This is an article published by Mason Alexander of NDMC Consulting that provides a simple explanation of what Robotic Proces Automation (RPA) is and why it's expected to be a game changer in knowledge worker productivity.
Impact of big data “53% of the enterprises surveyed have cited the lack of talent to be one of the key challenges in the deployment of Big Data. Mckinsey estimates that India will need 200,000 data scientists in the coming years.” “90% of businesses saw benefit in the implementation of big data analytics into their current business model. However, 45% of businesses looking to upgrade their data analytics workforce foresaw problems in sourcing enough sufficiently skilled worker. To fill this gap, there will have to be a staggering 243% increase in the number of big data technicians in the UK.”
What is Robotic Process Automation? (RPA)
Making the Office Productivity Step Change
An Introduction to Robotic Process Automation
Mason Alexander, RPA Practice Lead
Published August, 2015
To overcome short-falls in office
companies have for many years
…hard-copy documents that
bridge between departments,
self-authored office applications
and spreadsheets, interns,
low-cost outsourcing agencies…
Why change now?
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions2
What is the business impact of
failing to automate the long-tail of
office data processing tasks?
• The long-tail efficiency gap
• Cost to business?
• The burden on teams
• What roles are affected?
• The wasteful office
• Risks from shadow data
• Fragmented data sources
• Data integrity issues
• Harnessing data worth
• Options facing managers
What is Robotic Process
Automation and how does it help?
• Swivel chair applications
• Automation challenges
• Traditional IT solutions
• Why Robotic Process
Automation brings something
• Examples of use
• Measuring up
• Solution must-haves
• Summary of benefits
• Next steps
Many things have changed in the world of
business over the last decade…
..but a step change improvement in office
data-processing efficiency isn’t one of
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions4
Workers are different these days…
People today blend how they spend their time
like never before… when they work, when they
choose to learn, play …and socialize.
They work on the move, check business emails into
the evenings and on weekends.
But in return they expect to access their social
apps and communities during work time and be
permitted to use their own mobile devices at work
as at home.
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions5
Valuations have less to do with the physical
assets a business has and focus more on soft
assets like the size of online communities, the
data assets organizations hold… and the ability of a
business to convert ‘clicks to cash’.
Companies can scale faster, thanks to cloud
computing, and reach larger audiences thanks to
the worldwide-web and mobile computing.
Business is different too…
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions6
Strange then - while all these changes have happened,
levels of office automation and productivity haven’t
analyze and report
Take data from
one system, to
then re-key into
with desktop tools
as a ‘first resort’
when IT has no
slides to share
Use paper forms
*Since the 1980, productivity in the office has improved by 3%
compared to a 75% productivity increase in factories over the same
Workers still have to…
*Source: Vrije Universitet, Amsterdam – Explorative study into Information Logistics
Increasing automation is the
second most important strategic
priority for shared services and
global business services (GBS)
Process automation is seen to be more
impactful than analytical software and cloud
While office productivity has failed to improve in
decades, automation remains a top priority for leaders
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions7 |
Source: The robots are coming
Deloitte Client Survey of Shared Services and GBS clients, February 2016
When exploring ways to improve automation
71% would expect to first try to leverage
their ERP systems, 44% would plan to use
bolt-on tools and 13% so far recognize the
opportunity to use alternative technologies
What are the consequences to businesses
(and the people that work for them) of the
continued operation of sub-optimal data
handling and processing tasks in offices?
A long-tail of demand exists for technology-led
solutions that displace the myriad of low-level
manual data handling and processing tasks that
employers still call on their workforce to fulfil.
According to research, around 60% of
occupations could have 30% more of
their constituent activities automated
Translated proportionately in time, it means each
member of your team working a 37.5 hour week
could be spending as much as 45-hours a month
on things they don’t really want to be doing
because these tasks take time away from their
primary role – and impact on their quality of life.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions9
The long-tail efficiency gap
Source: McKinsey & Co., 2016 Report: Four fundamentals of workplace automation; a structured analysis of 200 individual work activities
Payroll remains the biggest expenditure items for
Independent research by McKinsey & Co
suggests that automation technologies available
today, if adopted as they predict, could make a
huge impact on workforce productivity.
It could save Western economies around $2
trillion in annual wages and impact on over 130
The cost to business?
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions10 |
Salaries as a percentage of
• 52% health care services
• 50% for-profit services
• 50% educational services
• 22% durable goods
• 22% Construction/mining
• 18% retail/wholesale trade
Source: U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: McKinsey & Co.
