Are you paying your robots to sleep on the job?
- Posted by: David Watters
- Category: Best Practices
You don’t pay your team to sit around and do nothing so why are organisations paying for digital workers to sleep on the job?
Robotic Process Automation has been an increasingly popular technology enabler over the last 5 years, the promise and value is quite simple. A software program, or digital worker, that is able to carry out repetitive, rule-based activities much quicker than humans and a lot more accurately. It won’t take breaks like a human, nor have sick days and is capable of working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Additionally, the business case behind RPA stacks up pretty easily, with RPA coming in at around 80% cheaper than human workers.
Despite, RPA’s promise and key fundamentals most organisations who have adopted the technology are not realising the full value possible. Traditionally RPA solutions are sold as individual licences to a digital worker or ‘BOT’, this licence enables you to have access to that digital worker 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, in reality, digital worker utilisation rates are drastically low – meaning that these organisations are paying for their digital workers to spend a lot of their time in an idle state. We take a bit of a deeper dive into this issue and explore why organisations are paying for digital workers to sleep on the job.
RPA Utilisation Rates
Utilisation for RPA is a simple formula taking the total active hours that a digital worker is working then dividing this by the maximum total hours available to a digital worker (which is every hour of every day or 8,760 hours a year) to give you a utilisation rate percentage.
What are businesses views on utilisation rates?
Whilst there is not a huge amount of data on what businesses think about their current utilisation rates of their digital workers, the data that is there paints a damning story. A recent Forrester report found that less than a third of organisations are satisfied with their digital worker utilisation rates, the same research identified nearly two thirds of respondents stating that their digital workers were working fewer than 3 hours a day (or 12.5% utilisation rate). Another report by Thoughtonomy found that 24% of respondents stated that low utilisation was the most prominent issue they faced with their digital workforce program.
These organisations are not alone, data exclusively compiled and analysed by our partners at Digital Workforce highlight that utilisation rates for digital workers are typically between 40-50% with only the most mature organisations reaching the heights of 60-70% utilisation. Organisations are paying a hefty price for digital workers to spend nearly up to half of their time being in an idle state.
Given that a commonly reported cost for one RPA licence for one year is around $18K AUD (£10k) that cost adds up quite quickly, assuming you have 5 licences and you are one of the more mature organisations with a utilisation rate of 60%, you are spending $36,000 a year for your digital worker to ‘sit’ around and do nothing.
What are the main causes poor utilisation rates?
So why are organisations finding that their digital workers are idle for such long periods of time? The main culprits can be broken down into three buckets:
- The automated processes have been designed so that processes need to be run at the same time – For example, if two processes need to run between 8am and 10am every day then you will need two digital workers both end up being massively under-utilised (8% utilisation rate).
- The digital workers cannot run for 24 hours due to limitations in the applications that they are accessing – In several different industries, Banking as an example, there are fixed maintenance breaks or batch data load updates that happen during the night meaning that processes cannot be automated during those times.
- The automated processes have been designed to run at the same time as business users are working – in some cases where the output of the automation needs to be utilised by the business users in real time this can be a legitimate restriction. However, we have worked with several different organisations that have this in place out of comfort rather than necessity, placing unnecessary limitations on the maximum utilisation rates.
What can organisations do to change the game to get their digital workers back to work?
Organisations should consider the following when looking to optimise the digital workers utilisation:
Optimising the automated processes
Automated processes are not necessarily designed to optimise digital worker utilisation, often the focus is on ensuring that all your licenced digital workers are used at some point rather than focussing on ensuring the minimum number of digital workers are used. To start the process of optimising your automated process, take a critical eye to map out your automated process by reviewing:
- What your digital workers are doing on an hour-by-hour basis
- Understand any time, logic or business constraints in the process to identify what tasks have to happen at certain times or in a certain order
- Identify gaps in your digital workers day to identify consolidation opportunities
- Consolidate your processes into less digital workers and check the logic to ensure that it will still run as expected.
Pay as you go model
As RPA technology has evolved so has the business models that are available. Some digital worker providers are helping to relieve the pressures of poor utilisation rates by charging organisations based on how much the digital worker is used rather than a flat fee for the full year. Depending on your organisations processes and setup, this can be a less resource intensive option to optimising the automated processes as the timing of your digital workers doesn’t necessarily need to change.