Kathy Gibson reports from the Roboteur launch in Johannesburg – The key to success in robotic process automation (RPA) is to understand exactly what you issues you  need to solve.

This is according to Nedbank’s Andre Nel, describing the bank’s RPA journey, and shares some of the learnings.

In April 2017, RPA became an industry buzzword, and Nedbank recognissed there was a need for the technology.

The bank created a centre of excellence (CoE) to investigate RPA and automation, and appointed Nel to head it up.

Nel and his ream boiled the RPA opportunity down to tasks that are performed regularly and repetitively.

He points out that, typically, the group technology leader owns these kind of activities. But, working with RPA, Nel and his team quickly realised that these activities need to be business-led and supported by IT.

“So Nedbank realised that the business needs to lead the move to RPA.”

In 2017, the CoE managed to deliver just two processes, but the pipeline was a lot healthier the following year.

“The first reaction from business units was a fear of losing jobs, and many opportunities were closed down,” Nel says. “The CoE had to work through these fears and reassure people about their job security.”

Many more processes were ramped up over 2018 and 2019.

In 2020, Covid-19 hit – and Nel says this actually helped to accelerate the use of RPA. The CoE achieved a record 85 processes automated, purely because people were at home and batch processes still needed to run.

Tracking performance was vital to the success of the Nedbank CoE’e endeavours.

From a pipeline of 33 projects in 2017, there are now more than 300 in the pipeline.

“This means that the business units themselves are taking ownership and accountability of the RPA journey, and many are ready to launch and transform their processes.”

When starting an RPA project, Nel advises companies to manage the operating model (TOM), define a delivery lifecycle model, and obsess over the portfolio.

Managing the operating model includes defining the service delivery model; defining the organizational design; bringing the people on board; defining the processes; acquiring the technology; and governance/reporting.

Defining the lifecycle involves assessment and the business case; approvals, requirements; and assessments, culminating in benefits tracking.

Obsessing about the portfolio is critical. The team needs to keep a close eye on the projects in production, ensuring the new initiatives are in the pipeline and are following the right process; regular  meets that are transparent about progress; and risk/issue management that identifies and addresses problems.

Nedbank supports a portfolio of four RPA solutions, including Roboteur.

The bank selected Roboteur for specific projects that wouldn’t be feasible on other solutions. “It does this by having a lower cost, quicker time to value, and no need to expensive technical skills,” Nel says.