PwC’s report “Robotic Process Automation 2020” explores the status quo of RPA adoption in the DACH region and shines a spotlight on the impacts and opportunities associated with the use of RPA – with a focus on finance and accounting. Switzerland is leading the RPA adoption among the DACH region peers, but a great deal of potential is still untapped, and there are challenges and hurdles.
Companies increasingly adopt robotic process automation (RPA) as they see and experience its broad potential. PwC surveyed 141 companies in the DACH region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) to understand how far they have progressed in the use of RPA. At the moment, more than half of the surveyed companies use software robots, known as RPA bots, for process automation. With 63 per cent of companies surveyed using RPA, the adoption rate is highest in Switzerland, compared to an overall average of 54 per cent in all three countries. Implementation cost is the biggest hurdle for companies who are reluctant to adopt RPA.
Boost efficiency with RPA
The main reason for the high RPA adoption in Switzerland is efficiency gains. With the use of RPA solutions, Swiss companies aim for efficiency gains and time savings (84 per cent each), but quality improvement is also a strategic priority. And RPA often fulfils these goals: 79 per cent of the surveyed Swiss companies say that they achieved significant time savings; more than half state that RPA technology allows them to scale their businesses and benefit from economies of scale, and also to improve compliance.
Hurdles and opportunities
The majority of companies (57 per cent) that have not yet used RPA for automation – and in particular medium-sized companies – mentioned that their decision not to use RPA is due to the lack of experience with the technology. 34 per cent of the companies that haven’t adopted RPA intend to follow suit soon. When asked about the worry that software robots will substitute humans, this often-expressed concern is not confirmed by the study. On the contrary: 72 per cent of all surveyed companies and 74 per cent of the Swiss companies stated that they would not replace employees by bots. Only one in five companies mentioned a potential to reduce its staff by using RPA solutions. Furthermore, employee acceptance – or the lack of it – is seen as a comparatively low hurdle for RPA among Swiss companies. Only 11 per cent consider that their staff are not supportive of RPA implementation.
For the 37 per cent of Swiss companies that have not implemented RPA solutions yet, the main reason is not related to employees, but to costs. Implementation costs are perceived to be too high to justify the cost saving. The excessive implementation costs are seen as the main adoption hurdle by almost 60 per cent of the Swiss companies surveyed. The main reason behind the perceived high implementation cost is often the contrast between how an RPA solution is often marketed as a quick and easy solution. The total cost of ownership including support and maintenance costs are also often ignored.
Tackling the cost barrier
To address the cost barrier, companies should focus on internal RPA enablement. Internal RPA developers (aka citizen developers) are typically new joiners, who are digital natives and easily grasp a no-coding technology like RPA. Internal RPA developers can also help the RPA programme to be cost-effective by continuously improving and supporting existing RPA solutions and developing new ones. Apart from saving implementation costs, citizen developers can also reduce dependencies from external parties, improve the support and maintenance level, and create an innovative atmosphere within the organisation.
And, last but not least, where are bots used in finance? The technology is already frequently used for bookings (75 per cent) and reporting (70 per cent). More than 72 per cent of RPA users benefit from bots in accounts payable. RPA also plays a role in accounts receivable accounting, although to a lesser extent.
How to enable RPA
While RPA adoption is higher among Swiss companies than in Germany and Austria, citizen developers can further reduce the cost barrier for RPA adoption.
Key factors on how to enable successful internal RPA capabilities are:
- From the start, a professionally-enabled RPA citizen developer force that receives best practice and security training.
- During the RPA programme, RPA citizen developers must not come across to the rest of the business as job threatening. They need to establish a close relationship with the rest of the business who can provide them with automation ideas and become their future RPA end-users.
- After an RPA solution is developed, monitor its actual usage in production against desired business benefits, and continue to refine the solution. Very often the first version might not cover all process scenarios. It’d be too early to celebrate or stop using the RPA solution completely.
- Using RPA to create an innovative atmosphere within the organisation.