Robotic process automation (RPA) is not a new technology. However, most innovative utilities are now using Centers of Excellence (CoEs) to evolve and augment their RPA approach to stay at the forefront of competition.
RPA can be a powerful tool for creating measurable financial impacts from significant operational improvements. Robotic software solutions are being used to reduce variability, decrease costs and increase throughput for processes across the utility value chain. Too often, however, organizations find themselves reliant on third-party vendors to implement RPA rather than designing and executing their own RPA projects. The issue is that many utilities are still dependent on outside automation experts that may not truly understand their industry business. Moreover, in-house employees miss out on the opportunity to build new and important automation skills.
RPA CoEs are one way to bridge this disconnect. An RPA CoE allows a utility’s in-house employees to gain valuable RPA skills while using their deep industry and company experience. Furthermore, ongoing project savings accrue at a fraction of the normal third-party project cost. Utility employees can gain the ability to independently find, analyze, plan, deploy and sustain RPA improvement projects.
Here’s one real-world example of how establishing an RPA CoE could allow a utility to pursue automation-led growth towards sustained benefits and a competitive edge.
One large American electricity and natural gas company wanted more efficient back-office operations. The usual roadmap of past optimization and cost-saving projects hadn’t resulted in the substantial improvement they really wanted.
They decided that establishing their own enterprise RPA capability could enable them to effectively achieve their organizational goals of heightened safety, increased cost savings and increased ROI. Moreover, they wanted a strong internal RPA organization which could operate fluently with internal stakeholders, increase speed to realizing benefits and independently drive savings without relying on outside vendors.
The utility also wanted to avoid one-off bots deployed by different vendors. They knew this approach would lead to an incoherent strategy and a hangover of technical debt for their IT organization. The goal was to blueprint and create a self-sustaining RPA CoE that included every capability from process assessment to bot operations and sustainment. Additionally, the utility wanted to verify that successive RPA implementations could yield worthwhile benefits, and that stakeholders in each line of business were engaged with the CoE. How could they credibly stand up a new internal organization that could provide powerful benefits to the business?
We had the opportunity to team with this utility design and create key functions for an RPA CoE. In the first phase, we helped the company initiate the CoE by designing the operating model, defining the opportunity management framework, developing performance management tools, implementing training curriculum and executing stakeholder engagement plans. Importantly, the first phase culminated in initial five bot deployments, demonstrating credentials to the rest of the business and providing an immediate return on the investment. All potential automations were scored using weighted benefit and effort criteria. Once scored, the CoE selected the most complementary, productive automations for Phase 1 deployment.
In Phase 2 of the project, the plan is to mature the RPA CoE by further prioritizing opportunities and monitoring additional business cases.
While this is only one example, it helps demonstrate how using RPA CoEs can allow utilities can create lasting operational improvements by enabling their employees to continuously capitalize on cost savings and process enhancements.
Gordon McGrath is a manager in Accenture’s Federal Services practice and works with clients to navigate the intersection of operational processes, business strategy and technology. Alex Brown is a senior principal in Accenture’s Strategy practice and has helped companies in multiple industries implement transformational programs across their supply chains.