Interview With a Robotics Expert: Clare Horn

Posted: 06/07/2019 - 03:16

The implementation of innovative tools like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can seem like a daunting, overwhelming and expensive task. Future of Sourcing sat down with Clare Horn of Virutal Operations to discuss common misunderstandings, implementation and what the future holds for automation in our industry.

Clare has been with Virtual Operations since 2016. She has a background in business and process transformation, primarily Lean Six Sigma consulting and has worked in a varied range of client industry sectors including FMCG, Retail, Energy and Utilities, Civil Engineering and Defence.

Tell the readers here at Future of Sourcing a little about your role and your career path.
I have been part of the Virtual Operations team as Process Excellence Lead since 2016, prior to which my career had followed an admittedly unusual path from its beginnings in applied physics, via Operational Excellence consulting.   
During my early career, I began to seek a more commercially rewarding role in which I could apply my strong analytics background. I gained accreditations in Program & Project Management, as well as Lean, Six Sigma and other supporting methodologies, and made the switch. Over the next eight years I had the opportunity to build valuable experience delivering a number of high-profile projects, across a range of client sectors.
I was becoming increasingly aware of the rapidly growing automation industry and its potential to deliver business benefits, and some very encouraging, collaborative discussions with Nick Andrews (Virtual Operations Exec Chairman) led to an invitation to join the company. Ultimately, the decision was driven by a mutual desire to combine incredibly powerful, complementary tool sets to deliver genuinely transformational results. 
What do you think is the most common misconception about automation and RPA?
From our collective experience within the Virtual Operations team, there are a number of misconceptions that are equally prevalent in the market right now. These misconceptions can be summarized as follows:
Automation is easy and requires minimal technical skill
• Any process can be improved by about40%
• Process discovery is best done in-house 
• Any organisation can achieve scale
• The belief that RPA is all you need – Companies should consider deployment of more advanced technologies that will dramatically improve the potentially automatable landscape and realize that a holistic, multi-disciplinary toolset is paramount, including proper project management, process excellence and change management 
Is there something you wish more people understood about your field?
To succeed requires ALL of the following – neglecting any one of these elements can de-rail an automation program:
  1. A dedicated team
  2. Experience
  3. Executive sponsorship
  4. An appropriate strategy
  5. A robust, realistic plan
  6. Strong project management skills
  7. Strong governance skills
  8. Real expertise in process excellence
  9. Multiple automation tools
  10. Business case that is set on realistic expectations
What advice to you have for individuals or organizations with regard to implementing RPA?
Choose a true specialist partner – one with a strong advisory and delivery background, cross-technology experience and a client-enablement focus. Work closely with them – including via joint agility approaches where possible – to build your own capability with reduced risk, aiming to reduce your dependency over 12 to 18 months. 
For those who feel intimidated by the technology, where is the best place to implement automation and RPA into an organization?
It is important to select a business case that is high impact and low risk, that can be used to deliver ROI over a relatively short timescale, build stakeholder confidence and move the organization toward a self-funding automation model as soon as possible. There is no disadvantage with targeting a single, tactical opportunity to get started – in fact this would be encouraged in most cases – but pilot selection should always be mindful of the ultimate transformational potential. An experienced specialist partner will be instrumental in helping to identify the best candidates. 
What do you think the future looks like for RPA?
At Virtual Operations, we believe that AI technologies will become the core and main focus of automation deployment in the near future, and RPA will take on more of a peripheral, enabling or supporting role; at the moment it’s the other way around.
We also expect the biggest players in the technology/software field (such as Microsoft) will increasingly begin to dominate the landscape. 

About The Author

Clare Horn's picture

Clare has been with Virtual Operations since 2016. She has a background in business and process transformation, primarily Lean Six Sigma consulting and has worked in a varied range of client industry sectors including FMCG, Retail, Energy and Utilities, Civil Engineering and Defence. During her time with Virtual Operations, she played a leading role in selecting automation-driven optimisation & transformation project opportunities, as well as defining strategic approaches. Clare has been responsible for leading the Virtual Operations automation programme in the global CSO function of one of thier largest clients since 2017, in which they have identified over 30% cost savings aligned to multiple benefit drivers. She is also actively involved in partner & vendor liaison and has ownership for several of Virtual Operations innovative product & service offerings.