What Procurement Needs to Know About Robotic Process Automation

Just what is Robotic Process Automation? And what should procurement know about it before putting anything in place?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendors emphasise their product’s capacity to replace human operators, using phrases like “digital workforce.” In simple terms, RPA is a software application that runs on an end user’s computer, laptop or other device, emulating tasks executed by human operators.

Its purpose is to integrate or automate the execution of repetitive, rule-based tasks or activities. RPA does not require development of code, nor does it necessitate direct access to the code or database of the applications.

Current Robotic Process Automation Use

Most current RPA implementations are in industry-specific processes such as claims processing in insurance, and risk management in financial services. These processes, and their associated tasks, are usually high-volume, structured, repetitive and implemented on old technology.

Normally, the processes are extremely stable. There is no technology migration or modernisation roadmap involved, and IT-led integration would be difficult and expensive.

At present, the leading non-industry-specific RPA application is the financial close and consolidation process. According to our purchase-to-pay research, 23 per cent of companies are at the earliest stages of adoption, i.e., either in a pilot or with the technology partially rolled out (Fig. 1).

Robotic Process Automation
Fig. 1 – Robotic Process Automation Trends in Purchase-to-Pay

The remaining 77 per cent have no immediate plans for Robotic Process Automation adoption. Despite the low take-up level today, 45 per cent of purchase-to-pay organisations believe RPA will be one of the areas with the greatest impact on the way their work gets done in the next decade.

The Best Processes for RPA

It is not the type of business process that makes for a good candidate for RPA, but rather the characteristics of the process, such as the need for data extraction, enrichment and validation.

Activities requiring integration of multiple screens, as well as self-service inquiry resolution, are also ripe for RPA. The key is that RPA is best deployed in a stable environment where no changes to the systems are on the horizon.

Other possible choices include processes requiring multiple software applications to execute different, but repeatable, activities and tasks.

RPA Pricing Trends

The pricing model for RPA is still evolving. Today, vendors are pricing RPA based on the cost of the full time equivalent (FTE) staff member it is replacing. For example, an RPA vendor may quote a price per robot that is one-third the cost of an offshore resource doing the work.

Onshore FTE pricing is being quoted closer to one-ninth, or 11 per cent, of the cost. This pricing model, developed to compare the cost of outsourcing a process versus automating it with RPA, essentially positions Robotic Process Automation as a service, not a software solution.

In our view, this model is inconsistent with industry standards governing the way software is typically priced. Therefore, we encourage buyers to seek an alternative gainsharing model where possible. This will both mitigate the risks of early adoption, and provide a strong incentive to the supplier to deliver results.

Patrick Connaughton is the Senior Research Director, Procurement Executive Advisory Programme at the Hackett Group. He has published groundbreaking research in areas like spend analysis, contract life cycle management, supplier risk assessments and services procurement. You can contact him via email or on Procurious.

You can also learn more about Hackett’s Procurement Executive Advisory Program here.