In this article, mainly created by Kirill Yaramenko in his role as Solution Manager for SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation, we show how companies can set-up their organisation to really scale with SAP Intelligent RPA on enterprise level.
Today’s office workers spend a lot of time moving between different applications. They often have to reenter or copy and paste the same data – such as a customer’s name and address details – from one application to another to complete a specific task. Such manual work is laborious, time-consuming, and prone to error. Robotic process automation (RPA) uses software robots to emulate human users and automate – as far as possible – these tedious, mundane tasks.
Automation improves the user experience for both employees and customers. RPA boosts productivity and can typically free up between 15% and 30% of an employee’s time to focus on tasks that deliver greater value to the organisation and improve the customer experience. Companies which use SAP Intelligent RPA (RPA platform of SAP) achieve business benefits and show significant ROI (Return on Investment). More details are provided in SAP Intelligent RPA use cases document.
Simple and nonintrusive adoption of advanced technology in an employee’s day-to-day tasks enhances employee well-being and satisfaction. It can also make an important contribution to a company’s change management as it seeks to accelerate its digital transformation.
The companies who start their RPA journey face a choice between two types of RPA: Attended and Unattended.
Attended means partially automated process, where robots are co-working with humans. Employee shares some part of the process or scenario with robot and usually triggers it by himself.
Unattended RPA is a fully automated process, where robots are working autonomously with human supervision only such as monitoring of tasks and review of the results. These robots are usually triggered automatically, either by some event or using a schedule.
However, the fact that you are reading this article means you have already done your first steps with RPA. It doesn’t matter if you bought licenses, finished your PoC (Proof of Concept) or already have a number of departments in your organisation which are taking advantages of this technology – you have a question: What is next?
Before going to the next steps let’s see how the RPA projects look like. Below you could find the typical 12-step roadmap for RPA technology at companies:
Once all the steps define a proper and consistent way to leverage this powerful technology, the practice shows that many companies neglect some of the steps or put them in some chaotically order. Also, one of the typical pictures which may be seen is having different approaches inside the companies, for example when finance and procurement departments start these projects separately. Although they implement solution and even succeed in specific conditions, getting their own practices and retrospectives, organisations may suffer due to inconsistency and chaos. Finally, the succeed projects in such setup look like great luck. With a recent survey by EY, finding that 30-50% of initial RPA projects fail to realise their expected returns. Another study conducted by Deloitte says that only three percent of organisations had managed to scale RPA to a level of 50 or more robots. Why does it happen?
In fact, failure to achieve expected outcomes from RPA initiatives are most often due to factors
outside of the chosen RPA platform. Through the number of failures reasons, the following could be found: Lack of RPA strategy, Insufficient change management, not proper understanding of the automated process, disorganised and siloed implementations and unrealistic expectations.
These reasons could be covered separately by paying more attention to them and using some checkbox to support decisions, but the more clear and proper way is to setup a right governance structure and responsibility. And this is the time to announce Centre of Excellence or CoE.
Before discussion about the RPA CoE and any RPA specific let’s understand what CoE is. Gartner defines a COE as a physical or virtual center of knowledge concentrating existing expertise and resources in a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class performance and value. This definition can be broken down into four key elements. These elements are: focusing on a tight scope defined around a specific capability, defining the location for CoE, optimisation and leveraging resources internal to the organisation and finally delivering incremental value to the organisation.
According to SAP, a Center of Excellence combines business and IT talents with industry best practices to drive and achieve continued value from investments in SAP technologies. It’s essentially a team of highly skilled individuals and experts that is the acknowledged source of knowledge within an organisation. Centers of Excellence are tasked with keeping SAP investments on course, so they continue to meet business objectives.
Nevertheless, some differences in definitions of CoE exist, the following could be highlighted: A CoE is a centralised unit inside the organisation which brings value by concentrating on some separate subject area and activity, provides strategic, holistic approach to manage this activity and standardises best practices for wide-scale adoption. These activities are usually represented by implementation, management and usage of new technology or adoption, management and usage of new concept or skill. The mission of CoE in any case is to align Business and IT by provision of transparency and efficiency of implementation, innovation, operation, and quality of business processes and IT solutions.
