Unsexy RPA Is Helping To Humanize Work

Image credit: iStockphoto/champja

Robotic process automation (RPA) may not be as sexy as AI, but there’s no doubt it has significant momentum.

According to a Deloitte survey, companies that adopted RPA practices reported ROI payback in less than 12 months, while spending on RPA is projected to increase a compound annual growth rate of 40.6% through 2027.

And recently, it is taking on a significant pain point: the dreaded Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

Solving practical headaches

The excitement at winning a new customer is often replaced by a groan when you realize the next thing to do is complete an NDA.

On the client-side, the wheels in the procurement or legal department start to move. And even though they have been through hundreds if not thousands of NDAs before, it is usually painful and takes longer than it should.

One company addressing the pain of NDA’s is the Australian regtech startup Checkbox, which uses RPA as part of a solution designed to streamline document flow as a way of driving efficiency and freeing up the time of highly qualified employees for more value-added tasks.

Here’s a simple but illustrative case study. One of Checkbox’s clients is New Zealand’s national airline Air New Zealand, which — in normal times — carries more than 17 million passengers throughout the world each year.

The Air NZ legal team is the one charged with dealing with NDAs. It’s fair to say they would prefer to be doing something else.

The team’s real job is to deal with demanding, high volume, complex, and sensitive legal issues. So, anything which can make NDAs easier is welcome and presents as low-hanging fruit and a precedent for further efficiencies.

NDAs had become a sticking point for the legal team and were creating delays and impacting their ability to deal with more significant other work.

They’d tried a solution, but it only got them halfway there. So, they were facing the very real possibility that they would have to go back to manual processes, a retrograde step that would have undermined all progress.

The Checkbox system is a no-code automation platform that works through accessing the client intranet.

A simple pop-up form is filled out, and the tool populates a standard NDA in the background, automatically kicking off a workflow that sends the document to all relevant parties for electronic signatures.

Then, when both parties have signed, copies are sent to everyone and the legal team for checking and record keeping.

All up, Air NZ reckons it saves an hour of lawyer time for each NDA, freeing up time for the team to get involved in more high-value work.

Start with governance

Another player in the RPA space is Appian, and the company recently launched an eBook detailing the five best practices for RPA implementation.

The first ‘best practice’ is to get governance right. Appian makes the point that organizations attempting to implement RPA with limited or no governance often fail.

This creates siloed groups that can’t use best practices and lessons learned from each other. The failure to collaborate is exacerbated when organizations attempt to deploy automation merely as a quick fix to their productivity issues.

“The challenges many organizations face when implementing RPA are not the fault of the technology but rather of the company’s implementation,” the eBook says.

“The solution to scaling RPA within your organization is to learn from what has worked and embrace those elements as part of your automation culture.”

Here are the company’s five best RPA practices:

  • Establish the right governance model and create an internal center of excellence
  • Evangelize early automation success within the organization
  • Adopt an agile mindset for automation development
  • Go beyond RPA with automation capabilities
  • Put humans in control, not just in the loop

The human aspect is frequently forgotten. It’s as if those NDAs, once part of an RPA implementation, will run off and sign themselves and then gratefully file themselves away. But success doesn’t look like that.

“Organizations should aim to automate processes end-to-end while still ensuring humans are at the center and, ultimately, in control,” says Appian.

“This means empowering employees to make decisions by providing them with the right data at the right time. When people are only ‘in the loop,’ they are missing the critical information needed to make better decisions and take immediate actions.”

Reaping the rewards

At Air NZ, the legal team is enjoying the results of the first two of Appian’s best practices.

The evangelization of the NDA success is leading to projects which look at other standard documents and legal workflows, intending to find what else can be automated with the same tool.

This is number three on the Appian list, adopting an agile mindset.

The time from kick-off to go-live for the NDA project was only four weeks, and new projects can come on stream faster than that and deliver better scale and ROI on the company’s investment.

Let’s not forget AI, of course. It is sometimes said that the new operating system is RPA and AI working together. With humans in the loop, of course.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/champja