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Robots – don’t fear them, use them

  • René Koets, Partner |

We live in a new business era of intelligent automation (IA). This first article in our new series discusses how you can use IA to transform your business. Understand how IA is changing the rules of the game and what is required of us to play along. Work with your employees to utilize technology to become a transformative business.

Changing the game: IA and our new business era

IA is revolutionizing the way we do business. Interactions between humans are changing. The integration of systems and applications is becoming quicker and less complex. And collaboration between humans and machines is improving thanks to new interfaces such as digital platforms that seamlessly integrate handovers between humans and machines; technologies such as chatbots on Skype and Facebook Messenger; and voice-bots such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s HomePod. In short, technology has moved closer to your business. Improvements can be driven through close collaboration between your business’s departments and the IT function – such as to reduce end-to-end process costs, improve data quality and apply machine learning to predict and act on trends such as customer churn and fraud.

We are talking about the transformation and automation of processes – from rules-based processes to those that require reasoning – through a combination of tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), machine learning and chat / voice-bots.

This is an exciting time. Advances in IA tools are reducing the cost of entire end-to-end processes by more than 70 percent. Automating the administrative tasks in employee onboarding, retrieving data and controlling it in financial reconciliation processes, for instance, while improving the output of processes to deliver greater speed, accuracy, quality and control.

Simple IA tools such as Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can mimic simple human actions. The most advanced IA solutions can meanwhile compute enormous datasets, perceive and understand images, and interact naturally with humans.

We see first hand the benefits of augmenting human knowledge and capabilities with IA tools, enabling businesses to transform functions and even entire organizations. Among the wide range of advantages is the freeing up of employees so they can focus on value-adding processes and have time to develop innovative insights that drive your business forward.

How to transform with IA

Recent years have seen a major focus on using Lean to optimize human-oriented processes – working smarter not harder. In particular, it is moving the focus away from human optimization to IA optimization. This is important because processes that are optimized for humans do not necessarily correspond to being best for IA. When onboarding a new customer, for example, the human brain is not capable of comprehending and remembering multiple data points (name of customer, age, social security number etc.). This means they tab back and forth between systems or print out all the data to flip through it, one customer at a time. Under IA the process is very different as it can store multiple data points, collect the data input from the beginning, and run through the customers in bundles.

When re-engineering processes for IA optimization, the focus should be on outputs rather than individual process steps, as IA already achieves many of the benefits such as speed, efficiency and quality that are prone to Lean, for example. The emphasis needs to be on achieving the same output as before, and preferably more, to change optimization from a cost-cutting to a revenue-generating exercise. Utilizing IA with an end-to-end focus can also help you move away from only applying IA in pockets of your business and not having a standardized approach. The risk of having a sub-optimizing approach (not end-to-end) is that workload is simply moved from one person/team to another person/team without being aware of it.

Take the debt collection process as an example. If it is automated in such a way that IA identifies customers with delayed payments and emails the customer in larger volumes than humans could in a specific timeframe, there is a risk that a large number of customers would call the call center to explain their delayed payments. The call center is not necessarily geared to this volume without prior knowledge of the automation. The result could be a poor customer experience and increased call center workloads.

The framework on the left describes an organization’s IA progress along a continuum from static to incremental, disruptive and transformative. At the center of the framework is the transformation of the organization’s core operating models, such as by utilizing a mix of existing data and new data sources (external and internal) as part of the overall IA design and implementation.

Five principles to realize IA benefits

Take advantage of the breadth of technology and realize IA benefits more quickly by:

  1. Adopting an end-to-end focus in leading IA implementation. Collaboration between the business and IT is crucial;
  2. Using RPA to achieve greater productivity and as a stepping stone for enhanced process and cognitive automation;
  3. Having a transformative mindset that enables the Expontential Organization (ExO): ‘start small, think big and scale rapidly’ by learning through experiments (both successful and failed);
  4. Developing an internal automation capability to sustain progress, support external vendors with internal knowledge and continuously challenge the technology status quo;
  5. Achieving new degrees of benefits by changing the focus from human optimization to IA optimization.

Coming soon: We will look at the impact of implementing IA in a business. Implementation is more than just technological change – it is a transformation of your organization and employee mindsets.