How Robotic Process Automation has become a right dog’s breakfast


Dogs Breakfast RPAOver the course of this year, practically every conversation we’ve been having about IT and BPO has culminated in the impact robotic automation will have on service providers, third-party advisors, RPA software vendors and the poor unsuspecting enterprise clients, all seemingly unprepared for the tsunami of impending disruption caused by this suddenly-discovered ability to mimic human behaviour in software scripts.

Sadly, most of these conversations are fraught with misconceptions about what RPA can – and should – deliver to the enterprise and real misunderstandings about the speed to benefit realization.  Yes indeed, the whole services industry has gone careening up hype creek, powered by advisor and provider-infused methane.  So let’s enter the kitchen of HfS’ Charles Sutherland, who will unravel the not-so-secret recipe of today’s RPA dogs’ breakfast…

RPA – why 9 out of 10 enterprises haven’t really got a bloody clue

In a recent survey of 178 enterprise buyers, only 11% of respondents said that they have extensive or even some real-life hands-on experience with RPA to-date.   That means that 89% of respondents have not really experienced RPA hands-on but were instead getting their insights on its capabilities via indirect messaging.  Much of this messaging on RPA has sensationalized the benefits (scope and speed) of this technology and, in the view of HfS, created a misrepresentation of the art of the possible today. So how did we as a market get to this point of serving up this Dog’s Breakfast of RPA?

Recipe For Making A Dog’s Breakfast Out of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

  1. We began with one initial but tasty ingredient of a technology suite that uses software “bots” to replicate rules based human facilitated transactions.
  2. We introduced a portion of confusion as to whether the real application of RPA is for roles that are 100% replacement (e.g. all day data entry) or whether RPA is more likely to be applied in roles that are only partial substitutable with technology and when doing this make sure that the attributed benefits from application to the former are broadly applied to the later even when that can never be.
  3. Then a few cooks forgot to mix in the required portion of change management and internal communications as to how RPA will impact talent in the enterprise (and any service provider) and what their futures will look like post RPA.
  4. They then used less than the required amount of skilled talent who actually understand both the technologies and the processes against which they should best be applied.
  5. We also allowed any software vendor with even a passing association to automation to join the cooking team and add their own specific flavoring to the recipe.
  6. Then the market stirred up the resulting mixture with unclear messaging as to whether RPA is an end-state of technology or whether it is the means to an end of finding the cost savings to fund a future (and pending) transformation of the business process and its supporting technology into a natively digital end-to-end environment.
  7. Now as the recipe begins to become less recognizable than what you started with, just for good measure we have seasoned in hints of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence as further ingredients.
  8. Then we baked this mixture at a high heat with much hype into commercial discussions between enterprise clients, their third party advisors, consultants and BPO service providers until it takes a hot bubbling form.
  9. Finally, when ready to prove and serve to the enterprise service buyer, the market forgets to turn on a helpful light of real case studies from other enterprises that have sampled this before and instead pour the resulting breakfast dish into pilot or proof of concept sized bowls that don’t show it all in its tastiest form.

Charles Sutherland, HfS Chief Dog's Breakfast Officer

Charles Sutherland, HfS Chief Dog’s Breakfast Officer

The Bottom-line: Automation is too important to get served up in this fashion

As a market, we haven’t done ourselves any favors by letting this Dog’s Breakfast develop. Automation needs to be too important a technological development for both business process and information technology processes for the current situation to be left as it is.   It is our goal as HfS to take our knowledge of what is hype and fantasy in this Dog’s Breakfast versus what is real and make it clear for the market as to what we really should be eating to start each day in this new era of automation.

Posted in : Absolutely Meaningless Comedy, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Homepage, IT Outsourcing / IT Services, Outsourcing Advisors, Robotic Process Automation, Sourcing Best Practises



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  1. … and so starts the inevitable (and much-anticipated) slide into the ‘trough’. The question now is: how fast can we get through the ‘slope’ to the ‘plateau’, and who’s going to help us get there?

  2. @Guy

    I’m not sure we should give further credence to perhaps the most over-hyped terminology of all “troughs, slopes and plateaus”. Personally I have always found that methodology to be tiresome. That said you’re right we are in the midst of a period of self-created confusion on the topic, the question is whether the Continuum of adding Autonomics and Cognitive to this will just exacerbate this dog’s breakfast for even longer than could be the case.


  3. I was taking the mick =)

    Gartner is a spent force in a spent market. But your point is valid; your description of the move from RPA through cognitive to AI is the best I’ve seen. The service providers will continue to muddy the water in the race for self preservation… and don’t get me started on the “advisors” Phil has been efficiently lampooning.


  4. A refreshing and funny piece. Robotic automation has been hyped out of all proportion, thanks for toning it down for us, Charles.

