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To RPA, or not RPA, that is the question

By Aingaran Pillai - 22nd May 2019

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) seems to be riding a crest of a wave at the moment — everyone’s talking about it in digital transformation. But is it the silver bullet it’s made out to be?
 

What is RPA?

RPA is predominantly screen scraping technology. It’s good for repetitive tasks, quick fixes, plugging gaps and integrating legacy systems with modern applications. 

UiPath - a robotic process automation startup - recently hit $7 billion valuation, amplifying RPA’s status as one of the hottest segments in technology. The appetite for RPA is clear.

Often it’s seen as a quick and easy but actually it can be tricky to implement with evidence suggesting around 30% to 50% of initial RPA projects fail. 

Fundamentally RPA is a short-term tactical approach. It’s a stop-gap solution that fails to transform legacy systems and processes, and worst still, fails to break down old silos. Sticking a plaster on four or five back-office legacy applications so the front-end user experience is better, isn’t digital transformation. True digital transformation improves an organisation's end-to-end processes while providing a great customer/citizen experience.

Citizens and customers are now used to a seamless experience, powered by integrated processes. The young nimble startups are ahead of the competition as they start with fully digitised businesses. Organisations that provide great user experience — such as Amazon, AirBNB and Uber — don’t need to deal with legacy systems.

Tinkering around the edges and patching legacy systems isn’t enough if you want to compete with those digital pioneers. 
 

Short term vs long term

RPA is tactical. It’s not transformative. Relying on it too much will mean that you’re building up problems for later. 

Granted, sometimes organisations have to be pragmatic and need to address short-term, immediate problems with RPA. But what’s the next step? When will you rip off that old legacy system that is hindering your business and giving others a competitive advantage?

Go beyond short-termism and quarterly objectives. Look at your back office processes and make sure you have a plan and a strategy. If you don’t have an end-date to when you’re ripping off that RPA, you’re not digitally transforming. That quick-fix robot will perpetuate your disjointed legacy problems. 

A digital leader will go beyond short-termism and look at how the organisation can be truly digital down to its DNA. You have to be a pioneer, take the lead and have the vision to put Digital in your DNA
 

RPA without DPA isn’t even a question

RPA won’t solve the problems of an inefficient or flawed process. The correct alternative with legacy processes is to redesign or even scrap the process with Digital Process Automation (DPA).

Organisations need to map their end-to-end process and describe what they want in an ideal world, rather than look at current systems and plug gaps with RPA. 

DPA is more than plugging analogue systems with robots; it cares about how businesses streamline and automate processes, which helps with breaking down silos and finding new ways of working. 

Automation needs to be part of a wider transformational programme. It’s not short-term and tactical like RPA; it’s long-term and planned. 

Digital transformation isn’t an add on, it needs to be in your organisation's DNA — and DPA helps do just that.

About the author: Aingaran Pillai
Aingaran Pillai is the Founder and CEO of Zaizi. Having worked on an Alfresco project in Government back in 2006, he liked the technology so much he started Zaizi to work on many more Alfresco implementations. Since then he has built Zaizi to be a leader in providing end-to-end digital solutions, specialising in business automation, open source technologies and cloud platforms. He provides thought leadership in the field of digital transformation in both the Public and Private Sector.