management, redefining governance and linking innovation to business strategy gained huge benefits with ROI of 1,500% – while others failed to take-off.

Today, we see that many companies have moved into Robotic Process Automation with an aim to increase internal processes efficiency(removing repetitive, or mundane tasks) – because it is the right thing to do. The idea of RPA has been boosted in media and among consultants viewing it as the next goldmine. It is clear that most of these initiatives will fail as the challenges and complexity are under-estimated. Digitalization is not about technology but rather a change of mind-set and culture creating the right atmosphere for digital growth – and RPA is no exception. There is no silver bullet solution – only hard work!

A recent RPA maturity assessment with a Swedish organization is a good concrete example that explained the challenges they experience implementing Robotic Process Automation in their organization. Why can we not gain the benefits when we have done everything according to plan? The technology is in place but still the acceptance is very low. The assessment showed a maturity level of 43% with heavy focus on the implementation of technology and use of consultants but not addressing its meaning and purpose in term of leadership, governance and value focus. It was an eye-opening moment that challenged the foundation of their RPA initiative – and resulted in a re-focus on the capabilities that made a difference.

Robotic Process Automation is red hot at the moment, but it risks becoming just another failed digital initiative – demanding huge amounts of money and energy. In the end, we must understand that digital initiatives start at the core of the company and organization challenging its DNA and its role and purpose in the market/society. Digitalization is not about technology but rather how to gain the trust and engagement from employees and leaders to challenge the traditional and enable change. RPA is no exception.

Hans Gillior
The Goodwind Company

Sources: Capgemini RPA Report 2018, The Goodwind Company, and IBA group.