Failing to automate these light-weight data handling
and processing tasks is not a victimless crime.
Lots of people have to work with data. These
mundane tasks put people under pressure to work
late, eat at their desks, multi-task…
...and they spend less time on the things that really
matter to their employer.
The burden on teams
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions11 |
It would be easy to assume that sub-optimal
automation of data processing only impacts low-level
clerical roles but that’s not the case. Whilst these
roles typically perform more data entry and processing
tasks, the impact of automation goes much further.
In fact, analysis by McKinsey & Co. suggests that
even CEOs could release up to 20% of their
capacity through automation.
What roles are affected?
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions12 |
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions13
The wasteful office
Use of desktop office applications
and hard-copy documents is both
unproductive and wasteful.
• The average spreadsheet or word-processed document is read
less than 5-times in its life.
• Relying on hard-copy documents to bridge between the weak
points in processes increases paper waste.
• Use of paper increases demands for storage and space – i.e.
filing cabinets, rooms dedicated to archival.
• It places further demands on resources – such as having to
scan hard-copy documents to electronic files.
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions14 |
Security of data has become a board-room
Use of office documents and self-authored applications results
in a proliferation of content in mobile computing devices,
memory sticks, desktop drives and intranet content
Recently, this proliferation of so-called shadow data has
worsened with the growth in use of mobile and software-as-a-
service (SaaS) cloud based applications; many of which are
used without the knowledge or consent of IT.
Much of this content is invisible to IT administrators who are
unaware of the applications, files or data held within them.
Cloud security developer Elastica’s vice-president Eric Andrews
says the company’s threat team analyzed 63 million documents
stored by its customers in 2015, looking for shadow data
Risks from shadow data
• 59% say, that as a consequence of poor information
distribution, they miss information that might be
valuable to their jobs almost every day because it
exists somewhere else in the company and they can’t
• 42% say they accidentally use the wrong information
at least once a week, and 53 percent said that less
than half of the information they receive is valuable.
• 45% say gathering information about what other parts
of their company are doing is a big challenge.
• More than half have to go to numerous sources to
• 40% say other parts of the company are not willing to
share information, and 36 percent said there is so
much information available that it takes a long time to
actually find the right piece of data.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions15
Fragmented data sources fail managers
Middle managers spend
more than a quarter of
their time searching for
to their jobs, and when
they do find it, it’s often
Source: Accenture web-based survey of 1,009 managers in companies in the United States and United Kingdom with reported annual revenues of more than US$500 million. June 2006
Only half of all managers believe
their companies do a good job in
governing information distribution
or have established adequate
processes to determine what data
each part of an organization
• Moreover, nearly half of the global respondents said
their lack of confidence stems from a lack of information
or easy access to data. The findings are puzzling given
the emergence of big data techniques, the proliferation
of global networks and the sheer processing power
contained even in mobile devices.
• One reason for the disconnect between big data and
decision making, the Harvard researchers found, is that
“silos of data, typically imprisoned in customer, financial,
or production systems, are frequently inaccessible by
individuals outside the functional group.”
• In this regard, 43% of survey respondents said
important external or internal data was missing, 42%
said data was inaccurate or obsolete, and 33% said
they “couldn’t process information fast enough.”
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions16
Data integrity issues
makers have major
concerns about access
to, availability of, and
the quality of internal
and outside data
Source: Harvard Business Review survey. Results gathered between August 27 and September 4, 2013
A survey of 442 business
executives around the world found
that corporate decision makers
have major concerns about
access to, availability of, and the
quality of internal and outside
data. The result is reduced
confidence in their decision-
A study at the end of 2012 by IDC predicted the “digital universe”
will reach 40 zettabytes – that’s around 45 trillion gigabytes – by
2020, a 50-fold growth in a decade. BIG DATA and new data
visualization tools are creating ‘data driven businesses’ – but
organizations may miss-out on the advantages of BIG DATA
because of talent shortages.
Industry *predicts a short-fall in IT and analytical roles as
businesses seek to harness ever more business insights to drive
New technologies and automation approaches have the potential to
reduce or remove the need for humans in data analytics roles by
automating the harvesting, analysis, report formation and
distribution tasks that are today fulfilled by people power.
Harnessing data worth
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions
*McKinsey is already forecasting the US will face a
shortage of up to 190,000 data scientists by 2018.