  5. @Guy Three years of living in Texas and my radar for detecting the “taking of the mickey” is shot to hell (by a 12 Gauge Beretta)


  6. A very well laid out article on process automation. Well, I feel people will continue to get attracted to automation as its the need of the hour today which helps improving quality, accuracy and saves huge amount of time. Secondly, the issue of skilled labor will be addressed with automation to some extent.

  7. Charles an excellent article. This is a trend that could easily have been predicted. The market was looking for a magic wand. The reason we set up Symphony Ventures as a transformation consultancy was that we saw RPA and other cognitive tools emerging as part of a toolkit that could enable staggering returns on investment -this has proven to be the case although the complexity and plethora of choices don’t make it easy. The rest of the toolkit include some equally important but perhaps less sexy components. For example good old fashioned process reengineering, workflow and portal design. In short it’s still complicated and dificult to make change happen even with a modern toolkit. Most of the RPA vendors we work with recognize this and have never claimed that their tools alone are magical solutions to every ailment. Others alas have tried to grab market share and unfortunately are now dealing with the backlash of dealing with confused and disappointed clients. The good news is that with the tools available today, the prize is there to be had and many organizations are now starting to deliver truly impressive savings. Whilst it’s still not easy to make change happen, the toolkit is now much lighter and ‘cooler’ than ever before.

  8. David – cost reduction is always the big call to action, and we’re gravitating from cheaper people to better tech to do it (and cheaper people with better tech).

    Work may be getting automated out of existence, but an increasing number of people just don’t need – or want – to do that “work” anymore. They increasingly want jobs that have more social interaction, where they can apply their intelligence and find solutions to problems, have their voice heard. You need to look at the Milliennials to see where this is all truly heading – are kids really coming our of college wanting to be come accountants, claims processors, procurement specialists, IT help desk clerks anymore?

    The bottom line here, is that technology has made it easier to communicate, get access to data, get routine things done ourselves, which we needed help with in the past. The actual “work” is getting done for us, the new “work” is evolving from us interacting with each other, finding business problems to address changing business models, applying data to the business, not just for the sake of creating more data. I would even go as far as to stop calling it “work” and start calling it “value creation”. However, having to explain to your kids that you’re “late for value creation” might be a little odd…

    This is where many of the current BPOs/ITOs and advisors are falling well short – they are not integrating themselves internally to address the core problems of their clients and help them morph to where their talent needs to take them. Most are still structured in silos to boost P&Ls, as opposed to integrating their holistic capabilities across tech, process, security and strategy…

    I’ll be writing more about some alarming observations at how poorly prepared our industry is to address the these changing business models and work environments shortly… look forward to discussing,


  9. @david and @phil

    I’m completely aligned with Phil that most of the current crop of IT/BPO service providers is poorly equipped to make this adjustment out of the organizational silos that have been created to deliver “work” as we knew it before. As we automate out the transactional work and look for new ways to create this value I am struggling to see many organizations (including enterprises and their shared services) who are ahead of this movement and making proactive decisions to create right sort of culture and structure for future success. I would go so far as to say that we need to begin with re-engineering HR and the legions of operational/process excellence resources in the service providers so that they are more like “automation anthropologists” able to understand what needs to change and how to create new hybrid structures that link people and “bots” together in new ways.

    Phil is right, this is going to be a major theme of research and writing for HfS in 2015-2016 as we look at the silo effect today and what it means for the As-a-Service Economy


  10. I think @David, @Phil and @Charles raise a really interesting point about how organisations need to approach RPA strategically. At Symphony Ventures we are seeing clients very quickly moving from a tactical view of RPA (“let’s do a pilot or two and see how it goes”) to a much more strategic one (“this is going to change the way we do business”). It is the latter of these where the additional effort needs to be put in to stop it turning into that proverbial dog’s breakfast. What this means is that companies need to re-shape and align their organisations so that they are ‘automation ready’. This is a big step beyond building a ‘target operating model’ – it is really embedding that automation-first mind-set into and across the organisation, building joint human/robot teams and even appointing a Chief Automation Officer. Some are on this journey, but plenty have a long way to go.

  11. I believe the automation transformation can be broken into recognising the opportunity, build a culture of adaptability, workforce enrichment by identifying value added work and lastly starting automation.

    As suggested in the article building an automated process is only one small part of the equation having peripheral support environment to successfully drive the change within the organisation is a big challenge.

    While the vendors may reach out to sell their products, companies have to think how well automation will fit within their culture from risk, compliance,technology, people and change management perspective.

  12. […] The services industry has gone careening up RPA hype creek, powered by advisor and provider-infused methane  […]

  13. […] How Robotic Process Automation has become a right dog’s breakfast […]

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