When the buzz around Robotic Process Automation first took hold, Telstra Global Finance Services set out to be a pioneer of the technology. KPMG was engaged to identify opportunities that RPA could enable, and to help Telstra set in place an RPA strategy for finance of the future.
In 2016, Telstra Global Finance Services wanted to improve quality, minimise rework, eliminate manual processes, speed up cycle times, and step up their internal and external customer experience across accounting, revenue management, and credit management teams.
This drive towards efficiency was vital to help meet productivity targets in the context of a changing business model, and market pressures. The business wanted to improve effectiveness rather than just try to do ‘more with less’.
At that time, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was in the early stages of adoption in Australia – and the organisation was keen to understand the potential to enable improvements in efficiency.
KPMG was engaged to help Telstra Global Finance Services explore the possibilities of RPA, and to set a suitable RPA strategy in place to enable them to establish an Automation Enablement Team for Finance. The strategy needed to help drive efficiency; most importantly, it needed to drive benefit in quality and cycle times for staff and customers.
A KPMG team with technical and finance process knowledge and insights worked collaboratively with Telstra to identify potential opportunities for streamlining processes and implementing automation.
A core goal was to eliminate poor or unnecessary processes before automating. The team examined which processes were time consuming, manual and repetitive. The focus was on assessing process efficiency and effectiveness, eliminating activities, and making other strategic system changes within the IT eco-system, prior to building automation tools.
KPMG delivered a proof-of-concept to build confidence and trust in what was feasible. An automation tool called Elvis was built to run a process called ‘Return to Sender’ as an example of the potential benefits.
Through this collaborative approach, the team narrowed down a number of processes that could be suitable for RPA. KPMG helped to define an RPA strategy and an operating framework that enabled Telstra to embark on their journey independently.
Telstra subsequently identified an automation tool that was in use elsewhere in the organisation, and this enabled the team to accelerate the strategy by leveraging capability.
A governance process was established to manage the tools through the full automation lifecycle, and to mitigate rogue tools being developed and deployed. KPMG’s Internal Audit team assessed the governance framework to validate and confirm that it aligned to compliance and better practice.
Telstra leveraged KPMG’s advice, and their Automation Enablement Team moved into an agile release cadence which enabled them to scale the development process, with 85 tools built within 18 months. A culture of continuous improvement is now in place. These automation tools have made a significant contribution to improving cycle times and quality, and reducing costs – the outcomes Finance wanted to deliver. The Automation Enablement Team has also developed tools for other functions beyond Finance; they support the platform and functions now build tools themselves using the platform.
Automation continues to be a key enabler in simplifying operating models and ways of working. As Telstra scales up shared services to drive efficiency and effectiveness, automation will continue to be leveraged across Finance and other functions.
KPMG’s multi-disciplinary team used their knowledge of finance processes, along with a deep understanding of new RPA technologies, to see the potential and help devise an appropriate RPA strategy that Telstra was able to run with. Building trust, showing understanding, and collaborating were vital to ensuring the strategy was appropriate and embraced.
The team also helped Telstra to establish the governance and operational processes for the Automation Enablement Team. Telstra then took over the reins and progressed the design, build and test of the tools in sprints, and set up the control room to manage them.
Understanding the changes to contracts and vendor activities, and the way employees worked, was key to ensuring that benefits could be realised. The team are now constructively challenging RPA opportunities across end-to-end processes, not point solutions.
As the Automation Enablement Team has scaled up RPA implementation, its members have reflected on the experience. Whilst they had previously engaged IT in security, coding protocols and testing, they now want to transition tool design, build and test to a dedicated IT function. This will enable them to focus on opportunity identification and the realisation of business outcomes.
The project revealed the importance of integrating the tools into the workforce as ‘digital co-workers’. The tools have names and an ID, and the team is thinking about cultural aspects and how to foster a sense of connection to the tools, the tasks the tools are performing, and the outcomes.
While many organisations across Australia are still understanding what RPA can deliver in finance, with Telstra’s confidence to be an early adopter, coupled with KPMG’s insight and experience, it was possible to be a pioneer, harness the benefits and plan how to scale the capability.
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