Fulfilling the promise of RPA: Part 2, Creating new processes
By Peter Clarke, Virtual Operations
In part 1 of Fulfilling the Potential of Intelligent Process Automation, Virtual Operations’ Peter Clarke explored how to unleash the transformation power of Intelligent Process Automation (IPA – the combination of RPA, AI and other automation technologies) through forming a new approach to managing virtual service delivery.
Here in part 2, Peter encourages the idea that IPA can reach beyond simply deploying IPA tools to automate existing processes: there is the opportunity for reinventing delivery models and creating new processes to extend automation benefits beyond those usually documented.
The way that organisations perform their business processes today is generally the result of the way that the systems they use to manage their processes have been implemented in the past and the way that people interact with those systems. Throw in some evolving requirements like compliance, security checks, internal approvals, additional reports, and even the occasional merger, and the processes can become convoluted. Process optimisation and Business Process Management (BPM) systems can help alleviate the issue but in all likelihood there will still be in place a collection of activities that switch between human users, Microsoft Office or other such tools, and legacy systems.
All This Can Be Automated
Process automation offers a different way of undertaking these processes. Here’s a very common situation …
System A receives a continual feed of manual input throughout the day, let’s say they are approvals for invoices. Those approvals need to get from System A into System B, the core ERP from where invoice payments are made. Currently, in order for the user to avoid constant interruptions during the day, the approved invoices are batched up for the user to action the following day. And on the following day, the user downloads the approvals into a spreadsheet (on their own desktop), runs a macro (self-developed, not included in any operating manuals, no audit trail) to sort the invoices, check them and upload them to System B for payment.
Using a combination of IPA tools, the incoming invoices can be handled by an intelligent tool that recognises different invoice types and extracts the relevant data into System A and if the PO matches the invoice, approval is automatic; if not there will be some level of manual checking and approval. The intelligent tool might even have the capability to transmit the approvals directly to System B, but if not, an RPA tool can be used to read the approved invoices as they are received and directly upload them to System B for payment. The two tools are server based, included in the Business Continuity plan, and auditable.
(A word of warning: Virtual Operations have reviewed a number of RPA developments by other parties where the existing process has been diligently recreated for the robot – the approvals are still batched for next day processing, the spreadsheets are still used for staging data and the unsupported macros are still executed).
How To Make Automation More Impactful?
A more impactful approach than reinventing existing processes is the ability to use IPA tools to create new processes. For example: a consumer goods supplier sends a regular supply of goods to its customers based on customer projections. However, customers often have stock issues and they contact the supplier for an emergency delivery. Virtual Operations’ experience with one client indicates that such emergency orders can number thousands each month. The usual approach is to fulfil the order immediately, even though the regular order might be due for delivery within a matter of days.
The issue here is the inefficient and costly use of road transport to deliver the standard order and additional transport requirements to deliver the emergency orders. One solution is to use RPA to connect the customer systems with the supplier systems. Yes, this can be done by more traditional integration of the IT systems and transferring data between them, but remember that one of the significant benefits of RPA is that it is non-invasive.
A software robot can be created which will log on to customer systems and interact with them just as a user would so no changes to the customer system are necessary. Such a robot is also relatively quick to deploy.
The robot, for example, can review customers’ stock levels and when it recognises that stock depletion might trigger an emergency order, it can work with the customer and supplier systems to adjust transport schedules to carry the emergency stock with the regular stock together in one shipment. This activity would result in improved customer satisfaction, lower transport costs, fewer trucks on the road, and, over time, improved forecasting analytics for both parties.
Stepping back from the detail of day-to-day processing and spending time thinking about what the business activity is really trying to do can generate opportunities and benefits beyond simply automating current processes. Whether a business has a single RPA tool or a mix of IPA technologies, the short deployment time and the non-invasive nature of integration at the user interface help businesses to redesign and connect processes to fulfil business requirements more effectively and flexibly than waiting for large system implementations.
In the meantime, if you would like to comment or know more contact us at: virtual-operations.com or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Series title: Fulfilling the Potential of Intelligent Process Automation
- Part 1: Beyond a virtual workforce
- Part 2: Creating new processes
- Part 3: Straight through transformation – COMING SOON