What are main obstacles to robotization and how to overcome them?

In one of my previous articles I discussed main reasons to go for robotization – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-main-reasons-why-companies-go-robotization-mariusz-pultyn/ . Now I want tackle a more challenging topic – an analysis of main obstacles companies have to overcome to succeed with robotization.

  1. Why should I bother ?

Although robotization can be now regarded as a mainstream tool for enterprise digital transformation it is sometimes difficult to find a reliable source of information on tangible benefits robotization can bring. There are obvious reasons like reduction of the cost of operations, improvement of quality and efficiency and quite many non-obvious that I discussed in more detail in previous post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-main-reasons-why-companies-go-robotization-mariusz-pultyn/

In short, main reasons that companies should be driven by in making a decision about robotization are:

  1. It is difficult for a company to automate to the required extent with IT, and not all automation is economically justified that way
  2. Company is looking for quick wins against labor market challenges (attrition, rising wages, training, etc.)
  3. A will to release employees from the most tedious and repetitive tasks
  4. Increase in efficiency
  5. Improvement of quality
  6. Taking a first step to try and experiment with AI

I’m sure that reading that post will answer the question of why should you bother with robotization. If you are not fully convinced – please let me know in comments of address me directly.

  1. Lack of knowledge of assessment of robotic potential

The general rule of thumb says 20-30% of all office work is in range of robotic technology, but actual potential can be much more than that depending on your specific application environment. There is very short questionnaire that can help you identify processes that are best for robotization:

  • Process is highly standardized, documented and stable
  • Input data are digitized
  • Process requires significant amount of repetitive manual labor
  • Automated system is relatively stable in terms of adding new functionalities and in near future there are no significant architectural changes planned
  • Automated process is human error prone (requires large amount of data input, especially sensitive like amounts, dates or clients’ IDs)
  • Automated process covers few IT systems what requires an employee to be able to multitask and frequently switch between the applications
  • Automated process has significant volume fluctuations what makes adequate staffing challenging for Customer

If your processes share at least some of those characteristics they are most probably good for robots.

After such brief assessment you can go two ways mostly depending on your organization culture – either find some advisory help to analyze in detail all your potential upfront or start small with first process and robotize it and then build your experience in agile and iterative process of continuous improvement.

  1. Lack of robotic skills

Here you also have couple of choices. The most obvious one is that you may decide you don’t need robotic skills at all and let somebody else do the robotization for you, ideally providing robots-as-a-service. This is the best choice when robots are not your core business or your scale of operations does not exceed hundreds of employees. On the opposite you can try to establish Center of Robotic Excellence yourself by acquiring talents on the market or by asking for some consulting on how to establish and grow such competencies.

  1. Fear of implementing “temporary” solution that stays forever

Because robots work without changing of underlying IT systems and somehow cover inefficiencies of current user interfaces can be perceived as “temporary” solution until “real automation” is being introduced. The truth is that robots are fully fledged automation solution that in most cases has no alternative. This is because usually there are valid reasons that automated low-level interfaces haven’t been built or systems haven’t been changed due to sometimes prohibitive cost. On the other hand robots by their nature are extremely lightweight and can be a great bridging solution until those “ultimate” solution are being delivered.

  1. Potential collision with other digital transformation projects

As said above robots are now a part of the mainstream digital transformation tools and should be used as complimentary solution to other automation efforts. The best way to avoid potential collision is to simply put robots on your transformation roadmap after properly assessing their advantages over other activities. Big transformation projects usually take some time to implement, so robots are ideal bridging solution as I mentioned in previous paragraph. Robots are also perfect to fill some gaps in ergonomics of newly implemented solutions, especially when some difficult decisions on scope had to be made right before deployment of big new transformational project. Robots can give you some time to think about target employee experience when interacting with newly built systems.

  1. Substantial upfront investment

Even if robotic infrastructure is usually much less costly than typical IT solutions it still requires some servers, either on-premise or in cloud, some robotic licenses and above all skilled team to keep thing running smoothly.

There are some ways to overcome this issue – one has been briefly discussed above – you can simply find a provider of robotic services and pay only for the work robots will do for you. Then your upfront investment is close to zero.

You can also invest a little more and go for trial or free versions of robotic platforms with lightweight infrastructure in the cloud good enough to conduct Proof of Concept of robotic process automation and then try to scale it up. This approach is quite popular, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as results of small scale implementations can be very misleading when complexity increases.

Again there is a third way to tackle the problem – especially when your organization has a culture of creating more formal business cases for potential projects. In most cases properly assessed costs are greatly exceeded by the benefits of robotization, so upfront investment pays off in relatively short period of time.

  1. Difficulties of change management

One of the most important issues to be addressed before robots are introduced is what to do with employees’ time released by robots. This problem is less pressing nowadays as there is usually much more work to be done in mostly growing companies than employees able to process additional volumes. If that is a case you simply have to reallocate work giving people more interesting, creative and value adding work. When robotization is done in agile way the change is gradual and continuous, so people have enough time to adapt and usually come back with more ideas of what more robots can do.

If your robotization project is going to be implemented in more big-bang way or you are mostly motivated by reduction of your staff you might need to plan employee relocation as one of components of digital transformation of your organization. There is a plenty of advisory help you can find to help you deal with change management, however I would strongly recommend to go for gradual and iterative approach with robotic implementations, because it better aligns with robots’ lightweight nature.

  1. Fear of defeat

All new activities bear some risk of failure, but it is just stating the obvious. Why I’m convinced this risk is much lower with properly introduced robotic process automation ?

The most important reason is something I mentioned before – robots by their nature are aligned with agile paradigm. This means they can be implemented in much shorter times and with much less cost and much less stakeholders involved than typical automation activities. This helps to achieve positive feedback loop which provides that small robotization success leads to another small robotization success and eventually becomes great transformational success of all organization.

If you are dealing with other issues that hinder starting your robotization journey, please do not hesitate to share those. I’m sure we’ll find the way to overcome them. Robots are really your employees best friends !

Mariusz Pultyn
CTO