Mind the Debt: Cautions for Managing RPA Implementations – Part I


Nine in ten IT decision makers experience challenges when deploying RPA. Jakob Freund, the CEO and co-founder of Camunda, who works on large scale RPA implementations, explains how companies can get full value from RPA while preventing massive technical debt.

Organizations desperate to automate processes and get rid of slow, expensive, and error-prone manual tasks have driven demand for robotic process automation to a multi-billion-dollar market. Forrester estimates the RPA market revenue is on a trajectory of $2.9 billion in 2021(1), driven by the success of vendors such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism, among many others.

As a short-term solution, RPA is an easy and quick fix to automate many manual and repetitive tasks that require manual data input or an exchange of data with an inflexible legacy system. RPA bots can be deployed quickly and deliver an immediate boost in your productivity. 

Be cautioned, however. While working with companies that are involved in large scale RPA implementations, I have seen the challenges that RPA often presents first hand. Maintaining RPA bots can be arduous as they’re prone to breakage when the environment changes. Nine in ten process automation professionals say their organization experiences challenges from their RPA deployments, according to Camunda’s 2020 survey on the State of Process AutomationOpens a new window . 

The relative ease of deploying RPA bots only increases the opportunity for technical debt to accumulate, creating a billion-dollar RPA problem. Understanding both the opportunities and the pitfalls of RPA and how to best manage any RPA deployment can save your organization from unnecessary headaches and costs. 

Learn More: Moving Toward a Truly Autonomous World

Quick-Fix Automation or Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is at the heart of every organization’s desire to gain a competitive advantage. As organizations look to create more seamless customer experiences, deliver better service, and operate more efficiently, they’re reinventing how business gets done. The rise of remote work only increased the urgency for digital transformation initiatives. 

RPA offers a fast path to automating a manual, repetitive task, reducing errors and costs that are synonymous with human typing. The sweet spot where RPA really comes into its own is the automated control of existing user interfaces, where applications don’t offer an API. It is important because many organizations are struggling under the weight of legacy technology, hampering their ability to scale and modernize. 

But business processes involve several components, often across different applications and technologies. RPA can play a supporting rule, but the underlying issues that prevent automating a full business are far larger and more complex. 

RPA excels as a tactical solution to automate individual tasks that traditionally have been paper- or manual-input based. From retyping results from an old green-screen system into a web interface or getting information from a scanned document into your CRM system, RPA provides a solution for automating these truly painful activities. 

At Deutsche Telekom, more than 3,000 RPA bots are at work, automating hundreds of processes, helping create better customer experiences along with business efficiencies that result in savings of approximately 100 million euros annually. 

Maintaining these bots across the organization can be time-intensive, and IT leaders note that errors can be hard to trace when they occur. They’re already onto the next step —  transforming their ‘front-end automation’ technology into backend automation, integrated more strongly with core IT systems.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look more deeply into how RPA makes for a brittle and maintenance-intensive technology.

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