Robotics : from Fiction to practice

Software Robotics, or Robotic Process Automation (RPA) promises to deliver a solution that can rapidly automate manual back office and customer-facing processes,

Making them faster, significantly more cost effective, and improving consistency and regulatory compliance. Therefore RPA, as a technology that can reduce the costs of existing manual operations by 25% to 40% or more without changing existing systems, yet improve service and generate return on investment (ROI) in less than a year, can truly be described as transformational and disruptive.

RPA works by replicating the activities that people currently undertake, using existing core systems, legacy applications, accessing websites, and manipulating spreadsheets, documents and email to complete tasks. Using RPA software involves mapping out current or new processes, linking it to existing applications, and then scheduling them to run on one or more robots whenever required. Even if a multitude of processes in the Asset Management / Asset Servicing environment is already highly automated, there are still various potential use cases. Fee processes, reconciliation between the different parties or applications or individual client reports are quite often areas of manual processes. Given the number and complexity of those processes they are very interesting use cases. We also see testing (i.e. new software releases) as a focused area for RPA usage.

That’s the good news. But RPA is not without its challenges. We have delivered RPA projects across 20 countries and are often called upon to help companies when their first attempt failed. While RPA can transform the economics and service level of current manual operations, we have seen as many as 30 to 50% of initial RPA projects fail. This isn’t a reflection of the technology;there are many successful deployments. But there are some common mistakes that will often prevent an organization from delivering on the promise of RPA.

So what are the top issues that companies always need to address to deliver on the promise of RPA?

A successful RPA is a business led initiative or program with strong partnership from IT, Cyber, Security, Risk, HR and other enterprise functions. Often companies think about the initial automation project, but forget that ultimately RPA will deliver a virtual workforce that allows the business to task robots across the entire organization. IT would not be in charge of managing the current agent workforce, nor should it manage a virtual one. As back-office agents can be trained to teach robots, having a business-owned RPA center-ofexcellence (CoE), liberates a constantly stretched IT department to focus on more valuable activity – but all of this does not simply spring into existence. So the CoE processes need to be in place, IT governance agreed, and staff trained to operate robots and continue to enhance processes.

A common route for most organizations is to perform an initial PoC or pilot to see that RPA delivers on its promise. But often this creates an embarrassing gap between a successful PoC and large-scale production automation, as RPA programs cannot answer simple questions from the Board about “where are we going to target RPA, how much will it cost and what is the return?”. We typically advise companies to carry out a rapid company-wide or unit wide opportunity assessment alongside a PoC. Typically, PoCs can automate sophisticated processes in weeks, which is all it takes to perform a solid opportunity assessment and create a detailed business case. This means quick stakeholder sign-off, and enhances the momentum of the RPA program.

Often these simple errors and delays give senior stakeholders a reason to withdraw support from the project. It’s therefore important to recognize and mitigate these (and other) common issues in order to facilitate the success of the organization’s RPA program. In order to gain buy-in RPA by senior stakeholders, we recommend that an RPA portfolio balances cost reduction with other value drivers such as service improvement, transformative services, improved regulatory response and growth. While delivering costsavings is great, “headline grabbing” service improvements or showing entirely new and innovative digital services or products makes the senior stakeholders even more interested in making RPA happen.

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Patrick Stöß Executive Director Wealth & Asset Management Advisory Germany EY
Fabian Sander Senior Manager Wealth & Asset Management Coordinator of the Robotics Center of Excellence EY Financial Services in Germany