A sneak peek into the 3 levels of your back office automation implementation
Among a host of other enterprise functions, the impact of RPA is likely to be higher in back-office processing and routine IT operations, primarily due to the predictive nature of such repetitive tasks performed by human workforce and the ease of implementation of automation in those functions. In a recent survey conducted by HfS Research, 54% of the respondents believe implementing RPA could realize up to 40% cost savings, although the primary driver for RPA is still driving predictability and quality of services.
Automation technologies are entering prime time. As been forecast by leading industry analysts, Robot Process Automation (RPA) is the next big thing in the BPO and ITO outsourcing industries. However, it is important that enterprises draw up their automation strategies and build a detailed roadmap before embarking on a full-scale deployment.
Automation could be implemented for trivial mundane activities to ones that require mimicking human behavior to solve complex business situations by incorporating artificial intelligence and cognitive thinking. As can be seen below, the technology is evolving on a continuous basis. While there are several proof points available to justify the ROI, it is critical that enterprises choose the right RPA tool and a competent implementation partner to ensure long haul value delivery.
Automation in the back office
Automation is well-suited for performing repetitive tasks that are structured, rule-based in handling business processes related to HR, F&A, Logistics, Procurement and Supply Chain, in the back-office shared services processing centers of large enterprises.
Scripted “activity” automation
When enterprises are seeking opportunities to automate specific activities that are repetitive, mundane, and have low intrinsic value, a scripted rule-based automation approach is a logical starting point. The focus here is to document the manual steps that are involved or currently performed by a human operator (typically a customer service agent) and develop scripts to automate them. For instance, if an invoice needs to be approved or rejected after validating data against multiple systems, a simple rule-based script could perform the pre-determined set of activities once an invoice is scanned and fed to it. After the data is validated, a human operator can then approve or reject the invoices for payment. This could save significant manual labor involved in “swivel chair operations” to validate data against multiple systems, while maximizing the value of human workforce. This form of automation is meant to deliver labor efficiencies by primarily enhancing seamless handshakes among existing systems. Desktop automation, data extraction, content management, application integrations are some of the examples.
There are several tools available in the market place that provide scripting solutions, of which, some also provide advanced computation capabilities to automate complex activities that need exhaustive exception-handling capabilities.
Robotic “process” automation
Process automation places focus squarely on end-to-end automation of a given business process. Not all business processes can be fully automated and hence careful provisions must be made to integrate human interventions as needed. There are several evolving RPA tool vendors in the market with varying levels of capabilities that offer platforms to design, build and deploy centrally controlled robots. Analysts predict that over the next three years, 50% of the global back office operations workforce will be replaced by RPA.
However, as enterprises evaluate the need to streamline and optimize back office operations and reduce associated labor costs, it is important to approach the task top-down by evaluating and re-engineering the underlying business processes first, before, and during automation. It is commonly found that companies implement inconsistent, but locally relevant, business processes when entering new geographies, primarily driven by faster time-to-market..
Business “system” automation
The third area of intense interest and curiosity is in the use of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing for enterprise-wide business “system” automation. There is tremendous investment in building out industrial-grade capabilities that would not only automate business processes, but also incorporate abilities to continuously learn and predict business patterns. For instance, a doctor while performing a life-saving surgery, could seek real-time assistance from a Virtual Medical Assistant (VMA) without having to pause the procedure. Since the VMA already has all the required details about the patient history and the specific medical situation, it is able to cognitively analyze the problem and provide specific, actionable and accurate recommendation real-time. While these systems are still evolving (e.g. IBM Watson), the impact of these systems on how business transactions will be processed in the future will surpass all past experiments combined.
There are RPA tool vendors in the market that offer limited capabilities of natural language processing and “contextual” computing to automate business processes. As automation is rightly credited as a function of Evolution of Trust, the cognitive automation platforms are likely going to take a few more years before presenting industry-specific solutions meant for mass adoption.
Having understood the possibilities of embracing the indispensable transformation, let us not miss out on the most crucial aspect of marching towards automation- getting your organization ready for it! Look out for the next blog for the same.