Prithesh Prabhu, Head of Automation and Change, National Australia Bank
A few years back, you heard about RPA, the new panacea for fast tracking your enterprise transformation and improving profitability, and said ‘yes, I want some of that’. You learnt from a few early adopters, survived through the hard sell of a lot of vendors, deployed a few pilot bots. You were one of the few who were successful and decided to scale up. You were able to build a business case and scale up to multiple processes. You were amongst the top 3% as per Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey. Now you are wondering what next? How do you squeeze more value out of the existing bots? Well, the short answer is you can’t, not if your RPA roadmap was built independent of any linkage to wider organizational goals.
RPA cannot solve for systemic issues within your processes. It can help in the short term to automate manual heavy processes however if you have not thought of a roadmap for wider process transformation then RPA by itself will become an overhead before too long. You will need to re-imagine the delivery of your processes to align with customer outcomes and automation including RPA needs to be part of the overall strategy.
There are some early adopters, who having run into these issues, are trying to pivot their automation strategy to beyond just RPA. Most automation platform providers have also evolved to provide more value beyond just plain vanilla RPA. It is common to see buzzwords like cognitive, AI, analytics and integrated BPM being thrown around as the next horizon within automation. There is a next horizon though, but it needs to be found within your organization strategy based on the outcomes that you want to achieve for your customers, employees and shareholders.
Let’s look at the few ways in which you can make your automation smarter by adding a few features either upstream or downstream within the process to drive value.
1. Workflow integration: You have customers who prefer to interact through multiple channels like chat, email or phone. Linking your bots to your workflow system can fast track your time to value. Employees assisting the customers with any service request can trigger the bot in real time through your internal workflow rather than through another system they need to interact with.
2. Chatbots / Intelligent assistants: As the customer demography shifts, we are finding that most customers prefer to chat for simple requests rather than call. From an organization perspective, it does not make sense to provide a chat channel 24/7/365. Intelligent chatbots are a good alternative to provide customers with not just responses to simple queries but also service customer requests by ensuring that the request with the right details is channeled to another bot built specifically for this activity.
3. Natural language processing: Is email a channel that you still provide to your customers? If the turnaround time of a customer email in your organization is measured in days instead of hours, then you need to leverage some of the features of NLP like sentiment analysis to isolate the customer intent and trigger a workflow request to a bot that can fulfill the customer request.
4. Optical character recognition: If your organization receives a lot of paper based requests from your customers or paper invoices from your suppliers, then optical character recognition technology could be used to read the characters from a scanned document to then feed a service request that triggers a bot and completes the transaction.
If you are just starting on your automation journey then you are in a great position to learn from some of the early adopters. Some of the points to consider are:
1. Ensure that your automation strategy is part of the enterprise strategy and not just a short-term solution to fix any legacy system issues.
2. Build the right governance around the program to ensure the right problems get prioritized and automation is applied only where applicable. It is ideal to have a senior executive as the sponsor and a cross functional team as part of the working group to make sure that the program has enterprise wide acceptance and alignment.
3. Start small with a tangible business problem to solve. However, don’t get distracted by the symptoms of the problem. Understand the root cause and build a long-term solution that integrates multiple facets of the available automation technologies for maximum value.
4. Always use the process of ‘Eliminate, Standardise, Optimise and only then Automate’. Don’t jump to automate processes before you are certain that they are ready.
5. Get the right partner who acts as an extension of your team to solve your business problems collaboratively.
When you think of automation, think beyond RPA. The early adopters did not have as much of a choice that you have. You don’t need to buy a technology and then look for a problem to solve. You can choose to build a robust automation strategy that has multiple tools that can be used to solve specific business problems.