Without automation alternatives,
departmental managers have very
limited options to overcome short-
falls in their teams.
• Hire more staff - but probably not
• Approach IT - although they’re already busy
• Contract out - but is it practical, affordable?
…and so nothing changes.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions18
Options facing managers
What automation possibilities and options
exist? What’s changed from a decade
• IT experts suggest that organizations have so far
managed to automate between 25 to 40% of their
• A large proportion of those activities yet to be
automated require a human go-between to fill gaps
between disjointed systems, or interface between
people and systems.
• These ‘swivel chair applications’ call on humans to
work on several systems at the same time to
complete a task (e.g. referencing multiple
application windows on one screen and populating
• Such applications have been out of reach for
automation by IT – considered either too difficult or
too costly to automate using traditional
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions20
The swivel chair applications
Traditional IT solutions
The procurement approaches of
businesses have traditionally
favored tool-kit style technology
platforms able to perform a common
capability across the enterprise.
In the context of process automation, in addition to
the inherent capabilities found in enterprise
resource planning and financial management
systems, Business Process Management (BPM)
tool-kits have emerged in recent years to augment
workflows that span between discrete systems and
silos of operation.
Whilst BPM tools have become relatively easy to
tailor to serve specific use case requirements, they
still require the intervention of IT and demand that
ways of working are adapted to suit the
technologies being introduced.
Rarely do tools offer the dexterity of capabilities to
fully eradicate the role of the human as the ‘data
Due to over-pressured and under-resourced IT
teams, many office automation projects – with
dubious Returns on Investments owing to the very
small communities of users - drop to the bottom of
the IT priority list where so many projects
ultimately go to die.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions
Automation challenges are not solely
about the dexterity of tech-tools. There
are many potential inhibitors to change
that can derail projects:
• Cost of IT and change can exceed the anticipated
return when applications may be used by only a
handful of users (or potentially just one).
• The time and difficulty of capturing and interpreting
use case needs can become an impenetrable barrier
impenetrable barrier to projects moving forward.
Mistakes made at this stage can cause managers to
lose confidence in justifying future projects.
• Building a Return-on-Investment (RoI) argument to
justify investing IT and project resources can be
difficult – if not impossible – when it’s not clear how
much time and resource is needed to build the
solution, or what value stakeholders will eventually
enjoy once the automation is deployed.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions22
Automation describes not
just a new flavor of
technology but a new
approach to addressing
handling and processing
tasks - those that
documents and swivel
chair workers to perform.
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions23
Why Robotic Process Automation brings something
There are several fundamental
characteristics of this kind of technology-
enabled solution that differ from Business
Process Management (BPM) tooling and
other traditional IT department dependent
• The automation does not fundamentally
change the operation of the process.
Instead of a human tapping keys and
building spreadsheets, a computer
software application mimics the same
tasks in a similar way. Stakeholders do
not see a fundamental change to their
operating behaviours. The same
process stages will generally occur.
• Training of robots is generally performed
using code-free software, so it’s quick to do
and easy to adapt.
• IT challenges like implementing complex
APIs are removed by re-keying or robotically
extracting/uploading data to legacy systems.
• Rather than being ‘a technology platform’
purchased and operated by IT – requiring a
big up-front investment and lots of risk,
‘robots’ are a resource that can be
outsourced in the same way as people,
individually selected by departmental
managers and billed monthly – with all the
contractual flexibility that represents.
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions24
Robots have different skill-sets, just like humans
• Security Trace
• Autonomic deployment and
• ERP & Legacy systems APIs
• Formatted Omni-Channel
• Capture (multi-sources)
• Share (Email)
• Data Input
• Artificial Intelligence
• Non repeatable
• Self Learning
• Self Healing
| Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions25
Examples of use
The global IT robotic automation market was valued at US$
183.1m in 2013 and is forecast to grow at 60.5% CAGR from
2014 to 2020.
Source: Transparency Market Research
What does the robot do?
Harvests data from motor dealership back-office
systems to identify sales lead opportunities. It then
publishes the sales leads into the dealerships
(separate) customer relationship management
system; delivering high quality leads, one lead at a
What alternatives were considered?
• Generate a one-off monthly report (this was trialed
but, when faced with a long list of unqualified leads,
sales people would not act on the information)
• Do nothing
• Pay an intern or administrator to manually capture
the data and upload it
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions26
Automotive Sales Assistant
• Data accuracy
• Centrally managed
• Resources were not available in-house to support
• The legacy system used meant generating
reports required lots of manual data aggregation
and cleansing before leads could be forwarded.
