RPA is not an automation silver bullet

Picture of Ian Culley

Ian Culley


For as long as the role has existed, in every CIO’s annual plan there have been the immortal objectives to improve efficiency and reduce cost. Helpfully, (or cynically, depending on your perspective) virtually every available technology in the market promises to do one, or both, of these things, and the wild west of automation tooling is no exception. But is buying another new tool really the answer?

When we talk to our clients about automation, they typically want to increase process automation using RPA or BPM toolsets (by the way, even by technology standards, the world of automation is extraordinarily acronym-heavy).  But often this is actually a case of “this is the answer, now what’s the question?”. CIOs shouldn’t be rushing out to buy the latest RPA technology – they need to review their processes end-to-end and work out what needs to be automated, and how, before selecting the right technology. There are alternatives to RPA toolsets that can considered for quick wins, and savings may be possible using technology that already exists within the IT estate. Sometimes, the “automation solution” might not be a typical automation solution at all.

Recently, vendors not typically associated with the automation market sector, such as content management vendors, have been adding automation functionality to their platforms to gain market share. This has accelerated as more people have been working from home and needed to collaborate remotely. As a result, traditional tooling categories have become blurred and new ones have emerged including:

  • Cloud content tools – These allow organisations to retrieve, work and collaborate on content in an automated way in the cloud across multiple devices. They have arisen as enterprise content management vendors have re-designed their platforms to work in the cloud, while enterprise file sharing providers have expanded to cover broader content repository services. Leading vendors in this space are Box, Microsoft, Google and Dropbox.
  • Collaborative work management – These tools provide employees with the ability to collaborate remotely by allowing them to track projects and automate processes, removing delays that occur when they cannot work face-to-face with colleagues. Leading vendors in this space are ServiceNow, Smartsheet, Monday.com and Microsoft.

At Finyx, we recently worked with a client to improve the processes that support their front-line business. Our remit was to define and document the processes and recommend a platform that could be used for automation. Early in the project, RPA or BPM tools were expected to be the answer. But once we had captured the process goals and automation opportunities for each user, the requirements pointed to a different toolset.

Many of the process steps involved allocating activities across teams, collaborating on multiple documents, getting notifications when tasks were completed, and tracking these steps to a timeline. It turned out that a cloud content platform was most suited to meet these requirements. The client was very happy with this outcome – they had an existing agreement with one of the leading vendors which meant that no software purchase was necessary. And this illustrates the point – don’t just buy the technology, spend time understanding the process requirements and then work out the right toolset – it could be one that is already available within the organisation. Only vampire hunters believe in silver bullets, and if you’ve got Dracula running your back office, not even RPA can help you.