The focus areas for a Center of Excellence are the following:
- Provide thought leadership, direction and governance for the subject specific initiatives
- Enable continuous improvement and benefit realisation culture in organisation
- Establish and promote best practices
- Trend analysis and R&D to provide valuable recommendations
- Manage the initiatives and use-cases, both as incoming flow (e.g. which comes from different organisation units or vendors) and inside flow (use-cases identification and prioritisation)
- Define business cases and support value management approach for ongoing initiatives
- Facilitate buy-in for automation projects from all relevant stakeholders and establish change management practices
- Support, education and employee enablement
- Optimise the organisation or subject area by centralising resources with high-demand and unique knowledge or skills and streamlining their contributions across a wide range of areas
- Improve daily operations through the identification, development and support of reusable assets
- Reduce delivery times, development, and maintenance costs by increasing efficiencies and leveraging reusable assets
- Identify and reduce duplication of effort across initiatives within the subject area or organisation-wide
There is a number of ways how Centers of Excellence can add value to organisations across all business units due to their specialised subject matter expertise and operational agility. The five major ways in which COEs provide value are below:
- Support business strategy of an organisation: COEs prime function is to define a single enterprise-wide approach and a roadmap of initiatives by aligning the strategic goals and IT objectives and providing a holistic approach to manage these activities
- Increased efficiency in resources usage: COEs can widen the reach subject-related capabilities and streamline access to them across the organisation due to centralisation of scarce, high-demand capabilities like knowledge, skills and experiences
- Increased delivery speed: COEs can eliminate bottlenecks by streamlining access to critical capabilities and reuse of experienced activities and assets. This increases speed of delivery, development, and maintenance of critical business processes
- Optimised costs: COEs eliminate inefficient practices and decrease costs by defining business cases for activities and streamlining processes, creating reusable assets, reducing redundancy and providing value-based approach
- Increased quality of services and products: COEs enable uniformity of service and product delivery, along with tight, end-to-end customer experiences due to standardisation and usage of best practices across the organisation
The general role of a CoE for a subject specific area, such as automation, is based on the following pillars, which are detailed below:
One of the most important activities CoE must perform is a strategical approach to a subject area, e.g. for automation. It aligns a business view and strategic goals of organisation with IT strategy as a strong enabler of business success. It presents the direction which the subject area should be taken organisation-wide and provides a clear roadmap for the activities. This reduces chaos, eliminates expenses for separate initiatives which consume resources with no further value. Lack of vision and strategy is one of the main reasons why organisations fail to scale their automation programs.
A Center of Excellence must define and provide effective governance of the overall subject related effort in the organisation which includes definition of decision-making boards and bodies, ownership, aligning sponsorship and financial investment, establishment of roles and responsibilities. Additionally, it defines determining and tracking metrics to assess progress against the established strategy and presenting the results to internal and external shareholders.
Equally important part of management activities is set up of a proper guidelines, templates and procedures related to initiatives processing, Best Practices search and adoption, management of projects, vendors and knowledge.
Another role for a center of excellence is to run the current operations and deliver automation. This aspect of CoE activities contains team management, use cases identification and support, organisational change management activities. Team management part requires assembling a team with the necessary set of skills and managing external and in-house talent. Identifying use cases within the company is also one of the integral parts of successful automation, and the automation center of excellence plays a crucial role in this process. Once the company’s digital transformation is mature enough that there is no shortage of new automation opportunities, the role of CoE shifts from generating ideas to managing and prioritising them. Finally, for automation CoE should provide change management activities: to maximise the value from digital transformation, organisations need to proactively plan how they will manage the changes that result from automation. Many companies indicate a lack of effective change management as another significant reason for failing in automation implementation.
