When you adopt robotic process automation (RPA), the main focus is on short-term added value in the form of cost savings and efficiency gains. A centre of excellence will enable you to bundle your organisation’s automation activities, define the priorities in a book of work, and manage the successful execution of RPA solutions. But RPA is no substitute for thinking strategically. Whatever you do, you should keep the long term in sight and make sure your process and IT landscape remains fit for the future.
RPA increasingly figures on the management agenda at large corporations, and big banks in particular. Wherever there are opportunities to automate large volumes of manual tasks and close gaps in information process, RPA offers attractive rewards in the form of cost savings, increased effectiveness and efficiency, reduced error rates, and the chance to free up personnel resources for more highly qualified tasks.
RPA solutions are generally used for a wide variety of processes in different business units and divisions. So the key question for management is how to coordinate the RPA initiative on an enterprise-wide basis, combine it with other systems using application programming interfaces (APIs) and enhance it with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), and how to align it with the company’s compliance and risk management requirements. Setting up a centre of excellence (CoE) is a good way of coordinating and monitoring these efforts.
A CoE, often called a competence centre, is where an organisation brings together the management, best practices, research and training relating to a specific topic of focus, such as a technology, business approach or competence. In technology companies, the CoE concept mostly has to do with new software tools, technologies or corresponding concepts.
Targeted use of energies and synergies
A CoE bundles all RPA-related competences and initiatives, trims the overall course, and measures the achievement of objectives. The CoE has a systematic structure and a clear hierarchy (see Figure 1), and is designed to ensure compliance with the relevant external and internal standards. A structured CoE can be set up in house, outsourced to a strategic partner, or operated with a combination of internal and external specialists.
To perform the management and control function for all the company’s RPA efforts, a CoE should ideally include different functions and draw on the experience of specialists.
- Governance and strategy: This area regulates the interplay of all RPA-related activities and keeps them on track across the company. It’s here that the company defines what it wants to achieve with RPA overall: what legal, regulatory, economic and social requirements are to be met, and how objectives are to be reported and, ultimately, monitored.
- Change management: RPA applications lead to technological, organisational and process-related changes. Change management provides the corresponding guidelines.
- Knowledge management: One of the keys to the success of RPA is knowledge of the way things fit together and the different impacts and implications. This section of the CoE is responsible for building, deepening and sharing this knowledge and securing it for the long term.
- Guidelines and standards: This function regulates the entire technical component, covering areas including certification policy, service management (e.g. for releases), the definition of data models and key performance indicators, and all monitoring with a view to regular optimisation.
- Technology architecture: When you deploy RPA solutions you need clear specifications for the tools to be used. This area covers the evaluation, selection, licensing, implementation, commissioning and maintenance of RPA instruments. This is also where you address the question of how far the architecture should also include other technologies such as AI.
- Implementation: This organisational area covers the actual execution of RPA solutions, from set-up through operation to maintenance. The book of work defines the criteria for prioritising the tasks involved. This is also where the organisation estimates the benefits of RPA, defining the tangible and measurable added value it expects its RPA architecture to deliver, and how it intends to reinvest it.
From a centralised to a decentralised structure
Global organisations intending to systematically deploy RPA have a much more complex framework to consider than a company with only one home market. The operating models of their CoEs will differ accordingly. A centralised model will be led by a team with common resources, and will usually be based at the place where the organisation (and its technology) is headquartered. In the decentralised approach, the RPA monitoring function is carried out by different business units, usually geographically separate. The hybrid model represents a combination of these two approaches. What all these approaches have in common is that they are designed to bring together knowledge and controls to ensure that the organisation’s RPA- and compliance-related goals are met.
In a nutshell
When you implement RPA you have to work out how to make sure this new interface technology will deliver lasting benefits. A well-thought-out centre of excellence will help you coordinate your RPA efforts, channel your resources and harness synergy. But there’s more to it than that. The benefits of RPA are primarily short-term: cost savings, greater efficiency, freed-up resources and lower error rates due to manual interventions. This economic immediacy is what makes the technology so attractive. But it’s by no means enough. RPA solutions make your IT and process landscape more complex, and they may lead you to put off thinking about fundamental changes you need to make to your architecture, such as replacing a legacy system. You should use RPA technology as a way of making short-term savings while using existing IT systems, giving you the time and flexibility to make sure your IT architecture meets the long-term needs of your organisation. For RPA to deliver long-term technological benefits, you have to keep sight of your longer-term, strategic initiatives. In other words, implement RPA, but don’t neglect the bigger picture.
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