The pursuit of digitization and automation to replace manual business processes is nothing new. From the Lyons Electronic Office in 1951 to the advent of chatbots today, organisations have recognised that some tasks can be carried out more reliably and efficiently when they are automated. Even so, many businesses still depend heavily on people to carry out manual tasks for important business outcomes. With reliance falling on employees to receive, reconcile and process invoices, update customer records across different applications, or input and interrogate a pipeline of sales leads. What’s been missing up until fairly recently is the ability to automate those processes without changing the underlying systems and applications in use – which is often uneconomical, or just not an option. This has left people burdened with manual processes, which are often unfulfilling and repetitive. And, delivered business outcomes which don’t fulfil potential or maximise productivity.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology-based methodology where programmable software robots automate manual processes.
Software robots (referred to in this guide as ‘Digital Workers’) replicate what your employees do, using your current systems, tools and interfaces. This enables you to digitise the work, with Digital Workers performing the same processes, with the same security and governance as you have today, right down to user credentials and permissions in the same way a human employee would.
Robotic Process Automation is the foundation layer of the Intelligent Automation Stack
This layer is focused on very structured, highly repetitive, logical processes. Essentially the robot is the “do-er” that carries out tasks. It doesn’t know anything but rather follows the pre-defined and logical workflow of process automation. If it encounters the unknown, an exception is flagged for a human to intervene.
If RPA is the foundation layer of the automation stack i.e. the repetitive tasks; Intelligent Automation (IA) is the equivalent of the additional intelligent skills and experiences your employees have. These skills allow them to work with processes requiring decisions based on less defined workflow and more ambiguous information.
Organisations have many processes over and above the structured rules-based processes that RPA alone can deliver. IA “skills” allow you to take unstructured data (free text emails, webforms, webchat etc), electronic/scanned documents or application forms and extract information from them to form a coherent structure which will allow you to process them accurately. What’s more, intelligent automation can also orchestrate work using machine learning to fully utilize the abilities of digital workers. Giving them the ability to automatically shift between tasks and dramatically reduce idle time.
The theory of automating processes to achieve material efficiency gains can be compelling, but the best way to express what’s possible is via real-world use case scenarios. Below are three real-world use cases of Intelligent Automation delivered by the Blue Prism Cloud team:
Applying Artificial Intelligence to email triage
Email enquiries came thick and fast for this utility’s organization. With requests ranging from changing account payment details to rescheduling engineer visits, each needing to be handled by the correct team with the needed specialisation.
As emails and forms which were being compiled are typically free form, the request could not be handled by RPA alone and required handling by a team of customer service representatives. Quite rightly, the organization and the team handling the requests would rather be resolving these requests instead of streamlining triage. What’s more, due to the immense volume of requests, the speed of which people could get to these emails was elongated and close to the edge of acceptable limits based on business requirements.
Today, these enquiries are now being triaged using digital workers. The first part of the process picked up the emails and transferred them to the required inboxes or applications. And the second ambitious half of the process uses Natural Language Understanding and sentiment analysis to determine the content of the emails, before applying waterfall logic to direct emails to the right team members. The result of this automation has meant that not only are the backlog of enquiries cleared, but they’ve improved the customer experience for the organization.
Orchestrating digital workers using Artificial Intelligence
Each day is different for this finance organization. From market fluctuations to seasonal peaks and troughs, this business needs to be able to adapt and flex to deliver its world-class range of financial services. This has always meant that they must innovate to stay on top, especially with the added burden of adhering to ever-evolving and complex financial regulations.
To be in a position to handle these spikes across multiple channels, from call centres to website forms, they saw the need to expand capacity to alleviate pressure in times of high pressure;but due to financial pressures understood that they must do so without expanding their team of personnel.
With that in mind, they decided to invest in digital workers to help meet changes in demand. The problem at first was that their RPA solution was static and did not flex in-line with a fluid and dynamic world market. Thankfully with the deployment of an orchestration layer as part of IA, they are now able to move with the market. The intelligence built into digital workers means they prioritise, auto queue and time work, seamlessly flipping between processes and eliminating idle teams. The result is a digital workforce with skyrocketing utilization rates and an output that consistently move with the fluidity required.
Deploying portal technology to transform patient outcomes
When attending a healthcare facility, it is always of paramount importance to create smooth and comforting pathways for patients. This leading healthcare provider has always strived to deliver the best possible care and make the entrance documentation as easy to complete as possible. However, when anyone attends a healthcare appointment there’s always a set amount of documentation which must be completed for care to proceed without hindrance.