This aspect of CoE affect change in enterprise effectiveness, working to make continuous productivity improvements. This covers analysis of business processes and operations of the organisation, improving enterprise competitiveness and cost optimisation, as well as optimising internal service delivery. This role allows CoE become an internal trusted advisor for the business units, supporting their business as usual, indicating the gaps and pain points and raising initiatives for improvement.
There are a several ways to define a role and a structure of CoE inside the organisation, which would be described later. One important distinction to remember is that Centers of Excellence are separate from the business units they serve. This is by design to ensure maximum agility in deploying the COE across an organisation.
Now it is the time to move to more specific CoE discussion: RPA Centers of Excellence.
RPA projects have some similarities to other classical automation projects, however some of their characteristics make them specific and require looking at these projects from a different angle. Key differences of RPA projects are as following:
- Faster benefit realisation and shorter implementation cycle
- Minimal upfront investment
- No disruption to underlying and covered systems
- Led by the business with the support of IT
- Highly scalable, adopts to change the business environment
To achieve the maximum effect from robotic automation projects, it is necessary to have specialised technologies, standards, organisational structures, work quality assurance processes and, of course, expertise within the organisation, both in the platform used and in the best automation practices in general. A systematic operating model is key to the success of RPA initiatives and could support all the necessary activities for gaining benefits. In other words, Operating Model is the «blueprint» of an RPA program in organisation and provides the necessary elements to scale. A well-defined Operating Model structures the following activities:
A well-planned development and maintenance of an Operating Model allows an organisation’s automation initiative to transform into a holistic and un-siloed enterprise program that returns significant value to the business. The result of creating Operating Model is a Center of Excellence. Most of the Operating Model activities are covered by key services of Best-in-class RPA COEs:
This aspect defines the role of CoE in organisation, taking care of all internal and external roles and responsibilities which support all the aspects of an RPA initiative. It provides the definition of mission, goals and tasks, establishes the organisational structure of the COE itself, including the definition of a RACI chart, functional model and key services that would be provided under the established structure.
This element provides the ‘rules of the game’ for RPA development and deployment. It establishes clear robotic process automation standards, procedures, and policies along with governing bodies, escalation paths, and segregation of duties. It also ensures that compliance regulations, information security requirements, and regulatory standards are met. Finally, this aspect will also decide value assessment, task prioritisation, the level of access provided to different teams or employees.
Technology part support selection the right automation tools and then organise the maintenance and support of these tools. Drive the integration of RPA into the fabric of IT Service Management (ITSM), including change management and the configuration management database. It also worth mentioning that organisations should adopt a wider tool set that encompasses not only core RPA technologies but also ones concerning related areas such as optical character recognition (OCR), natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning.
This element supports execution and monitoring the complete lifecycle of RPA in the enterprise, from evaluating automation opportunities to deploying bots into production environments with a scalable support structure. The assessment, development, testing, and deployment are all part of this element. Additionally, change processes and incident management are covered via Processes activities.
People and Culture
Final aspect of CoE activities helps to deal with structural changes within the organisation. It analyses the effects of changes to employee roles provided by RPA, from organisational change management (OCM) to redefined job descriptions and even altered organisational structures.
These five elements, whether simply overseen or closely managed by a CoE, help define and maintain an organisation’s RPA Operating Model. The Operating Model is the circulatory system for managing RPA throughout an enterprise, focused on the development and support of high-quality bots and getting maximum value and benefits from its delivery.
Types of RPA CoEs
Once the understanding of the role of CoE for RPA usage comes, the next step is to define the structure for its deployment in organization. RPA implementation usually seems to be business-led, thus the basic structures are as follows:
In a centralised model, a holistic approach ensures that technology solutions are implemented considering the impact to all business units and functions. It provides end-to-end support for all RPA initiatives. The centralised CoE model will have all the necessary capabilities to drive RPA adoption in the organisation. Within this approach, CoE provides expertise and manages the common resources required to deliver RPA successfully. It also priorities processes based on the overall project strategy, which should be aligned with the organisation’s strategy. With centralised capabilities, standardisation and optimisation becomes a natural part of the initiative.
