Cloud & Engineering

Mahmoud Naser

The pebble in the digital worker's shoe

Posted by Mahmoud Naser on 10 September 2019

RPA Scaling, Digital workforce, Digital worker, Robotic Process Automation, Automation Governance, Scaled Digital Workforce, RPA, Oxfam, rpa governance

Earlier this year I took on a personal challenge along with 700 teams around Melbourne to complete the 100 km Oxfam walk. My team (The DPEdostrians) managed to complete this long but rewarding walk in just over 30 hrs.

One of the many thoughts that constantly surfaced during this walk was the effect of pebbles once they got in your shoe. What seems to be a minor discomfort at the beginning turns into major discomfort and pain which ends up affecting your overall comfort and speed. This reminded me of the following quote:

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe”. - Mohammed Ali

Image of artwork created by Trevor Burke (FB: trevscreations, IG: trevs_creations)


Another thought was how this quote also applied to my professional life, at the time of the walk I was the Lead for the Automation Operation Centre (AOC) at a large financial services client that have been scaling up their RPA digital workforce. Throughout this role, I witnessed firsthand the effect of what seems to be minor operational issues and how quickly it grows to an operational pain point and ends up slowing down progress if not addressed.

As the Automation Operation Centre (AOC) was delivering over 120 FTE worth of value using 100+ digital workers spread over 20+ business processes, addressing such issues was essential in ensuring operational stability and allowing the digital workforce to scale.

The Mountain Ahead


Photo taken in Zermatt, Switzerland by Joshua Earle


Using Mohammed Ali’s analogy to my RPA journey as a guide, where the goal (mountain) was establishing a stable scaled enterprise digital workforce, throughout this post I will be listing the main challenges (pebbles) that organisations face on this journey and how to address them.

In the current RPA sphere, many organisations are rushing to this RPA mountain evident by the increase in RPA spending which is estimated to reach US $12 billion annually by 2023. Industries like Finance & Accounting are leading the pack and accounting for (no pun intended) over a third of all deployed digital workers[1].

However, a noticeable trend is that not all organisations have established a large scale digital workforce. More than 50% of implementations only have 10 digital workers or less and according to Forrester’s RPA Maturity assessment[2], only 10% are classified as advanced [1].

The Pebble(s)


Photo taken by Victoria Smith


Lack of RPA maturity and difficulty in scaling can be attributed to several factors, here we will focus on two aspects which are People and Governance[1][2][3].


This covers lack of documented frameworks for transitioning digital workers into production, not following best practices in design and coding standards, immature operating model, lack of proper business and technology stakeholder engagement, unclear roles, lack of monitoring framework ...etc


This includes issues such as lack of well-trained automation support staff, lack of RPA expertise within the business teams, lack of visibility/engagement from upper management ...etc.


These challenges start small, but their effect in wasting time and effort from your resources will only get worse as you scale. Examples of how these challenges manifest are:

  • A high number of automation incidents due to builds not following best practices
  • Long incident resolution time due to lack of skill/expertise
  • Inefficient task allocation between business and technical teams
  • A large number of manual tasks such as monitoring, reporting, alerting, …etc
  • Repeatedly making the case for automation to different business team

Removing The Pebbles

To address the challenges above, some organisations have elected to establish a body such as the Automation Operations Centre (AOC) with varying names and levels of responsibility ranging from only being responsible for the digital workers in production to overseeing all automation related operations and setting standard frameworks.

Whether the organisation establishes a separate body for automation or incorporate automation operations within a business or a technical team, to address the challenges above the organisation (or automation body) should focus its attention on the following:

  • Establishing a Design Authority (DA): The DA is responsible for setting the standards for automation processes & operations such as the Automation Delivery Lifecycle (ADLC), design and build best practices, process transition checklist, and document standards. A strong DA is essential in maintaining the quality of your digital worker builds, realising business benefits and allowing your digital workforce to scale.
  • Defining automation roles & responsibilities: Managing digital workers that sit across the business and technical teams require clearly defined roles and responsibilities and how teams such as automation control, support & governance should communicate.
  • Creating the automation improvement plan: Creating a continuous improvement plan for automation operations sets the direction for the automation team. Automation improvement plans should include initiatives such as automating internal operations, expanding the scope of the current digital workforce, marketing automation successes internally...etc.
  • Establishing a monitoring framework: Having visibility over the digital workforce allows the AOC to better monitor digital worker metrics (volumes, utilisation), highlight business benefits (FTE value, time savings) which makes the case for automation stronger, and opens the door for advances analytics later on.
  • Training your technical and business teams: Creating training material for both business and technical teams that cover business processes, automation technologies (UiPath, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere ...etc) and reporting tools are key in building up your internal automation capability which better positions the organisation to scale.

While the points above address several challenges when it comes to scaling, they are not the only considerations, other considerations such as Automation funding, Automation opportunity pipeline, infrastructure selection are all considerations that need to be considered when scaling the digital workforce is part of the automation agenda.

Beyond The Mountain


Photo Taken by Ryan Dam


As digital workers become the norm and start to integrate with other technologies and expand to more business teams, their value and effect will increase with time. Investing in establishing and maturing the RPA operations above is highly recommended for getting the most out of the digital workforce and scaling (excuse the pun) this RPA summit.

Depending on where the organisation is on its business journey, once this RPA mountain is reached, the focus will shift to the other mountains whether it is redesigning efficient process with BPM, establishing a responsive customer-facing chatbot or deriving actionable insights through advanced analytics. Regardless of the selection, a stable scaled enterprise digital workforce will only make the next journey easier.



In this post, I have listed several challenges organisations face when scaling their RPA operations, how these challenges can manifest, and recommended actions to address such challenges.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and found it insightful. If you have any questions about how you can make the most of your RPA digital workforce, or how Deloitte can help you scale your RPA feel free to get in touch with us or comment and ask any questions below.

You can also read


  1. The RPA Services Market Will Grow To Reach $12 Billion By 2023
  2. Gauge Your RPA Maturity
  3. The Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q2 2018



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