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PA OPINION

The Robotic Process Automation Journey – Think Big

This is the first blog of three which focusses on five key steps NHS Trusts should consider at the start of their automation journey.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a hot topic amongst NHS Trusts and viewed by many – having seen how they can drive better user outcomes and save money – as a potential solution to deliver efficiencies and improvements in productivity and quality.

But aside from a few trailblazers who have dedicated investment and resource to RPA, many NHS Trusts are unsure where and how to start their journey. And many are naturally risk averse to new technology.

At PA, we believe there are NHS Trusts who can plan, mobilise and execute their automation journey by using an agile mindset and the ability to think big, start small and scale fast. Over a series of three blogs, we’ll outline how leaders can apply this approach to RPA – starting with how to ‘think big’.

Thinking big is about learning from best practice both inside and out of your own sector, imagining how you might be able to disrupt your own organisation, and reimagining your core business model in line with shifting customer expectations and digital disruption. To do this, we believe there are five steps for leaders to take:

  1. Create a clear, compelling vision – NHS Trusts need to be clear on their RPA ambitions. Is the goal to deliver improvements in quality, drive out inefficiencies, support internal redesign, reduce human error and improve accuracy, or a combination of the above? It’s vital to understand the key drivers so that realistic goals and timescales can be established and communicated. By setting realistic timescales, expectations of resource demands can also be shared. Similarly, the timescales will provide an indication of when benefits are expected to be realised. Without a clear vision and list of goals with appropriate deadlines, the ability to take others on the RPA journey will be significantly hampered and the prioritisation of processes may become blurred.
  2. Put people at their heart of your RPA strategy – as with the adoption and implementation of any new technologies, success will hinge on the human factor. Our recent report, People and machines: from hype to reality, found that a people-centred approach to automation can help make jobs more skilled and interesting, give employees more autonomy and control over their work, strengthen job security and ultimately lead to more effective outcomes from new technology. Truly effective technology implementation requires more than plugging it in and switching it on. It requires a workforce strategy that designs fulfilling roles for humans and designs future-focused careers.
  3. Find a home for RPA – having an appropriate home for RPA within a Trust is key but despite its focus on technology, this doesn’t necessarily mean IT should ‘own’ RPA. In many instances, RPA will enable the implementation of change in either clinical or corporate functions. In these examples, the operations directorate may be better suited as an owner, closely partnered with IT.
  4. Empower an RPA champion – an appropriate Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) or Champion needs to be identified. This may or may not be linked to where in the Trust RPA calls home, but the responsibility should sit with an individual who is passionate about change, open to introducing new technology and ideas, and has the time to live and breathe the established vision. They must be someone who can share success and motivate and enthuse others. Given the unfamiliarity of the technology, a strong leader is key to success.
  5. Balance agility with governance – Any new technology needs an environment which balances the need for rigid governance against the ability for the Trust to fail and quickly learn from mistakes. This is particularly important given the limited maturity of the technology in the NHS. Governance arrangements should enable an environment which supports the delivery of the stated goals in an agile approach. This could mean using cross-functional teams to deliver the right end result, or looking to simplify how change is led and managed, designing for greater simplicity.

Once the ‘think big’ phase is complete, the next phase of the automation journey is to consider how the vision can be brought to life. This is explained in the next blog, ‘start small’, which will be published next month.

Our new value-based care research shows why putting patients at the centre of healthcare is important and how to do it

Read more here

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