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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) at Essent

Loes Rijksen
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Robotic process automation (RPA) is a form of business process automation that is based on software robots (bots) or artificial intelligence (AI) agents. However, automation itself is not a new concept: it can be seen as software to perform a sequence of tasks. There are two key features of RPA that are primarily responsible for its growing popularity.

RPA does not require an organization’s existing IT architecture to be fully integrated under one enterprise-wide system. The initial idea of RPA is the automation of business processes through the presentation layer of existing application systems and therefore no changes of the (legacy) systems and architecture is required. This allows the organization to use RPA to complete tasks that involve multiple systems without having to find a way to fully integrate the different systems.
RPA software is relatively easy to implement. The delivery of an RPA robot has a short time to market and can be built and released in 6-8 weeks, depending on the requirements and the complexity of the process.

At Essent, RPA robots play an important role.

This blogpost focuses on the benefits, challenges and opportunities of RPA robots at Essent and how this can be translated to the daily activities of an RPA Engineer.


IMPLEMENTING RPA AT ESSENT

In the service oriented nature of the organization Essent, robots play a significant role. The robots are programmed to replicate and automate the manual activities a human performs in (legacy) systems. These activities can be seen as the so called boring, time-consuming and at times frustrating, but must-do activities. Employees accept they are part of the job, but cannot see its direct value for the customer.

The RPA robots at Essent create extra capacity in the way that employees can dedicate extra time to the meaningful, consumer value added activities. This results in a boost of the customer experience and satisfaction, and a positive impact on operational results of almost 10 million euros.



A HOLIDAY LOVE: RPA AND ESSENT
The implementation of RPA at Essent has been a bumpy road and can still be challenging at times.  
RPA was introduced as part of a project, with the main goal of automating processes with dedicated people and capacity. The concept was new and the first reactions were positive. After the closure of the project, RPA became embedded into the organization. Nowadays, there is a fully dedicated RPA team, which is part of an Agile Release Train, working according to the principles of the Scaled Agile Framework.

I once read about a comparison of the implementation of RPA to a holiday love, which I feel is also applicable to the situation at Essent.  
In the beginning you are completely into each other, you both feel fantastic and you have the feeling that you can conquer the world and that nothing can stop you. The love seems everlasting.

However, after this overwhelming phase and when you finally get back home, things start to change. The spark between the two of you is not there anymore or you both realize that you have to put a lot of effort in it to make the relationship work.  
In some cases it is best to end the relationship and in some cases you will continue, but you have to work for it to make it work. 
 
Eventually, you both value and respect each other’s traits (both the positive and negative ones) and the love wins it in the end. This message also applies to RPA: don’t let yourself be fooled or drifted away by the benefits and promises of RPA at first sight, because there are some challenges and limitations.  


AFTER THE HOLIDAY LOVE: CHALLENGES AND LIMITATIONS OF RPA

RPA can slow down process improvement
RPA is often used as a band-aid that can slow down process improvement within an organization. 

Because of its easy to use nature, it seems logical to think about how RPA can be used to hold together an existing suboptimal process. However, you should think about fixing poorly functioning underlying business processes in the first place. When processes are inefficient, an RPA robot will automate a bad process (waste). 

RPA can never be a final solution
The purpose of RPA is to automate temporarily, and each robot has an expiration date. New systems should never be designed with RPA in mind, but should be automated by design. RPA can never be seen as some magic trick that will fix all problems, the main and first focus should always be to (re)think the process and the ways to optimize it.


Robot maintenance
Since RPA robots usually interact through user interfaces, even minor changes to those interfaces will lead to a broken process. Robots cannot handle unexpected scenarios, especially when the processes are constantly changing. This will inevitably lead to increasing costs associated with extra robot maintenance, to ensure the robots will continue to make impact.

Robot governance
At Essent a lot of RPA robots are deployed, which adds some complexity to the IT architecture. Not only should the robots work as intended, they should also not negatively impact other crucial IT processes or cause more risks. Monitoring and governance of a large digital workforce comes with additional costs and risks.

The RPA team at Essent has created a cross journey workforce of robots. The robots that run in different teams and departments can be a challenge, since the processes and tasks do not exist in isolation. Continuous alignment and communication with the business is needed in terms of input, output and the criticality of processes.

