Background and Definition
As robotic process automation (RPA) continues to evolve as the hub of many cross industry automation initiatives, the focus on achieving the business value of these initiatives has increased and the concept of digital employees and the digital workforce continues to evolve. In the February 2019 McKinsey&Company report “Driving Impact at Scale from Automation and AI” their analysis showed that while humans will continue to play a critical role in the workforce, automation will fundamentally alter the workplace and require a new degree of cooperation between workers and technology1. To that end, the management of these production automations is causing organizations to have to think about new constructs and modifications to existing ones to address unique attributes and requirements of the automation space. In addition, the change management that organizations will have to undertake to ensure a successful transition to this evolving digital workforce is significant. The Robotic Operations Center (ROC) is likely to play a critical role on this journey.
The primary focus of the ROC is to ensure that once automations are in production, they are delivering the expected business value and if not, to identify blockers and remediate them. Tactically, this involves monitoring automations to ensure they run on schedule, that they complete successfully and that if there are issues, they are triaged and resolved timely. While realizing value of these production automations is a primary focus, there are also significant positive impacts in freeing up the Center of Excellence (COE) and development teams to focus on new work – increasing the velocity of automation use cases and value realization. In addition to these important but more tactical accountabilities,` the most successful ROCs will have significant strategic focus. These strategic focus areas will include continuous improvement of existing automations and recommendations for new use cases – all predicated on the vast amounts of performance data available to the ROC.
The ROC will also have a major role to play in the strategic move by organizations to a more digital workforce. This will include approaches for expanding and supporting citizen developers and users and the education of business operations teams on “managing” their “digital employees”. Also from the McKinsey&Company report referenced above come insights on the evolving digital workforce:
“Treating employees as problem solvers and enabling them to use bots to solve their problems can be culturally very transformational. Delegating authority over the bots to those employees (versus running the bots centrally) can also be a way to ensure continuous improvement and employee participation. This also means that employees need to understand how the bots work, perhaps even learn to configure or code them. All this is similar to some of the other initiatives firms are rolling out (such as agile development or continuous delivery) that are focused on empowering employees.”2
Having offerings to support these citizen developers and users will be critical to ensuring their success in the roles outlined above. It is the inclusion of these strategic components, the continuous improvement focus and the innovative approaches in managing what have been more traditional support activities that evolves the ROC into the modern Robotic Operations Center (mROC). Organizations that can effectively apply the concepts of the mROC will be better positioned to accelerate and scale their automation initiatives and evolve their digital workforce.
Keys to Success
To ensure the success of the mROC in providing these critical services, coding standards and code quality in the build phase are of course critical. These coding standards drive consistency in the level of detail in logs and reports that will help identify issues and speed up triage and root cause analysis. If root cause analysis leads to code changes, the consistency in code structure and standards speeds the resolution process.
Since the transition from the ‘build’ to’ manage & run’ phase is so critical, having clear exit and entry criteria coupled with a strong knowledge transfer process will ensure the mROC is well positioned to manage core components of the automations. To ensure stability and strong governance, the mROC should also have accountability for the production change process. Not only does this support compliance with segregation of duty policies that many organizations have in place, but it also promotes stability of the production automations and ensures they can deliver the business value with as few interruptions as possible. If following common DevOps processes including Continuous Integration Continuous Deployment (CICD) this process is well defined and largely automated.
Having the mROC accountable for Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a good way to ensure that the organization stays current with underlying software that is critical to components that make up the automation solutions. With vendors in the automation space seeing significant capital investment, there are new capabilities being released regularly, making the need to stay current with software more critical. Having the ability to upgrade smoothly and efficiently and ensure all existing automations work in the upgraded environment is a strategic differentiator allowing organizations to leverage new capabilities to continue to drive incremental business value. In the Gartner report from December 2019 “Predicts 2020: RPA Renaissance Driven by Morphing Offerings and Zeal for Operational Excellence” the concept of Complemented RPA (CoRPA) is introduced – highlighting where RPA is looking to other areas like process mining, machine learning, and ingestion engine, etc., to help drive broader business value3. These pieces will be much easier to connect with a cohesive PLM strategy allowing organizations to take advantage of the rapidly expanding connectors and integration features.
Over time the modern robotic operations center will of course evolve. During this emerging period of hyper-automation it will play a critical role in ensuring the value realization of automations in production and take accountability for key activities that will allow the business, COE, and automation development teams to focus on the acceleration of value creation through identification and delivery of new automation use cases. It will also help organizations support their evolving digital workforce. There will need to be flexibility in the model as different parts of an organization evolve differently and as their needs change. Over time some of the activities performed by the mROC may become part of business operations teams as they mature their digital workforce. In the near term, the mROC will play a critical role as a strategic bridge in helping drive scale for automation programs, helping to unlock significant business value. In the long term, the mROC is likely to play a key role in ensuring organizations can sustain the gains made and operate at scale.
1 “Driving Impact at Scale from Automation and AI” McKinsey&Company, Digital McKinsey p. 1
2 “Predicts 2020: RPA Renaissance Driven by Morphing Offerings and Zeal for Operational Excellence” Gartner p. 4
3 “Driving Impact at Scale from Automation and AI” McKinsey&Company, Digital McKinsey p. 46