Process automation has become a worldwide phenomenon, with practically every large corporation now having it on its agenda. Peter Clarke of Virtual Operations and Sabi Sabev of PwC recently put their thoughts together for Professional Outsourcing Magazine – here.
As automation services and technologies become ever more sophisticated so the clamour increases for where this is taking us. The answer, in the near to mid-term, is digital enterprise. There are no perfect examples of digital enterprise yet, but there is huge demand and drive to get there. Digital enterprise is still a buzz phrase and the vision is still not entirely clear; what is clear to many is that those who fall behind in this area will be unable to provide customers and employees with the wealth of data they demand when they require and in the media they choose. The result could be irrecoverable competitive disadvantage.
While our hypothesis is that process automation is a fundamental step towards creating the digital enterprise, this only holds if the process automation programme is part of a total rethink of what an organisation is doing in digital terms. Just removing FTEs through automation or digitisation, as part of an efficiency drive, will not take you off the path to extinction. The combination of the internet of everything, new methods of communication and the collaborative, information-hungry economy will move the market away so fast that the digital dinosaurs will be increasingly unable to catch up.
Mojgan Lefebvre, CIO of Liberty Mutual Global Specialty, was quoted in CIO Magazine as saying: “Consumers wielding tablets and smartphones have shifted the balance of power. The one thing that comes in and absolutely disrupts industries is giving the end-user customer the ability to do anything and everything they want on their mobile device.” It’s not just consumers; employees, suppliers and corporate clients will all demand instant and mobile access to all data and analytics from whatever devices they choose.
State Street Bank CIO Chris Paretta was also quoted in CIO Magazine. In reference to one of the bank’s four key strategic goals being digital enterprise, he stated: “The digital enterprise revolves around making information mobile. Workers will use mobile devices, smartphones or tablets. They’ll connect, via the cloud, not just to company data but to data from customers, suppliers and relevant outside sources, including social media and internet-connected objects. They’ll apply fancy analytics techniques to make better business decisions.”
In our experience, automating processes, even at scale, without a clear digital roadmap is fool’s gold. While many of the earliest adopters are now capitalising on the information released, this indirect benefit is a welcome side effect rather than part of a cohesive plan at the outset. As such it has taken far longer to get to value and the aggregate benefit is greatly reduced. Despite the increased awareness of the digital revolution, the vast majority of automation conducted today is aimed at a single, or group of related processes within one business function. Our advice is to aim first at the “operational layer” where process automation will be deployed across teams where data, systems and tasks require integration. This will require analysis of seat densities, locations, transaction types and FTEs. The effort may be greater but the scale and benefits will be considerably increased.
The next target will be to automate at the service level, where the aim is to go beyond operational efficiency towards service excellence both internal and external, deploying the technologies to address specific client service objectives, competitive differentiation or even to integrate with client/supplier processes.
We particularly like the insightful piece by Robert Brown of AVP Cognizant, in which he states: “The data generated by these increasingly astute technologies of process automation and digitisation is the real prize, for businesses and workers alike. With advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data, companies can predict rather than react to rapidly changing demands and expectations.”
We agree with Brown that merely automating an existing process or conducting analytics falls short and that a full digital rethink is crucial to transforming core processes. Harnessing the power of emerging technologies, such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud, companies can completely reimagine customer, supplier and partner interactions.
So, if the vision is digital nirvana through fully exploiting social, mobile, analytics and cloud for employees and customers alike, how does “intelligent” process automation provide the platform for realising this goal?
“Companies that don’t apply automation technologies strategically will not survive the digital business era.”
Sue Watts – COO, Xerox Services Global Capabilities”
Step 0 is to determine the domain within which your automation programme will begin. This may be enterprise-wide or, for a large multinational, it may be as narrow as one functional area within one country.
Step 1 is to abandon the adoption of automation and analytics for the sake of it and instead think about how your organisation could gain competitive advantage through technology. For example, how can you enable your employees with more accurate, more timely and more powerful information? How can you use these tools to get to market faster, enable your sales teams, empower customers, increase regulator confidence and create new offerings? This is not a trivial undertaking and requires planning, organisation, imagination, insightful thinking and, in most cases, the acquisition of talent in this area. Xerox recently appointed Sue Watts as COO of services. Together with chief innovation officer, RG Conlee, they form an axis which is rapidly taking Xerox into the new digital era. They would be the first to agree that the old mindsets no longer apply and there is a need to rethink the whole philosophy of how work gets done.
Step 2 is to exploit the power of modern automation tools to link new technology with your legacy systems. This is not simply to free up FTEs (although that is a welcome benefit) but more to facilitate faster, more accurate, real-time information, communication, feedback and analytics. This is the precursor step to creation of the automation centre of excellence (CoE). By connecting new technology seamlessly with old, automation will bring your legacy systems into the digital era.
Step 3 Creation of an automation CoE involves far more than developing an assembly line for RPA. This would be akin to building a car factory (with only one tool supplier) before the cars were designed or the target market identified.
Firstly, all applicable technologies, including AI, RPA, OCR, desktop automation, analytics tools, cloud and social need, to be factored in. Secondly, the CoE needs to be designed with the end in mind: who is it going to serve? What is the target operating model within which it operates? Where will strategy and governance reside? What resources are needed to stay ahead of the market? As Chris Peretta says, it’s about creating “a technology ecosystem that takes the company’s information and makes it both secure and, for those with the right access, easy to find and share”.
“The end destination may not be fully defined as yet, but we have a number of way-points that will provide the ideal staging posts”
Step 4 involves reorganising work (and re-engineering processes) with modern technology at the core and the digital era in mind.
The existing paradigm for shared services takes a current disparate and unleveraged work estate and centralises it for maximum efficiency. This is no longer a viable model as it has people at the core and does little to take full advantage of the automation (and analytical) technologies available. Instead, work needs to be organised and categorised such that all processes and sub-processes, other than the truly judgemental, can be automated and then all automated processes can be mined for information.
Step 5 is to innovate – to measure, monitor, research, compare and continually improve.
The digital business era has arrived. Those organisations that have a clear vision of how best to exploit it in their particular industry will survive and thrive. Those who do not will be unable to provide the instant (secure) access to the wealth of data that their customers and employees demand, nor in the form they require, and they will fail. The end destination may not be fully defined as yet, but we have a number of way-points that will provide the ideal staging posts. In our view, a crucial step is the creation of an enterprise-wide CoE for automation. Simply enabling legacy systems to interact seamlessly with new technologies (through automation) is a massive step on this journey.
However, a change in thinking and an appetite to change the way work is done is required so that the new delivery model has been developed with technology (automation) at its core and, crucially, so that the automation programs themselves have been designed to provide a launchpad for the digital enterprise.
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