This past week, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote speech at the Dallas RPA and Cognitive Summit that focused on the difference between digital projects (in this case, RPA projects) and transformations. In a nutshell, here are the key takeaways:
- Your Why Matters: RPA implementation by itself is not a strategy but an enable of a specific objective(s) the organization is trying to accomplish
- What you want to accomplish can be far reaching: The outcomes of your RPA effort have the potential to range from IT operations improvements, business efficiency, or improvements in the customer experience. The closer to the customer, the more transformative the effort is likely to be
- How you choose to execute determines your impact: Since technology is rarely a barrier to success, the alignment of the business stakeholders, the cultural adjustments, and the approach to risk management will be the determining factors in the ability to scale and to capture the intended value
While my talk was purposefully focused on pushing the group’s thinking around transformation, the world in which most of the attendees current live is all about projects. The dichotomy between my focus and their reality led one of the attendees to ask whether projects were a bad thing and what they as mid-level manager could do to encourage transformation.
RPA projects are not bad
RPA projects are by no means bad or inferior to transformation efforts. In fact, most transformation efforts are implemented through a series of projects. However, it is important to know that projects implemented outside of the context of a transformation effort will have limited impact. It is perfectly acceptable to do standalone projects – just do not expect them to deliver results that will be significant enough for customers or the marketplace to notice.
On the other hand, understand that you cannot run a transformation as though it were a project and expect good results. Given the level of complexity and need for executive sponsorship, transformation run as projects usually do not scale well beyond the initial pilot, take excessively long to implement, and rarely achieve business impact. If it is a transformation, run it as such.
Use RPA projects to ready your organization for true transformation
Realistically, if your title is Director of RPA, Business Process Improvement, Operations Excellence, etc., the chances of you being able to initiate a digital transformation in your organization are slim. That is not to say, however, that you cannot have some influence on the organization through you work you do with your RPA projects.
RPA adoption is still relatively new and most business stakeholders are not familiar with the potential impact it can have, comfortable with the different type of risk it brings, nor aware of the level of effort required to use it for transformation. An approach that starts with a project focus that creates a pull in demand from the business side of the organization could be just the early experience an organization needs to begin to consider RPA and other automation technologies as a part of its digital transformation efforts company-wide.