Having worked directly with clients that are either implementing or using robotic process automation (RPA) tools, I’ve been able to identify common challenges at getting the most out of their tools.
The most common challenge I see is the tool living in a silo. That is, maybe IT bought the tool to help them respond to requests, but the business office has no idea the tool exists.
Or, maybe a main site is using an RPA tool but a satellite clinic does not benefit from it.
The other common challenge I see is organizations not knowing where to start to develop an automation strategy. In some cases, the tool was purchased for a specific use case and the usage was never expanded to other processes. In other cases, there exists a big list of processes to be automated with no criteria to prioritize those projects by their impact and return on investment.
To help overcome these challenges, I’ve developed a process and tool that helps identify automation opportunities and prioritize the project list. I would like to share this so you can use them in your own facility.
The process I follow:
- Identify RPA Opportunities
- Meet with key leaders of all departments that could benefit from RPA.
- Gain understanding of objectives and obstacles
- Meet with team members of those departments.
- Identify processes that require little decision making but take a decent amount of time
- Meet with key leaders of all departments that could benefit from RPA.
- Prioritize RPA Opportunities
- Reconvene with leaders to review automation opportunities identified
- Work with leaders to rank processes based on the impact to their objectives.
- Use weighted scores to determine an operational impact score
- Rank automation opportunities based on the length of time to develop the automation and the amount of work the opportunity will remove from the staff.
- Use these weighted scores to determine a return on investment score.
- Add the operational and return on investment scores together to determine a priority score, which will give you the priority sequence.
Now that we’ve identified the overall process, let’s take a closer look at each step.
Identifying RPA Opportunities
When working with clients that are new to RPA or helping existing clients get more out of their tools, I like to help them identify a list of processes ideal for automation and then prioritize that list to align with their objectives. I adhere to our internally developed Automation Opportunity Assessment. The same process can be applied in your organization.
Meet with key leaders
The first thing you should do is learn what’s important to the key leaders or stakeholders. I typically work with revenue cycle teams so being my discovery with people like:
- Revenue Cycle Director
- Director/ Manager of Patient Access
- Director/ Manager of Patient Financial Services
- Director/ Manager of Revenue Cycle Support
During these meetings, identify short- and long-term objectives for the leaders. This can include things like KPI attainment, productivity goals, time savings goals, or more. For example, one Patient Access Director felt it was important to strengthen relationships between the business office and the providers. We made any processes impacting providers a high priority for them.
Once you review key objectives, find out anything that is especially challenging or laborious. Document your findings and move on to the next step.
Meet with staff
After you meet with key leaders/ stakeholders and gotten their perspective, visit with their staff or support teams.
First, find out if the staff’s understanding of important objectives aligns with the leaders. If they don’t there might be some organization work to be done before an automation plan that everyone buys in to will be effective.
Once you’ve ascertained that the staff and the leaders are aligned in their vision, ask the staff to let you witness them moving through processes that affect objectives. During this interaction, keep an eye out for any processes that are routine, or rules based. If you see processes that are laborious, don’t require a lot of human decision-making, and work from some sort of data source, note that as an automation candidate.
During this interaction, ask the staff members what processes drive them nuts. A favorite question of mine is, “what things do you have to do that make you roll your eyes?” Typically, people get gratification from work that requires a bit of skill and decision making on their part. They dislike work that is mundane and mundane work is what RPA is best at. By identifying what they view as irritating work, you will likely identify additional automation candidates. Note those, too.
If possible, develop flow charts for each automation candidate. These can be used to calculate the return on investment explained later, and as a model for anyone developing the automation scripts.
Repeat this process with all appropriate team members.
Revisit with key leaders
Once you’ve gathered pertinent information, meet with key leaders again to review your findings and calibrate understandings.
During this time, review the objectives as you understand them and make sure your understanding aligns with the leader’s. Once you’re confident with alignment, begin assigning weights to the identified processes as follows:
- List three top objectives (usually revenue growth, reaching kpis, and increased productivity)
- Rate objectives in order of importance to assign a numerical weight lilke “1,2,3”
- For each automation candidate, rate how important they are to a stated objective and assign a numerical value like “1,2,3”
- Sum the scores to come up with an operational impact.
By doing this, you can begin to see which automation candidates have the biggest impact on objectives your leaders are trying to reach.
Determine the return on investment for each automation candidate
Now that you know which automation candidates will have the biggest impact on the stated objectives, you can determine a return on investment for each to determine which will have the fastest path to value.
To determine return on investment, I consider
- The time it will take to develop the automation (usually determined by the intricacy of the process. Are there several steps? Substantial decisions trees?)
- The amount of staff currently spends on each process per day
- Rate the criteria and assign a numerical weight like “1,2,3”
- Sum these scores to come up with a return on investment score.
Model an automation road-map
When you add the operation score and the return on investment score together, you can determine a priority score. The priority score will easily show which automation candidates will do the best at reaching stated objectives and provide the biggest return on investment.
The process outlined here has been very helpful to me when I'm working with clients that are implementing or expanding RPA.
While the process is useful, if you want to get the most out of your RPA tools, adhering to the plan is critical. You will find that you have an actionable list that expands your use of RPA, creates efficiency in your processes, and helps reach your goals.