Frida Kjidderö Development Lead på AKOA

How do you succeed with digital automation?

Publicerad: 2 February 2021

With the introduction of Industry 4.0 and the increase in smart factories, Swedish industry is facing completely new opportunities and challenges. In 2019, I had the great privilege of visiting about 20 small and medium-sized companies in Swedish industry to carry out a study on their conversion to Industry 4.0. A common thread that could be seen was that with the increase of connected machines and other technology in process industrial IT in the Swedish industry, many exciting opportunities are created, largely on unknown ground.

Many companies that have traditionally worked with only physical goods are now moving into digital markets and need to navigate the potential of how technology can expand their offering to their customers. An example is how many companies are moving to an increasingly service-based business model, where the portfolio becomes more differentiated in what they can offer their customers. Digitization of each individual part of the flow can contribute to flexibility and facilitate modularisation of parts in the production chain, which in turn can create a completely new delivery capacity. At the same time, traceability and data collection are generated, which can form the basis for building and sharing knowledge faster than ever before. Using automation tools, such as RPA, to be able to scale up and be fast-paced in the journey that Industry 4.0 entails can be valuable. Partly to free up internal capacity from administrative tasks, partly to get on your feet quickly with new processes that this digital journey entails.

What is RPA?

RPA is an abbreviation for Robotic Process Automation, which means that software instructs a robot (also called a digital employee) to perform sequences of rule-based, data-intensive and routine tasks. This is done by simulating clicks and keystrokes that a human would otherwise have done. RPA has seen strong exponential growth in recent years and is one of the fastest growing segments in the software industry. RPA is applicable in all industries and businesses where there is a high volume of administrative and rule-based tasks. A major reason for RPA's growth is its ability for rapid return on capital, as RPA projects can be relatively short compared to other software projects but at the same time generate a large increase in productivity and thus increased cost efficiency. Robots can work around the clock, all year round and without breaks.

RPA also helps to free up time from staff so that they can work on other value-creating activities. While the robot works with the repetitive and administrative work, the employees can instead focus on what humans do better than robots - be creative, innovative and carry out more complex tasks that require deeper analysis and human intuition. Thus, RPA can contribute with more than just increased efficiency, but also generate more value creation and innovation in the time that has been freed up. It can also have other valuable effects, such as reduced workload and stress for the employee.

Where do you start?

However, the effects of RPA are to a large extent linked to which processes are automated and how the RPA project is structured, both technically and organizationally. Automating a process is not that difficult. The big challenge is to develop a sustainable and scalable solution. All companies are in different places in their automation journey. Some have just started sniffing at the subject, starting with some support processes, while others are investing in full-scale automation of core processes and end-to-end solutions. A clear trend within RPA is that where there has previously been a very strong focus on process efficiency and return on capital, there is a growing interest in also implementing innovative RPA projects where entire value chains are optimized and transformed. This is partly due to the current degree of automation maturity of the specific business, but also to the fact that the automation tools themselves are maturing and gaining increasingly powerful capacity.

What is the future of digital automation?

The pandemic has caused us to change in many ways. This has created many new needs to support the transition with efforts required to deal with the current situation. The advantage of RPA is that processes can be developed and implemented in a short time horizon, depending on the complexity of the process and the capacity as well as the competence of the automation team. When a major change needs to take place, RPA can thus be an effective tool for creating rapid change when it is needed, which is becoming more and more common in a world in constant motion. But while you can create a quick solution to what you have in front of you right now, the long-term perspective is just as important. This can mean everything from how to structure code, which processes are prioritized, how to ensure compliance with and maintain security aspects, to how to maintain the capacity and competence required for automation efforts to have a long-term effect. More and more people are thus choosing a more service-based approach through Automation-as-a-service (AaaS), where automation is managed and operated outside the business, in order to instead be able to focus on its core business. In this way, companies can reduce the risk of the pace of automation slowing down due to the need for internal resources to focus on maintenance. Instead of stomping in the same place, you can look at the horizon for what the next step in the automation journey will be.

To carry out a successful automation journey, we recommend that the automation strategy be in line with the company's overall strategy. It also comes with combining different types of tools to create a complete solution. We have seen an increasing trend of taking a greater grip on automation by combining different digital automation tools to together create added value. The possibilities in automation range from only handling rule-based and structured processes, to handling processes of higher complexity and smaller structure. The limitations decrease as you can combine tools to create more powerful and smart solutions. For example, combining RPA with technologies such as AI-powered virtual assistants, IDP (Intelligent Document Processing), Analytics and IPD (Intelligent Process Discovery) can provide a complete solution that contributes to a greater degree of functionality together than individually. Combining with IDP enables companies to load, classify and interpret a wide variety of documents, after which RPA can take over and carry out administrative tasks that are part of the processing of these documents. Classification and interpretation of both structured and unstructured data is a consistent challenge for companies regardless of industry, where integration between different tools can contribute to data being extracted and processed at a higher level than ever before. With the support of analytical tools, bottlenecks in the automation flow can be identified and iteratively improved over time. At the same time, the AI ​​assistant can work in the background to manage and strengthen the company's digital commitment and customer dialogue, for example. In turn, the AI ​​assistant can provide a basis for deeper analysis that can contribute to cost savings, increased quality and efficiency. When automation technologies are combined and can collaborate, a greater value creation is thus created together, than what the technologies would do individually. AKOA has many years of experience in RPA through our specific niche of working with digital automation. With this as a basis, we have had time to learn a lot about various success factors in automation projects, which I and my colleagues have summarized in our recently published work "The RPA manifesto 1.0" which is available for download on our website. There you can read more about the critical success factors in automation projects, how to avoid various pitfalls and how to think when you start building your digital automation capacity during your automation journey.

For those of you who want to read the study on small and medium-sized companies' transition to Industry 4.0 or learn more about digital automation, there are two links:

Published 2021-02-02  |  Authored by Frida Kjidderö