Here is my conservatively bold proposition – If done right, RPA collaboration can increase the value of an ERP installation by 10 percent. How? Read on.
While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be used anywhere a logically defined process needs automation, there are some sweet spots where RPA really excels. One such area is when RPA is combined with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) installation. Being a consulting company with strengths in both these areas, we are frequently asked for insights into what works well. Following are some real-world use cases I have observed having worked extensively in both these areas. Please, feel free to chime in with comments and questions below.
Although comparing ERP and RPA is like comparing apples and oranges, there are some similarities. They both are softwares that provide application level processing ranging from simple to complex. ERPs – the 800-pound gorillas like SAP and Oracle – are favorites of F500 and other large enterprises. There is a reason for their success. They tend to do all the heavy lifting in Enterprise Application area mostly out of the box. Well that’s the promise! They require years of careful planning and integration. I am using the term ERP broadly – to refer to any enterprise system with a large footprint – including CRM, SRM etc. Comparatively, RPAs – e.g. Blue Prism, UI Path, Automation Anywhere, Contextor – are like fast moving, nimble hare. They do not come with heavy bags and are easy to adapt to organization’s needs. Following are some use cases where they complement each other and co-exist blissfully – mostly!
1) RPA as extension of ERP While ERP might be doing a bulk of heavy lifting, sometimes it leaves gaps that need to be picked up by humans. Typical tasks include handling communications, file storage, sorting and formatting data pools, orchestrating reports and connecting internal sub-processes. These tasks can be high-volume and repetitious. RPA can be effective in providing that last mile connectivity.
2) RPA as alternative to an ERP process There may be situations where an ERP does not have the canned functionality that you need. Or it may require heavy customization. Examples in this category are assigning risk scores en mass to your debtors or allocating delivery warehouse to certain types of orders – based on your formula. RPA – because of its ease of customizing – can be a good choice here.
3) RPA as gateway to ERP With their myriads of processes and business-critical data pools, there could be a multitude of consumers of ERP information both inside and outside the organization. RPA could be an effective tool for data exchange in your tool box – allowing you to forge a solution rather quickly. This is especially useful in needs that are temporary or dynamically changing. RPA is also a good option for integrating the innovative 3rd party spot solutions into your ERP landscape – such as tapping into external AI based apps for processing unstructured data and integrating cognitive web services. Specific use cases could be deciphering an incoming invoice with sender specific format and geo-locating a newly created customer record.
4) RPA as testing tool for ERP For business processes that are complex and critical, a thorough testing can be a handful. RPA can be quickly deployed to execute test scripts – sweeping through different test parameters, execution and recording results – without investing in expensive, dedicated testing solutions.
The fact that SAP acquired Contextor recently is a validation that they go well together. More such mergers should be on the horizon. RPA capabilities would be built into ERP’s of the future. A combination of RPA and ERP technologies with right approach can unlock significant additional value for the enterprise. And the key to achieving ‘Happily Ever After’ ending is the experience!
If any of these scenarios look familiar to you and would like to discuss, feel free to reach out. Love to help!
NB : Views expressed here are my own. May not be interpreted as endorsing or being endorsed by any particular vendor.