Previously, these forms would be completed on arrival, which meant sensitive documentation would need to be brought with the patient and the often slow process of form filling would need to take place at the facility. Now, digital workers are applying RPA within a portal so patients can complete the form in the comfort of their own home. The healthcare company can also make the patients aware pre-appointment of any issues with their documentation. All in all, creating better outcomes for patients and healthcare providers alike.
For further use cases and an in-depth look at the above intelligent process automation use cases, download our white paper Get smart: 5 Innovative Intelligent Automation use cases to power up your RPA program
When looking at automation it is important to understand both the ROI and quantifiable benefits, as well as the potential for added value benefits. Below we take a look at both and help you consider how it will impact your business.
Working out the ROI for the project is commonly calculated by taking the current operating costs minus potential future operating costs of the automated system, and then you have the resulting potential saving. This is a simple basis for working out business automation suitability.
The breakdown of the operational costs
Think about the list of relevant costs incurred over a financial year and assign each monthly cost to headings such as FTE, infrastructure and facilities costs. Each of these may be unevenly affected depending on how you plan to automate.
Stable and variable costs
Working out what costs could fluctuate is of utmost importance. It can be challenging with initial automation projects but it can help if you make considerations as you would for any other transformation program. For instance, the number of servers may change dramatically over time or virtualization may become challenging.
Cost of not implementing
If automation isn’t the route you want to go down, then consider what your next steps may be. Would your team need expanding or legacy system need urgent replacement? All issues you may need to decide on quickly without automation there to free up capacity.
Soft benefits are often easy to describe but difficult to quantify. But even if you can’t identify a solid number, it doesn’t mean you can’t demonstrate how automation can add value to the business. It just means you need to go more in-depth to discover it. Here are a couple of areas to look:
Customer experience and retention
An often-overlooked benefit of automation is a positive impact on customer service and experience. As automation has the potential to cut down processing time, reduce errors and deliver consistent service around the clock — it’s easy to see why automation can benefit many aspects of business service.
Regulations are always a difficult task to adhere to. Leaving many with an expanding cost base without any additional profit to be seen to match it. Luckily, automation helps perform the heavy lifting in compliance work and can free your staff to perform other tasks.
For further ideas on how to think about organizational-wide automation, download our Key Considerations for Organizational Wide Automation here
As Stephen Covey wrote in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, the best outcomes are delivered when one starts with the end in mind.
Knowing that intelligent automation will help your business is one thing, making sure that you get backing and buy-in to roll it out throughout your business is another. Being clear on what you want to achieve makes it easier to measure performance, manage the team and celebrate success.
It may be that success is measured in a clear metric “a 30% reduction in operating cost” or a “50% improvement in throughput”, or it may be a less well-defined point similar to the ideas laid out above. Whatever “good” looks like should be something agreed internally.
Some automation initiatives are driven by a desire to improve a specific process or activity, but for most – and particularly those who recognise the value of an intelligent automation platform for business transformation– building an automation roadmap helps to prioritise where to start with automation.
Since not all technology is created equal, the ideal candidates for automation may vary depending on the chosen product or platform. Broadly speaking, the below will give you a few ideas of where to start identifying automation candidates
Could a set of task instructions be easily given to a new employee? If processes can be defined and communicated to new workers, they are typically good automation candidates.
Defined or definable workflow
Is there a workflow guide or runbook? An existing runbook or workflow is not essential but assists the speed to build the automation.
Uses multiple application or tools
Does execution require the use of multiple systems and/or applications? Processes using humans as the interconnection between systems make good candidates for automation.
No emotion or subjectivity
Is there room for ambiguity or feeling in the process? Processes requiring human judgement are not typically good candidates for hands-off automation. They may still be suitable for assisted automation.
High volume / low to medium complexity
Is there a high-volume activity that isn’t highly complex? These tasks are good ways to quickly bring a return on your investment.
Is there a volume of work which requires human judgement to initiate, approve or define? Processes do not need to be 100% automated to deliver benefit and the Digital Worker can be configured to do the bulk of the work while keeping the human in the loop for initiation, approval, or authorisation.
Is the only way to scale the process by hiring more people? Or does the process have peaks and troughs in work? Think about what you could achieve with digital workers that flex with you.