Making robots smarter
Artificial Intelligence and RPA is not used to the fullest. AI cannot be neglected and can serve in helping you create smarter robots, since it can address more complex processes. There is a hesitance, since people fear security and privacy risks. However, when used in the right way, it adds more value. Unfortunately, combining RPA with AI is still in its early stages, which can result in fragmentation and longer setup times and leaves a whole automation value pool unharvested.


 

THE ROLE OF THE RPA ENGINEER AT ESSENT

The main job responsibilities of the RPA Engineer are designing, developing, and implementing automation solutions using RPA software tools. Besides creating, testing, and deploying software robots to automate repetitive tasks, the RPA engineer needs to keep a close watch over the digital workforce to check if its operational performance meets the business expectations and needs.

At Essent we expect more from the RPA Engineer than only software development. Because once we succeed in overcoming the challenges and limitations in the RPA domain the organization can truly benefit from Robotic Process Automation.

The RPA Engineer at Essent aids in tackling the RPA challenges and limitations by taking on different roles.

Act as a promotor
We should be proud of our product. We take the stage to tell about the numerous possibilities RPA has to offer. Emphasize on the goal of RPA: how to make work more interesting and engaging. Employee resistance is normal and can always be expected, but it is important to note that RPA should never be seen as a job replacement, but as a tool that aids people in their function. We spread the word and make sure that the knowledge of RPA is shared organization wide. First of all, to achieve more exposure about when RPA can be used (and when not to be used) and secondly to boost a more vivid bottom up opportunity generation of RPA use cases. 
 
Act critically
We ask the right questions when new automations are requested, making sure to only use RPA for where it is initially intended to be used for. At Essent RPA is often used in case of an issue for which manual work is needed to reduce some unexpected workload.
It is also used when a gap in an IT system or process is discovered and when a sustainable IT proof solution is not directly available.
At last, it is used as an enabler to contribute to strategic objectives, e.g. a decommissioning deadline is at risk and there is only one bottleneck left that takes (too much) manual work.

We always emphasize the temporary nature of RPA and push for the sustainable solution to be part of any roadmap. An RPA robot is not a final solution and as the lifetime of a bot is coming near, business should be aware that its digital worker is planning to go into retirement. Only by closely monitoring the lifetime of your robots and size of your workforce, governance and costs associated with run and maintenance can be kept under control.



Act as an explorer
We are open to new technologies and software and continually scan the market for opportunities. Adding some intelligence to the old-fashioned rule-based robots not only widens the automation value pool, but also increases the benefits for workers. In addition, it acts as a basis for new synergies by enabling other teams to focus on their core activities.

We focus on experimenting, setting up proofs of concept and have discussions with risk and security departments to discover which opportunities and possibilities there are. This will make our digital workforce even more valuable for the organization and complying with regulations and privacy requirements at the same time.


CLOSURE 

RPA allows organizations to automate tasks across application and systems, performed just like a human being would execute them. Its popularity is growing, due the fact that the initial IT architecture does not need any drastic changes for RPA implementation and the relatively short time to market of the release of an RPA robot.

RPA at Essent already showed impressive results with a digital workforce that already made an impact of approximately € 10 million over a time period of four years.

The Automation Journey of Essent has until now been a rocky one and there a still some challenges from time to time. However, the RPA Engineer can contribute in tackling these, next to his or her core activity of developing and releasing RPA robots: by acting as a promotor of our RPA product, by being critical in case of new potential RPA candidates and by acting as an explorer that is continuously scanning the market for new technological opportunities.

The right mindset and the right skills helps us in turning the holiday love between RPA and Essent into a long term relationship with great value for our organization, our employees and our customers.

Loes Rijksen

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) Engineer

Loes is an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) engineer with a passion for process optimization and automation.

She has been active in the Robotic Process Automation domain for almost four years and has become a true RPA expert that can take on different roles in the field.

She lives with her husband and two children. If there is any spare time left, Loes loves to go to football matches. She loves to travel and explore the world with her family.

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Comments on this article
james 21-05-2024 | 19:32 best
Mark 10-05-2024 | 13:43 Nicely written blog!
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