Companies that leverage RPA realize benefits beyond improved efficiency, accuracy, and competitiveness in operations, including improved talent retention and engagement efforts. The merging of operational and talent benefits makes RPA a useful addition to any manufacturing company’s toolbox. Manufacturers are increasingly investing in automation tools, such as RPA.
Manufacturers Alliance spoke with Rich Tarapchak, the corporate controller at Reynolds. Reynolds manufacturers and supplies consumer food and beverage packaging and storage products. The Reynolds finance team began its RPA journey a few years ago and continues to experiment with automation.
Below are some of the lessons learned to help manufacturing leaders on the RPA sidelines better understand:
- Who needs to be involved in getting RPA efforts off the ground?
- What actions can be taken that lead to success and head of challenges along the journey?
- How can RPA transform more than processes?
UNDERSTAND RPA CAPABILITIES TO CHAMPION EFFORTS
A board member passed Rich Tarapchak a note. The member had read an article about RPA that piqued his interest and that began Reynolds’ RPA journey. Tarapchak recalled there was an RPA conference taking place locally, so he and the chief information officer decided to attend it. After the presentations and after speaking to present practitioners, both Tarapchak and the CIO walked away with a better understanding of RPA. Through this experience, Tarapchak says he was able to unpack RPA’s potential capabilities and understand how it could fold into existing digital efforts underway.
Leverage internal and external expertise to build out processes
From the outset, it was a joint initiative between internal and external partners. By bringing together a team of internal and external experts, the department was able to implement faster and build future processes to enable scaling. While Tarapchak acknowledges that some companies make RPA a strictly function-specific initiative, from his perspective, it was better to work across IT and finance to do it together.
“It really helped our process. We spent a lot of time and built a center of excellence—we created a database of bots that people could leverage. If we hadn’t had IT involved, we may not have gone down that route,” said Tarapchak.
He also recognized the need for outside expertise and hired an outside consulting firm to help the department evaluate options. The consulting firm led the first couple of projects and eventually worked to train the Reynolds team.
From Reynolds’ perspective, the roughly four-month partnership proved beneficial because they did not have much in-house expertise at the time and they could lean on the consulting firm’s experience implementing RPA at other companies to learn from missteps. In the end, Tarapchak feels that bringing in external consultants helped streamline the process, get up and running quicker, and to see results sooner. They began with eight initial projects, their consultant drove the first two, while the Reynolds team watched and learned. The next two, Reynolds drove a little bit more and had the consulting firm as the back-up. After that, Tarapchak says, the Reynolds team drove the projects.
Opt for simpler processes to yield value and create traction
When identifying their use cases, the finance department focused on finance areas and shared service activities. These provided rule-based processes that could be explored for automation. One tip Tarapchak shares is to go for the quick wins to build momentum before moving on to more complex areas. To achieve that, the team created a grid that mapped out the ease of implementation, complexity, and benefit. This helped match the project fit with expertise as they got started. The team would test a use case in a facility and, if successful, would then roll it out to the rest of the department. From these beginnings, the team was able to move into more complex uses over time and branch out into different areas of their businesses.
In terms of governance, Reynolds set up a steering committee and working groups. The steering committee was comprised of IT, manufacturing, and some upper management. During the monthly meetings, the committee discussed potential use cases and the projects carried out. The working groups implemented the projects and reported back afterward to the steering committee. Through this process, areas that did not provide as much opportunity were eliminated. The combination of these two groups helped the different functions prioritize the most useful cases.
Pull in supporters by sharing relevant success stories
Reynolds’ five separate divisions are run autonomously. As a result, one of the biggest issues the finance group encountered despite their successful RPA implementations was getting the buy-in from the upper management in other divisions. To help bridge the divide, during the yearly finance leadership meeting, Tarapchak invited those running RPA project teams to present their use case and share all the benefits. From there, he began to see more and more people showing interest and wanting to learn how to implement similar projects in their divisions.
Sharing these stories helped the finance leaders understand practical applications for RPA already in use. It moved the theoretical to the practical. These leaders could then begin to think about how to approach their tasks differently. They, in turn, began to make the push upstream. These finance leaders pushed their respective businesses’ leadership to approve and implement similar projects.
Tarapchak sums up the organic change he has seen in the organization, “It’s not driven by the top, but rather, people who now understand and are working with it, they look at processes and realize they can put a bot on the process. I think it’s a really good thing when you reach a point when the people involved in the process are embracing it so much that you don’t even have to push. They’re the ones who are driving that process.”
Use automation to fully engage talent
In thinking about his greatest lesson learned from the experience, Tarapchak answers that RPA can free people up. You don’t just unlock time and capacity to take on other tasks; you also allow people to engage in their role in a more fulfilling way and to unlock the talents of the naturally curious to stretch into new roles. As the company continues its journey, it has experimented with what Tarapchak calls “non-traditional” areas. These are use cases that do not involve a large number of people. As examples, he cites use cases in corporate accounting as well as monthly and quarterly closing type activities. Tasks that require hours of work but occur less frequently. But for him, these have proven valuable. Instead of tasking his team with these reports, they are free to conduct analysis and other more value-added tasks. It has also been beneficial for those team members. They can move onto more interesting work, which in turn makes them more fulfilled in their jobs. Now, when he discusses RPA with other organizations, he stresses the fact that while there are benefits to automating in areas such as shared services, do not overlook the impact RPA can have on retention.
As the department continues to build onto their RPA efforts and implement increasingly more complex use cases, it has been able to train internal talent to carry it out. A recommendation he shares in this respect is to find a person with natural curiosity over a person who simply has more bandwidth. He explains that in instances where he has presented a naturally curious individual with the opportunity and incentive to put his/her subject matter expertise and curiosity to use, it has led to success.
Different approaches still yield success
Manufacturers can improve business outcomes by incorporating automation tools across their functions. These tools will bring accuracy and efficiency. They also have the capability of changing the quality of the work completed, as well as the way teams operate and bring value. Reynolds reaped the benefits of automation in their operations and their workforce. Companies who have yet to investigate or implement automation can learn from the examples and the takeaways Tarapchak shared.
- Don’t automate a bad process—Fix the processes to receive the biggest benefits
- Success breeds success—Start small and build momentum for your program
- Engage the people making use of the processes
- Make it fun—Find ways to bring teams together to spark creativity and learn together
- Don’t rest on your laurels—Continue to be open to finding more solutions
- Be flexible—Whether it’s adopting new tools or knowing when to sunset them, change is the way of the world, and a flexible approach helps
Thank you to Automation Anywhere for underwriting our research on RPA, including this piece. Read our report on Demystifying the Steps Along the RPA Journey for Manufacturers to learn more.
ABOUT AUTOMATION ANYWHERE
Automation Anywhere empowers people whose ideas, thought and focus make the companies they work for great. We deliver the world’s most sophisticated Digital Workforce platform making work more human by automating business processes and liberating people.
For more information, visit Automationanywhere.com.