RPA Fundamentals With HSBC Practitioner, Brian Halpin

In all the current spin around the use (or not) of robotic process automation, a practitioner’s voice came through clearly recently with real-life experience and learnings. Brian Halpin, Head of Automation at HSBC, joined HfS Research’s webinar: Achieving Intelligent Automation in Business Operations. We captured a few insights to share here… for more, feel free to access the replay and watch for the upcoming research report that includes analysis and insights from over 400 participants.

“I can’t get no satisfaction” from RPA unless it is associated with the right skills, data, process, and outcomes

Phil has covered this staggering research finding in great detail; barely half the RPA practitioners in our study are satisfied with the cost savings and business value generated. Brian was not surprised at our data, “It’s pretty logical… when RPA works, satisfaction is high; and vice versa. What contributes to RPA working: it’s not about the software; it’s about the ability to implement it in a way that drives the right outcomes. You need the skills to implement and manage RPA, quality of the data, the engagement of the team in operations, etc… “ Brian called out in particular the need to proactively address all aspects of operational change management.

“Recognize that you are trying to achieve operational change management,” explained Brian. “If you need to make a change to your standard operating procedure today, what process do you go through? I redesign the process, go through risk, financial, and other standard sign-offs on the controls, etc., because we are changing the way we work when we incorporate robots.  There is a strong cultural aspect to embed because I have to think differently about how I manage – I’m still fully responsible for what the people and now also the robots do and for the outcomes.”

Incorporating RPA into your business is not just about using technology; it is a cultural change

Is there a method/curriculum/approach for RPA? “There are steps to go through,” says Brian, “we have one and use the Blue Prism model. Don’t be tempted to skip through the stages too quickly. Do a proof of concept for each new business service to engage them in the learning experience. Go through the steps of the process, the ownership structure as an operational leader when it goes live, how to manage change, etc. You will build the organization’s maturity and learn what method works for your organization to follow. It’s like DevOps, but with RPA, it sits in the business unit instead of IT.”

Do you need a COE for RPA? “You have to build a COE to scale the use of RPA. In the early stages, you probably don’t need it, but you will likely have a federated model over time. Otherwise, everyone sees and manages RPA differently. You need to be able to leverage lessons, governance, and contracts with a centralized model that branches out into each business unit.” Brian sees HSBC evolving such that each business unit runs its own capability, but is managed centrally the way global business services runs today.

How do you bring in AI and cognitive? Brian notes that the business still defines the use cases, but AI technology needs to be housed in the CIO’s office. He says: “RPA and cognitive are complementary… a robot needs to call a machine learning component to assist in making decisions. RPA creates the framework that we will plug into with AI components.”

To effectively use RPA, you have to have a learning mindset… these skills are hard to find, and you need to develop them

People with skills in RPA – that have been through a full RPA implementation and realized benefits – are few and far between. Per Brian: “We see a lot of vendors that talk about ability to provide services that haven’t done it or the level of skills required… only a handful have been through the full cycle. The senior level skills are critical, not just certifications. It is very hard to find that depth in capability.” HSBC is looking at how to develop talent to automate at scale – and determine use cases to embed AI and cognitive capabilities to continue to add value.


Our research shows that what is holding back RPA adoption is the lack of immediate cost savings, followed by a general lack of understanding of the potential benefits. “It starts with cost reduction,” says Brian, “and quickly turns into efficiency, speed, customer experience, and risk benefits from data accuracy.”

Bottom-line: Incorporating intelligent automation into your business operations requires operational change management that has a tighter and more transparent relationship with technology.

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