• Leads needed to be manually entered into the
• Information relating to the sales opportunity
useful to the salesperson could not be harvested
from one system, so the usefulness of leads
generated with a robot would be of little use for
What does the robot do?
To validate requests to perform road works, a robot
will harvest data from multiple sources and map
assets to build up a complete picture of the context of
the road work to be undertaken compared to other
local traffic planning events.
What alternatives were considered?
• Do nothing and continue to use an administrator,
although the traffic manager knew that growth in
requests meant the team would be short-handed.
• Purchase a new works planning system, but the
budget and intrusiveness of a new system was not
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions27
Road Works Admin. Assistant
• Systematic; rules are applied consistently
• This was an automated a swivel chair application
that removes the need to recruit and train
additional member(s) of staff
• Removes resource planning challenges within
department (covering lunch-breaks etc.)
• Lower investment requirement
• As the user organization is governmental, easier
to justify expenditure as ‘best value’ approach
• Easily and quickly scalable
• Easily repeatable
Robotic process automation is best suited to mundane
clerical data handling, re-purposing, re-keying or re-
publishing activities that:
• Can be mimicked by technologies that are script-
based, use if-then conditional logic or employ
• Tasks that involve small numbers of users
(potentially just one) that would be uneconomic to
automate with traditional IT
• Tasks that do not vary every time they occur
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions28
• Doesn’t require coding or developers to ‘train’ – which might
result in a need for testing, tuning, de-bugging etc.
• Adopt de facto industry standards to minimize/remove
information security risks, scaling and performance tuning
• Is scalable and flexible
• Can harvest and use data from multiple sources at the same
time (multi-threaded, multi-sourcing) and potentially in real-
time – including sensors, CCTV image or video feeds, DLLs,
web portals, GPS and web apps
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions29
Applications design is a wasteful process. The
article ‘Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier
Than You Think’ by HBR (Nov 2011) followed a
survey of 1,471 IT projects with an average spend
of $167m and found:
• The average overrun was 27%
• One in six of the projects studied was a ‘black
swan’, with a cost over-run of 200%.
• Almost 70% of black swan projects also over-
ran their schedules.
Robotic Process Automation removes project
over-run risk and delivers best-fit solutions.
1. Releases time to key workers - Performs mundane
clerical tasks so key talent can focus on those
activities that bring value to customers and
2. Stays in-tune with business tempo – Much faster
to build and deploy than traditional solutions thanks
to its light touch codeless approach (measured in
days and weeks rather than months) all but
displacing development and IT skills.
3. Keeps working 24/7 – Robots can work day and
night on their designated tasks to maximize the ROI
4. Truly agile - Solutions can be re-trained as needed
must be adaptable to a variety of business needs
and scalable to enterprise size. In addition, solutions
must be compliance-ready and secure, storing
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions30
Summary of benefits
5. Eliminates Human Errors – Automation with
RPA eliminates human error; fulfilling processes
predictably every time.
6. Scalable – Most robotic process automation
platforms are designed for enterprise scale
deployment and are typically cloud based
permitting truly massive scaling at very low cost.
7. Self-serving – Advanced solutions offer user
organizations the added benefit of being able to
train their own robots!
8. Easily integrated - Complementing, rather than
replacing, existing systems RPA solutions can
painlessly access data from multiple, disparate
sources without needing APIs or coding.
• Robotic Process Automation is
not for everyone. Some
organizations have re-designed
their business models to
completely eradicate data
handling and processing.
• But, if you find people are
spending too much time re-
keying data, printing or using
spreadsheets, then the best
thing you can do is to arrange
an RPA consultant to run a
diagnostic audit across your
Making the Office Productivity Step Change with Robotic Process Automation Solutions
To consider if RPA is
right for your
organization, find out
what people use
paper forms and
office apps for and go
We’ve been delivering automation
solutions since 2003, helping
organisations to overcome their
challenges and grow faster.
Our experiences and industry know-how
blend with unique software technologies
developed in-house to deliver unrivalled
outcomes for our clients.
Contact us to find out how we can help.
Mason Alexander is Robotic Process Automation
Practice Lead at NDMC Consulting located in
Oxfordshire, England. Contact him on +44 (0) 1865
596151 or email email@example.com
www.ndmc.uk.com t. +44 (0)1865 596151