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RPA can improve efficiency in a cost effective manner, without the risk of interfering with the main ‘Big IT’ systems. In effect, it makes large ERP investments more useful to the business.
Across industry, robots have revolutionized the way companies operate. Most famously that happened in a manufacturing context with the robotic vehicle assembly lines. Now, though, the next wave of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is hitting the back office.
In the manufacturing world physical “robots” replaced human workers doing repetitive tasks; in the back office environment, software automation replaces many of the repetitive tasks delivered by BPO services. For example tasks that involve people moving data, checking, validating, aggregating and re-keying can be simply automated step by step.
Mature BPO providers have, of course, been automating back office processes for some time. However the ever-increasing sophistication, and consequent application, of RPA in the BPO domain is now swelling a virtual workforce as never before. The new wave of RPA can so dramatically increase the capacity to do work, in such a cost effective manner and with such a heightened level of accuracy, that labor intensive back office functions are being ‘picked up’ by rapidly advancing RPA technologies.
Where is RPA most effective..
A classic candidate for RPA would be one where three key characteristics are fulfilled, normally within an end-to-end process that crosses multiple applications:
1. That the actions are consistent, with the same step being performed repeatedly;
2. That it is template driven, with data being entered into specific fields in a repetitive manner;
3. That it is rules-based, to allow decision flows to alter dynamically.
In such situations the employee sits in the middle, having oversight for the robotic performance without wasting time on the manual tasks involved.
On the ground the need can be anywhere in the organization, and BPOs have used RPA solutions to unlock value for a host of multinational organizations in a wide range of areas that include:
• Data entry and validation
• File and data manipulation
• Automated formatting
• Multi-format message creation
• UI manipulation
• Web scraping
• Text mining
• Uploading and exporting
• Downloading and importing
• Workflow acceleration
• Currency/Exchange rate processing
And why is RPA a low cost ‘Quick Fix’ for business..
RPA can sit ‘in front of’ the application estate as it currently exists. No need for complex and costly integration, and no danger of unintended technology consequences, such as those that bedevil complex projects to modernize, integrate or fix a client’s application estate.
A typical scenario in today’s commercial environment is a CIO request for an SAP upgrade that cannot be funded. Rather than simply leave the business hamstrung by the inefficiencies, a BPO provider can offer ‘non-invasive surgery’ at a fraction of the upgrade cost. For example, a sub optimal SAP process with an overly complex user interface can be carried out with RPA technology, giving the organization better performance with fewer Full Time Employees (FTEs) — and fewer mistakes.
Clearly this answers a need, without solving the fundamental issue, which is that the illogical process requires re-modeling. Therefore the parallel stream of work, where funding exists, is to remove the broken processes, and so turn those robots off.
What we are seeing in the marketplace, though, is that although the appetite exists to streamline the process the funding doesn’t. The robots remain, silently delivering value while the transformation debate rages around them.
When the exception becomes the rule
Below are a very common set of activities which can be replaced with software robots providing point automations for key tasks. These are then strung together (orchestrated) by a controlling entity that replaces the user as the “interaction hub”. It feeds out requests for human intervention when a decision point is reached or when an exception is experienced. Employees develop into “uber administrators” whose role is to manage the decisions, deal with exceptions and provide oversight of far more than they could manage as individuals responsible for delivering the processes.
The net result is increased throughput, improved accuracy, and improved control with the human labor delivering more for less and at a higher level of value. RPA is therefore an increasingly important part of the recipe for straight through processing, managed by exception. The exception-based culture will reach a point where technology is driving end-to-end completion in an entirely automated way — exceptions will simply be fed into an environment that pushes it to the right person.
In other words, with the right rules the technology will begin to focus on delivering business outcomes.
And the other million dollar question: How are BPOs using it?
1) To offer differentiated solutions to forward-thinking clients
Nimble, flexible, innovative providers are what customers are seeking out. If you’re finding avenues through which you can provide them with the technology they need and want as a part of your overall services, you’re more likely to obtain and retain customers, and be viewed as a provider that can successfully embrace emerging trends and harness their potential to serve customers better.
2) To control costs while contributing to top-line growth
RPA software offers both outsourcers and their clients a viable way to produce economies of scale, generating revenue by focusing teams on value-added work while reducing operating costs, and growing exponentially as a result. The type of cost savings I am talking about is 25–50% according to the Institute of Robotic Process Automation.
3) To deploy smaller, more high-performing workforces
Automation allows you to offer an alternative to the traditional labour arbitrage model that we’re all familiar with. Your “bot workforce” is ready to do any repetitive task around-the-clock and without error. And there are compelling reasons to adopt, like estimates that offshore FTEs cost three times more than implementing RPA.
4) To give customers a “single source of truth”
Data integrity in today’s data-driven world is top-of-mind for companies everywhere. To get the information and then the business insight they need, your customers have to create information causeways between systems, and that can be a time-consuming process that’s prone to error (and potentially puts them in the hot seat with their customers). Your ability to offer an automated, plug-and-play solution to these problems will give your customers just another reason to say “yes” to your services.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR -
Vartul Mittal brings over 12 years of global experience in Business Operations & Technology Transformation, across Global Business Services, Shared Service Centres and Business Process Outsourcing. With experience in the Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence space, he has worked as the Lead Technology & Innovation across organisations. In these roles he has been a champion for delivering measurable, repeatable cost savings and profitable revenue growth and driving programs to delight customers. Vartul holds an MBA from SCMHRD Pune, and a B-Tech in Mechanical Engineering.