Intelligent automation is unlike other digital transformation options. Its ability to digitally transform a business in a vastly reduced time is unmatched. The non-invasive nature of RPA in combination with AI and other intelligent technologies means it can be put into action within months. And, as many organizations are now running proof of value projects by deploying one or two in-action processes, real-world benefits can be realized and built upon. Once these small-scale processes have proven their value, the automation journey can pick up full steam and scale across the business. This either involves taking other similar processes in their stride or thinking about how intelligent technologies can be applied in new ways. By approaching it in this way, businesses are avoiding the pitfalls of the big bang approach, but rather can nurture wide adoption and encourage future success at scale.
Intelligent Automation should be considered a business initiative and as with most initiatives, requires support at all levels to ensure it has the attention, time and focus of the organisation.
When seeking an Executive Sponsor, it’s important to be clear about the expectations of the role, and its importance in the success of the overall project. Here’s what your Executive Sponsor needs to do:
There are several critical roles in an automation team – and while an individual may assume multiple responsibilities early in the program, as the team grows, they may become full-time roles or teams in their own right.
Typical roles and responsibilities are highlighted below. Each will require a different level of understanding and skills with the automation tool, so develop a training program that ensures role-based formal education, ideally with certification or accreditation of skills to validate capability.
Head of Robotic Automation
Any digital transformation worth its salt needs a leader with vision. The head of the team should own that vision and see where automation can flourish within the organization. Being responsible for buy-in at every level and in as many departments as possible, and for on-time and successful delivery.
The architect is responsible for defining and implementing the optimal approach to automation. Typically working using models such as the Robotic Operating Model, this team member helps to create capabilities to maximise benefits, scalability and replication anywhere in a business.
The process analyst must capture and detail the requirements for a scalable and robust automation deployment. By documenting and defining tasks precisely, they can effectively be re-used if necessary, in-part or in-full.
The developer is responsible for building and delivering the process objects, in line with the best practice standards outlined by the vendor or other lead team members. As these team members develop from junior to senior members of staff, they can start to work with adding intelligence to the processes in the needed areas. Depending on the automation solution you choose, this person doesn’t need to have coding expertise.
Working in close proximity with developers and analysts, the process controller runs the day-to-day of any automation project. From testing and release from the developer, the controller runs and co-ordinates processes, being sure to flag up any issues in the production of a task and feeding back on potential areas of improvement.
With a deep understanding of the infrastructure needed and how any new solution will integrate with it, the technical architect is a key expert in seamlessly threading how a solution can and should be deployed. Together with lead developers and other technical leads, the architect has the potential to raise awareness and provide an understanding of how a digital workforce can work in an organization.
It’s an undeniable fact that Intelligent Automation and RPA will affect the way an organization operates. And because of this, there will be impacts on staff, which will mean that people become uncertain, or fearful — even if such feelings are often misplaced. An important factor is to engage with these concerns, and with full buy-in from leadership, explain in-depth what this might mean for people. The sooner you can be clear, regular and concise with your communications the better for every party involved.
It is important to share the rationale for the initiative, highlighting the benefits for the business, its customers and its staff. Equally, reporting regularly on the benefits being realised will help to build momentum, and having focused on quick wins will allow successes to be shared early and help you get others on board. You are likely to see a quick result from the chosen automation that you implement, so make sure you provide early and consistent communication back to the sponsor and other stakeholders. Quickly address any changes that need to be made to the automation and make sure it aligns to the success criteria. If there are changes in approach or improvements that are highlighted, ensure these are fed back to the automation team.
An automation CoE is an organisational team that provides a central function for the delivery of intelligent automation goals to the business. It sets out and drives the automation strategy that aligns with the overall business objectives, while supporting the needs of the other business units and functions to achieve their goals.
Digital workers are changing the future of office work. Making the once deemed impossible, possible, and enabling the next generation of businesses to flourish. Organizations are seeing that they can power up their RPA with intelligence and free their people to add even more value to their businesses. As you well know, implementation is just the first step on a road to a wholly new way of working, one where we believe you’ll start to think at every turn ‘could we automate that’.
As we’ve looked at the best way to think through implementation and what needs to be considered in this guide, we hope you can now see the potential for your business and how it can enrich every aspect and outcome.
If you are ready to dive in and are looking for a vendor to discuss your plans with, then please get in touch with us today and we’ll show you how a digital workforce can transform the way you work
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