Catalyzing innovation: How IT teams are doing it with RPA

Written by Jordan McMahon in Automation as IT's best ally on October 8, 2014

catalyzing-innovationRecently, Gartner released its predictions for IT organizations projecting out to the year 2020. According to an article covering Gartner's predictions, "IT is no longer just about the IT function. Instead, IT has become the catalyst for the next phase of innovation in personal and competitive business ecosystems."

It's true: despite ongoing tug-of-rope between IT and business users when it comes to embracing change or introducing new types of technology or technological standards, IT has the great potential to become the core of innovation in an organization. In many companies, IT is already leading that charge, positively impacting the business as a whole. Discussions that once were "unrelated" to IT now rely heavily on IT's input.

As business innovators, IT can implement changes that make businesses more efficient, and thereby, more competitive. Using their own department as a starting point, IT encounters a number of processes on a daily basis that could benefit from an efficiency overhaul. Installations, integrations, server monitoring, administration, user creation and deletion, file cleanups, setting up printers—these are just a small subset of tasks to which IT has become extremely accustomed, but could be performed more efficiently.

For IT departments who know they could become even more of an asset to their organization as innovators and catalysts for change, IT process automation with RPA software is an extremely effective place to start. Implementing automation technology leads to very visible and practically instantaneous efficiency gains that can proliferate beyond the IT department and benefit entire enterprises.

Before discussing further how IT can drive an automation initiative that reaps substantial benefits, let's first look at what automation software is and does, and how it applies to IT in the first place.

Applying automation to IT processes

IT departments aren't strangers to the mundane tasks that could easily fill up full days, even weeks of time. And anyone in IT knows that a process as simple sounding as updating software is a task that can take hours depending on the number of machines and locations requiring the service.

Savvy IT professionals also aren't strangers to the idea of automating, often times writing scripts to automate time-consuming processes. The problem? Writing scripts is in and of itself is a time-consuming task. By using RPA software, these same tasks can be automated, without creating custom scripts from scratch.

Common tasks that scream “automate me.”

If you're in IT, you're likely very familiar with the tasks below (among countless others), notorious for consuming a significant amount of IT time:

  • Batch processing
  • Reporting
  • User creation/deletion
  • Moving backups from one disk to another
  • Monitoring services and databases
  • Automatic cache cleanups to prevent using unnecessary disk space
  • File creation, deletion, and storage
  • Error handling and disaster recovery processes
  • System integrations
  • Printer setup
  • Data entry

Compounding the efficiency-loss, many of these tasks are just a part of an entire process—much of which could be automated, if not the entire thing. For instance, the process of pulling together a report consists of a number of sub-tasks, such as data gathering, verification, entry, graphing, formatting, and sharing. Reporting itself is often part of an even larger process.

Imagine now if those processes would do themselves—and let you know they were finished. It’s here that the value of RPA is clear—and why it’s becoming a widely adopted solution for more than just one-off processes.

Benefits of RPA for IT teams

Reduction in human error

While human error is a concern for nearly every department in an organization, for IT it has singular weight since error in an IT process can permeate all areas of a business, hurting the infrastructure and employee productivity.

Making troubleshooting the smaller part of your job

So often, IT time is all but consumed by troubleshooting issues, particularly for business users throughout an organization. Business and IT have to cohabitate, and for that reason, streamlining processes that affect both is critical to business success. RPA software makes it possible to support your larger deliverables and goals without getting stuck in company-wide "technical difficulties."

Making efficiency-busting second nature

Once you have comprehensive RPA in your team’s hands, and you’ve made a habit of using it, it’s practically impossible to note inefficiency—large or small—wherever you look. Consider these examples:

A global supplier of healthcare information technology solutions, services, devices and hardware needed to streamline and automate the integration of data from various applications into one common electronic medical records application for each of its clients. The company was able to use RPA to eliminate manual steps in the process, including manual data entry and conversion. By doing this, the company increased productivity while accelerating the ability to bring new clinics online. Ultimately, the company was able to achieve 628% ROI, with payback in just 6 months.

A New York credit union was able to automatically upload receipts generated by the tellers to an optical system. However, for one reason or another, about 0.1% of receipts were landing in a temporary folder on the network. It was left to the IT department to run a manual process to locate the folder and move receipts into the optical system once a week. Discovering this to be an inefficient process that would benefit immediately from automation, the company created a task wherein the software would locate the folder in question, transfer the receipts, and delete the folder. The process took only a few minutes, and the company scheduled the task to run every Friday automatically.

Seeing automation as an ally, not an enemy

We've reached the place where IT complexity is increasing faster than IT budgets, and yet IT departments are tasked with a challenge that has become cliche (while no less true): to "do more with less."

Nowadays, largely for that reason, CIOs are becoming increasingly critical in the buy-in, implementation, and vision of RPA in organizations. And believe it—with the need for efficiency (more, yesterday), they are, indeed, bought in. According to the founder and CEO of the Institute of Robotic Process Automation, “RPA can provide a great advantage to CIOs—and be dangerously disruptive to businesses that do not make the pivot.” Keyword here? “Advantage.” Ally.

Automation software is meant to reduce complexity in daily IT life, not reduce IT value or manpower. While RPA makes it possible for IT to focus on the important (and evolving) aspects of their job, it still requires a driver; someone to automate tasks initially, note other business efficiency glitches that could be solved by automation, and encourage the spread of automation throughout the organization by showing non-IT or non-technical staff to use it for their own efficiency initiatives.

**Photo credit: WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com) via photopin cc