- Low cost, easy scalable automation across the organisation by using centralised and standard platform
- Great suit if organisation is already used to centralisation
- Implementation of centralised model in an organisation is challenging
- It may lack to bureaucracy and bottlenecks due to high complexity
The federated or decentralised CoE model provides a loosely governed operating model, most suitable for less regulated industries (e.g., consumer packaged goods, industrial manufacturing, etc.). In this scenario, the lines of business establish their own COE guidelines and structures, which can aid speed and flexibility but may hamper scalability. The CoE functionalities will run from separate Business Units. Business Units will have their own capabilities for prioritisation, assessment, and development of RPA processes. They will also drive their own operations. By giving the Business Units responsibility to drive their own RPA awareness and progress, the decentralised model is a good way to start an initiative.
One of the obstacles which should be taken in consideration is that the maturity across the organisation will be variable and it will be a costlier solution, as there is no shared platform. The decentralised solution will foster a tailor-made solution, instead of standardisation and optimisation across the organisation.
- Low cost automation across selected operational functions
- High flexibility, buy-in and commitment in functional departments
- Lower scalability due to time-consuming implementation in numerous business departments
- Difficulties in imposing of standards
- Duplication of hardware infrastructure and deliverables
Most organisations use a hybrid of the above two options. A hybrid model governs some decisions at an enterprise level but allows business units or functions to oversee decisions that address more immediate business needs. That means a well-established CoE should be mature enough to handle decentralised Business Units demands while still having centralised operations. In this scenario, the CoE provides delivery and operational support. At the same time, each Business Unit will have its own parameters for development, prioritisation, and assessment of automation.
The hybrid model is good for mature initiatives where the Business Units are capable to drive their own demand. The hybrid model will have the scalability of the centralised model without the limitation to distribute automation.
- Low cost, scalable automation across multiple functions with a central and standard platform
- Operations team retains ownership and responsibility for a shared RPA capability
- Difficulties in implementing centralised change and RPA delivery across multiple operational functions
Key roles for RPA CoE
In a nutshell CoE is comprised of a small group of experts that define and monitor standards and develop programs across the enterprise. This requires a lot more than a generic IT team, that needs to support an essential Operation Robotics Program with the number of roles and functions that need to be fulfilled. The following roles are important to cover all the required activities and services provided by CoE:
The role will be in charge of ensuring that the CoE is established as a priority enterprise-wide. This sponsor is accountable for the overall robotics strategy.
This is a senior executive, that is accountable for the CoE activities, performance reporting, and operational leading.
RPA Project Manager
Ensures that the robotics projects are delivered in accordance with the CoE strategy, thus enabling successful implementation, benefits to be reaped on time and within the designated budget.
These team members will drive the adoption process of automation throughout the organisation.
RPA and CoE Business Analysts
This role involves subject matter experts that will create the process definitions and maps used for automation. CoE business analysts will also be in charge of identifying opportunities, providing a detailed analysis of the potential benefits and required resources.
RPA Solution Architect
Oversee the infrastructure of the RPA from beginning to end. They assist in both the development and implementation stages of the CoE setup. They provide the detailed design and licensing needs of the automation CoE.
These team members are responsible for the technical design, development, and testing of the CoE automation workflows. They also provide support during the organisation-wide implementation of the CoE setup.
They provide support for teams involved in the deployment and future operations of the automation CoE. They mainly give infrastructure support for troubleshooting and server installations.
Controller & Supervisor
The role provides monitoring, scheduling, and supporting the implementation of the CoE while making sure that business goes on as usual.
Service and Support
This team is the first line of support in case of any queries or issues during CoE implementation.
Key steps for CoE development
Now after getting the fundamental aspects of an RPA CoE setup along with principles, roles, and different models, it is time to overview some key steps in building of CoE.
