INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH
INTERVIEW WITH MR. JAGAN RAMASWAMI,
Head of Shared Services at Future Pipe Industries
What do you believe are the critical success factors to maximize returns from RPA for any organization?
RPA is not a broadsword for your problems, it is a scalpel for surgical intervention, at least in today’s context. Looking at RPA as a panacea for all organizational ills is where trouble starts. The end goal should be well defined. Preferably, the end goal should not be tied to pure people reduction initiatives. Thinking of RPA as a tool to replace people does not augur well for long-term RoI. RPA helps free up resources for higher value work by improving efficiency, accuracy and predictability. Having a plan for at least 3 years with focused milestones and well-defined deliverables at regular intervals (30 days, 90 days, 180 days, 1 year, 2 years and 3years) will be critical. The goals should be agile enough to embrace changes in RPA technology as it is still evolving and improving. Keeping an open mind to change and having a focus on the end goal (not the technology or tools) will be important.
What does the future of RPA hold with respect to technologies like AI, ML, NLP, Process Analytics, etc? How will these technologies align to meet the needs of business users?
RPA, AI and ML will evolve in a fashion similar to the evolution of a performance tool like MS Office. Such technologies will become business enablers driving optimal performance at scale with enhanced predictability. As businesses evolve to become more data-driven, predictability of internal performance will be critical to manage external variances. This is where these technologies will have a great impact. The customer end is always prone to change based on market environments. Focusing on driving optimal performance in-house while ensuring maximum engagement and experience for the external customer will ensure that these technologies meet all business needs, today and tomorrow.
How do you go about handling challenges like change management and ensure effective change management and what are good practices around that?
The traditional model of showcasing value through a ‘Pilot Project’ in a controlled environment does not really help in a traditional environment such as manufacturing where change management is of utmost importance. Too much analytics and data will not impress or help in many cases. Visual tools such as Process Maps, dynamic workflows and real-time dashboards need to be used effectively. Regular updates that talk about business issues and means to address these through automation need to be defined and showcased. The management should understand that this is not a replacement for their existing way of working, but just a better way of working. Taking them along in the journey, having discussions that focus on the outcomes rather than the tool / technology are critical in ensuring success. Simple, focused and preferably real-time communication (on-demand as well) is the key.
What’s the best way to manage security risks with respect to RPA and manage bots and any kinds of cyber attacks?
RPA systems are as vulnerable or as safe as other business applications. Some of these are based on organization-wide issues and some are very RPA-specific. The key challenge is around access rights for Bots and Human Workers, while some others pertain to people and their level of control. Some of my thoughts:
- Similar access rights for humans and Bots. This will ensure that Bots did become a conduit for security breaches.
- Manage and monitor Bots and their operations through a specific tool/dashboard (including access rights/privileges)
- Ensure there are not hard-coded rights for either Humans or Bots. Rights to be strictly limited to what’s necessary and not more. Additional rights can be provided on request / as needed.
- Bot management needs to be from a specific high-security console with highly restricted access and multi-layer security (physical and IT).
RPA needs to be treated like any ERP / CRM / SCM / HRMS system, not as something more intelligent with greater access rights. Regular / real-time monitoring, limited rights, secure servers and real-time dashboards can go a long way towards ensuring limited security-related challenges.
Can you detail some of the experiences that you have had at Future Pipe Group with respect to your own RPA journey? What kind of business benefits you have realized from various automation projects?
We are still at an early stage when it comes to automation. Our core focus is on ensuring data and process visibility. Changing the mindsets in a traditional manufacturing company is fraught with multiple issues around ‘inertia of rest’. Visual is the way to go. With process analytics and mining we have shown the process flows visually to clearly outline the bottle-necks and the potential automation areas. To ensure easy acceptance, we are working to implement our first automation tools in standardized processes before moving to advanced tech around NLP and Chatbots. We are also looking at a Workflow Management layer on our BPM systems (such as ServiceNow) to ensure ease of operation, uptake and again visual representation.