Key takeaways

  • Automating manual processes with robotics can achieve efficiency, speed, scalability and reduce costs – but what if things go wrong?
  • Putting checks and balances in place early can minimise the risk of small problems growing larger down the line.
  • Asking a few questions before embarking on your automation journey will help to ensure the appropriate risk controls are in place.

As businesses move from treating robots as theoretical to actually implementing them as digital labour in the organisation, there are certain things that must be addressed. One of those things is risk.

Roughly speaking, Robotic process automation (RPA) consists of configurable ‘software robots’ that automate repetitive actions normally handled by a human user. While it may lead to efficiencies, scale and a reduction in cost – all good things to want to achieve – there are controls that must be put in place to make sure businesses get the good of RPA, and lessen the risk of the bad.

The risks of
implementing RPA 

Robotic implementation, explains PwC’s new report on, Who minds the bots? Why organisations need to consider the risks related to Robotic Process Automation, is unlike anything businesses have faced in the past.

As companies eagerly embrace these new tools, they may fail to explore the potential regulatory, financial and reputational hazards it poses.

Using digital labour isn’t the same as installing new software and it’s not the same as managing human staff. Similarly, when looking at risk, an IT lens won’t suffice, nor will a management compliance focus get the job done. Critically, executives can’t assume that someone else in the organisation, or the supply chain, is focusing on risk control.

Happily, by thinking through RPA implementation and its dangers early in the process, business can not only avoid problems in the future, but also enjoy the benefits more thoroughly.

Questions to ask
before bringing in the bots

To develop the policies and procedures around using robots, organisations need to think about the big picture, not just the tasks that these digital helpers will enable. This means looking at a range of potential danger areas and putting controls in place for each.

While not exhaustive, asking these eight questions will enable organisations to get a good idea of the kinds of issues they face:

  1. How will you choose your projects? What’s the methodology for choosing what to automate? What processes you apply your robotics to needs to make sense. Only apply automation to good, solid processes, and prioritise the ones that should come first, not just the ones that give the best initial outcomes.
  2. How will robots share? Which business units will be using RPA? Set up a formal protocol for the shared approach to robots with supporting communication processes.
  3. How do you configure robots? Think about how you are going to test your robots. Checking one is easy, checking 300 is not. Consider using a dedicated testing lab and development and testing environments.
  4. Who’s in charge? A digital workforce manager, someone to oversee the robots, is advisable. This person can watch over the security, breakdowns, troubleshooting and identification of opportunities for improvement.
  5. Are you in compliance? If your business is in an area where you have to comply with statutory, regulatory or contractual requirements, or if you’re doing any cross-border transactions with your robots, make sure all the compliance boxes are ticked.
  6. What about cyber security and data privacy? Can your robots access sensitive information? Often working across multiple systems, consider how vulnerable your RPA program is to attack.
  7. What’s the backup plan? As in any area of your business, you need to think about continuity issues. If the robots fail, what will you do? Staff members that used to do the job may no longer be employed or may have left. Consider what will happen if the robots break down and you need to go ‘old school’ manual until they’re back up.
  8. Are you ready for change? Don’t just think about the technology of robotics when creating risk controls. Consider how they fit into other parts of the business such as financial reporting, client perception and justifying ROI to stakeholders or a board.

The bot-tom

There’s no doubt that using robots to automate parts of a business is risky, as is any new organisational endeavour. However, with with a little forward planning, answering the above questions and setting up appropriate policies and risk controls, the rewards you are looking for with RPA are attainable with reduced worry.

Danger, Will Robinson? Not likely.

For more details on mitigating the risks of digital labour, download PwC’s report Who minds the bots? Why organisations need to consider risks related to Robotic Process Automation.