Proof of Concept
The Proof of Concept (PoC) is the first time a company trials Robotic Process Automation in production. The results of the PoC can be exciting and motivating, but this stage is often only the beginning of a multi-year journey into the benefits of RPA.
A company that brings together its business and IT functions at this stage will allow for optimal conditions for the PoC to be a success. This way, the business' goals can be understood and planned for and matched against IT's capabilities to build the PoC.
Run the PoC
Of course, one of the goals is to develop the automation and put it to use. However, it is important that the planning and preparation of the PoC are not set aside in order to get to programming the automation sooner.
Hastily programming the first process that comes to mind, and forgoing adequate planning may result in a significant amount of rework at a later stage.
Develop a vision and strategy
In order to have the greatest chance of a successful PoC, it is important that everyone is aware of the project and that they see the potential for positive change. Arrange for a group of interested employees to be a part of the RPA Guiding Coalition.
Begin to define the company's RPA strategy. Document the decisions that are made during the PoC, and the successes and failures of each choice.
Select your automation partner
While it is possible to carry out your PoC without relying on external resources, you will achieve better results in less time if you partner with an RPA focused automation company.
Consider not only the implementation cost, but also what the working arrangement will be like. Does the company own the software, or the consultant? Does it seem like the consultant has your company's best interests in mind?
Define success and failure ahead of time
Begin with the end in mind.
What targets need to be met in order for the PoC to be considered a success? A failure?
Is 100% automation of the process required, or is 80% acceptable?
Is it important for the automation to be flexible to allow business users to make small changes?
What is the expected ROI? Estimates for time to complete the project?
Brainstorm with a team of interested employees about processes that could be ideal candidates for the PoC. Don't discount any idea until after you've assessed the process in a logical manner. Have employees think of their daily tasks. Which tasks are time consuming and low value? Which tasks are boring? Which tasks require critical thinking and judgement?
Prioritize the processes that have a high volume, or a long duration, and have predictable outputs. If critical thinking or judgement is required, the process may be hard to automate. Ensure that your automation partner understands the steps of the process and verifies that the process can actually be automated.
Map out the as-is process using flowcharts and process profiles. If you can modify the process to make it easier, faster, simpler, or better; do it now. It is easier to make changes to the process before you start to program the PoC. Create a Process Design Document.
Stages of a PoC
Verify process steps
After mapping the process out and possibly making changes, bring the documentation to a process expert. Go through the steps on the computer with that person, and talk through possible exceptions, errors, problems or situations with them. Attempt to find any issues now, as it is easier to code them in on the first try. Record a video of the computer screen while going through the process.
After finishing the planning stages, development can begin. The RPA Developer will work from the Process Design Document. Ensure that if the developer has any questions about the process that they are addressed by the process expert themselves. Almost all testing for the process should be carried out in this stage.
User acceptance testing
Have the process expert test the automation and watch the process complete multiple times. Verify that the process inputs are correctly handled, and that the process outputs are correct. If any new exceptions are found, ensure they are fixed before going to the next stage.
Hyper-care & go live!
The automation is now live and in production! Extra attention should be focused on monitoring the process. The reliability of the process should be near 100%. Any exceptions or issues that arise should be handled by the automation automatically.
Reflect and make improvements
The automation should be reliable and effective now. Reflect on the PoC and the many actions and decisions that were made. Update the Process Design Document with the knowledge you have now. Gather feedback and compare it to the expectations from the start of the PoC.