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Quad’s real-life experience of envisioning, deploying, and scaling automation across 29 departments.
The HFS Research team is on an exciting adventure to share the real, unvarnished view on robotic process automation (RPA) experiences from customers worldwide. In partnership with Automation Anywhere™, we are traveling around the globe to speak directly with Automation Anywhere clients who have lived the full automation experience. No more hype and no more gimmicks—just real talk and one excellent adventure!
Our very first stop was the headquarters of the American marketing services provider Quad in Sussex, Wisconsin. Phil and Saurabh had the opportunity to meet with Quad’s automation leadership team, Daniel Husslein, a 25-year IT veteran at Quad in charge of its BPM and RPA program, and Hayley Kohls, Quad’s bot controller.
Dan and Hayley shared their unencumbered real-life experience of envisioning, deploying, and scaling automation across 29 Quad departments.
Dave, Saurabh, Dan, and Hayley (from left to right) at Quad’s HQ in Sussex, WI (prior to COVID-19 outbreak)
Quad’s journey to scale RPA across 29 departments
EY introduced RPA to Quad’s finance function as the “shiny new technology” three years ago. Since then, Quad has released 120+ Automation Anywhere bots across 29 departments ranging from manufacturing, finance, and HR to tax and IT.
One of the big reasons for Quad’s RPA success is that the business unit introduced RPA first, and then the IT and business collaborated to scale it up. Quad’s finance team initially conducted a roadshow across the organization, organized RPA classes, and identified business champions. IT took ownership to help expand RPA use cases beyond finance and ensure that the underlying architecture, infrastructure, and controls were in place. The IT team conducted technical training to turn business folks into citizen developers and built the excitement around RPA throughout the organization.
One of Dan and Hayley’s favorite RPA implementations is the “press bot.” It’s incredibly exciting for Quad because the press is the most critical high-dollar equipment at Quad. An inoperative press results in losses of multiple thousands of dollars per hour. RPA is directly involved in making sure that does not happen. Quad’s press bot runs 24/7 and has processed about 40,000 files within the first three months!
“What’s exciting about this one (the press bot) is RPA is directly involved in making sure that that does not happen; that press needs to stay up. Making plates is absolutely essential; you can’t start running a press without plates.”
—Dan Husslein, BPM and RPA Lead at Quad
The real value of RPA is in helping employees focus on core work versus wasting time on menial things
FTE savings are a big part of Quad’s RPA business case, mostly because of the organic decline of print as a media. Quad always counts how much time RPA is saving.
But just focusing on FTE-savings is shallow, especially if you want to scale RPA. The real growth driver of RPA across departments at Quad has been its ability to get employees feeling more valued as their most menial tasks can be automated. In addition to improvements in stakeholder experience, risk avoidance through improved straight-through processing is also a key benefit.
“I was just talking to our Finance Head, and she said, ‘I need more RPA developers because everyone has RPA in their plan.’ Mostly it’s to get people feeling like we’re doing something for them if you can automate some of these menial things.”
However, a constant challenge is to quantify an upfront business case that goes beyond cost savings. A lot of the other benefits are anecdotal. Quad knows RPA is working for them, but getting the metrics associated with additional benefits like risk avoidance or customer satisfaction is challenging.
RPA is not a silver bullet; look for “bot-able” processes to scale RPA
How do you decide whether an RPA case is good or bad? Quad addresses this by ensuring that a process is “bot-table.” There are four characteristics of a “bot-able” process, according to Quad:
1. The process has underlying business rules.
2. The process is not super complicated, and there is underlying “if-then” logic.
3. The process functionality is such that other bots in the future can use it.
4. The business is committed to building the solution in collaboration with IT.
Quad’s focus on these four characteristics has helped ensure its RPA initiatives are scalable. It’s important to help them prioritize different initiatives, but that’s not an essential criterion in determining whether the process is “bot-able.”
One of the often-raised concerns about scalability is that RPA is brittle. If you change a process here or add something there, then you might have to reconfigure the whole thing. In Quad’s experience, this challenge has not been as big as they initially feared. Quad has 120+ bots in production, so there is a support burden. Quad has a team of 400 developers who are continually changing its homegrown ERP. When they do change things, automation does break but is usually easily fixed. However, one of the things it is working on is the RPA team’s communication with the other IT developer teams to get ahead of the changes rather than be reactive.
“We look to ensure it’s actually a “bot-table” process, by making sure there are underlying business rules, that it’s not super complicated, and then that business is committed to us”
Getting the organizational structure is also a critical success factor. As discussed earlier, Quad started RPA in the business function and brought it into IT to expand beyond finance. But RPA under IT has one major challenge—the incentive model for the business. So, you’ve got IT developers, who are developing bots for the business, but the business does not always want the bots to work directly with the champions. Having developers directly aligned with the departments is a potential attractive structure because their incentive model is that much stronger as they’re trying to improve the quality of life for themselves and their cohorts. That’s one thing that most organizations with strong RPA aspirations struggle with: should they go for a federated model or a centralized model? Right now, Quad is somewhere in between and works broadly, but there is scope for further optimization.
There is a significant untapped potential of RPA alone at Quad, and there are potential opportunities for combinations of process optimization technologies, especially BPM, RPA, and AI
Quad has been implementing RPA use cases across the organization for three years now but still has multiple low-hanging, “bot-able” processes. They are far from running out of RPA opportunities. For instance, most of Quad’s bots to date are unattended, and it is looking into possibilities for leveraging attended automation going forward.
And then there is the untapped potential of leveraging the Triple-A Trifecta that cuts across automation (both BPM and RPA) along with artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive and prescriptive smart analytics. That’s the journey that Quad has not even started yet but can see on the horizon. Quad implemented a new BPM three years ago, and it is still figuring out how RPA and BPM work together. It realizes the synergies it can gain by combining its BPM and RPA practices under the process-optimization umbrella.
“We always feel like, ‘Well, we’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit,’ and then there’s a bunch more. We have a ways to go before that market’s tapped out.”
The HFS Bottom Line: RPA works, but scaling it up is not just a technology challenge.
Quad is an excellent example for organizations that believe in the potential of RPA but are struggling to scale it up across the enterprise. The industry can learn three key lessons from their journey:
• Strong IT support is critical. Business alignment is a critical success factor for scaling RPA. Business (especially finance) played a crucial role in evangelizing the technology across Quad. IT is responsible for deploying and maintaining the bots to ensure robust architecture, infrastructure, and controls.
• The business case for RPA goes beyond FTE savings. While FTE savings are important and tangible, the real value of RPA is in helping employees focus on core work versus wasting time on menial things.
• RPA is not a silver bullet; look for “bot-able” processes to scale RPA. Quad defines “bot-able” processes as those with underlying business rules, low to medium complexity, and a strong business commitment.