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Service RPA vs Manufacturing Robotics

published on 11th February 2020

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is in large part the automation of basic tasks that a human can do with a computer, a simple example being the automation of payroll processing.

In recent years the success of companies such as Automation Anywhere, Pega systems, UniPath and Blue Prism proves that such technology has value to business

But, is process automation a new idea? Or can we learn best practice from elsewhere?

As with all business ideas, it is truly rare that something is totally unique. With that in mind obvious parallels and lessons can be learned from the roll out and success of Process Robotics across the manufacturing and logistics sectors.

For context, examples of manufacturing robotics include the large agile arms that help assemble cars and for warehouse logistics the use of Kiva robots to move inventory around to its optimal location.

The main differences between RPA and Robotics is that in the physical environment of a manufacturing plant the actual process to be automated is easily visualized. For RPA it is not. In addition to that the concept of the organization in question being a ‘factory’ that is producing an output is well understood and accepted. Within the service sector, the concept of people in a back office being in a production factory has met with some resistance. This in turn has meant that a commonly held misconception is that service businesses or internal functional units cannot be analyzed based on them being production based i.e. item comes in, value is added, item goes out with a mark-up for margin.

So, what are the key similarities of rolling out an RPA process improvement and a Robotics process improvement?

1.      Know your current process inside out.

  • Process map everything, good and bad.

2.      Make the business case for change based on actual metrics.

  •  Too many technology projects fail because of assumed benefits that have not been baselined or validated for realism.

3.      Define in detail the requirements for success prior to engaging with external technology vendors.

  • Otherwise you will only be writing a blank cheque for scope and cost creep.

4.      Technology requires upfront expertise AND ongoing maintenance & monitoring expertise.

  • Are you taking into consideration the ‘Total Lifecycle Cost?’

5.      Develop detailed and realistic specification documents.

  •  Not detailing what you really want leads to problems at go-live, who has heard others say, ‘I didn’t think it would be like this?’

6.      Stage-gate the roll-out.

  • Don’t be afraid to pull the plug on a bad decision

Any process improvement initiative in either the service or manufacturing sectors starts from the same basis……know your current operations thoroughly before seeking to replace with automation of any kind.

Technology can help a business get to the next level, but only if it understands fully why it is needed in the first place.