This is a critical step which enables RPA CoE to be an actual driver of innovation and digital transformation. Implementing RPA throughout an organisation could lead to profound structural changes. However, prosperous businesses must remember that these employees have valuable experience and expertise at their disposal. As such, there should be a plan to reassign employee tasks or departments rather than letting them go.
Planning for structural changes allows companies to differentiate between the tasks that are to be performed by a human workforce and tasks that are to be completed by automation. It also includes a clear communication strategy to clear employees’ worries and fuel innovation. The plan must also include a full description of where the digital workforce will operate such that employees know how and when to use it.
Explore New Opportunities
During implementation of an RPA CoE set up, organisations might face the question on where and how to start. Concerns regarding various factors like infrastructure, vendors, processes, documentation, and other considerations will likely be floating around.
The response to these concerns is to use a guide, either a consultant or an external firm, which would help to explore and understand an automation CoE. A guide will make it easier to understand how a CoE will work within an organisation.
The digital workforce’s success can be measured through various metrics other than just merely settling for cost reduction. Determining success metrics early in the RPA program is crucial for successful companies.
Cost reduction, increased efficiency, and accuracy are some of the most apparent success metrics but, depending on what the automation CoE is being used for, several other factors will be involved. These could include innovation, customer satisfaction, scaling, and more.
Some tips which might help organisations to build a well-established CoE are below:
- Build a strong RPA team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
Determine RPA sponsor (s), bring in a change manager (preferably), solution architect, developers, infrastructure and service support who will play key roles in the CoE RPA. The team needs to figure out how to work well together and to create an additional atmosphere of a small turquoise organisation within the company. Establish and adhere to their processes and procedures, and measure business performance and performance, including ROI and customer satisfaction.
- Engage the Board of Directors (BoD) in the discussion of RPA initiatives.
The Board of Directors is essentially a steering committee that provides overall guidance and promotes RPA solutions that can be key in the company’s development. Meet regularly and include the RPA sponsor and CoE leader. The board should be attended by representatives of IT, finance, audit, customer service and others who will ensure the involvement of their line managers and their employees in the RPA initiatives, and will also be associated with the RPA goals and expectations of executive management. Board of directors must focus on driving RPA adoption across all business units to achieve economies of scale and impact on company-wide performance.
- Create an effective model for managing people and incoming tasks.
As RPA rolls out across the enterprise, CoE is likely to face prioritisation issues. This requires a governance structure that defines how the team interacts with different departments and sets priorities for managing requests and speed of implementation. The governance structure should also provide a framework for developing and applying best practices at every stage of CoE implementation.
- Proactive management of organisational change.
As mentioned before, close collaboration with personnel within the organisation when influencing the corporate culture through digital transformation is crucial. Based on the considerations “the robot does not contribute to layoffs but promotes the development of employees” an RPA CoE can influence the company’s strategy, including increasing its profitability. The main problem with RPA is that change happens much faster than traditional automation deployments, so CoE should help manage operational planning, organisational restructuring, and workflow planning before and after.
- Collaborate with the IT department.
There is now an increasing involvement of IT services in scaling RPA in organisations. Although earlier the IT block has always been a big obstacle in view of conservative views. As RPA expands across business units, IT support becomes more important. The COE should involve IT functions including infrastructure, server maintenance / security, and so on. Moreover, for some IT department employees, the transition to CoE via RPA can be an excellent career growth if they want to immerse themselves more in the business component.
An RPA CoE has a wide range of benefits that can vastly improve a business capability. However, building an automation CoE that matches organisation’s goals perfectly is no easy task. Implementing the CoE throughout the organisation also requires a significant effort. While establishing a COE requires time and effort, the payback can be significant.
A COE helps manage the full lifecycle of RPA, from developing the business case for an automation opportunity all the way to supporting a large bot ecosystem within your environment.
Organisations during adopting RPA — or even considering it — should examine how a COE can maximise the benefits of the ever-evolving scope of intelligent automation products.