Digital Labor and RPA: Part 3 in our services on RPA benefits and better practices

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

Key steps to a Successful RPA Implementation

In June 2017 , the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA-AI) conducted a study of business technology leaders in more than 22 industries and 40 countries, which showed that digital automation has become part of almost every process and industry in the world.

But where—and how—does RPA fit into this? While RPA can drive a lot of process efficiencies and cost savings, it also can be a huge financial undertaking that requires a lot of change management.

So, how can your organization be sure it’s implementing RPA where it will be most beneficial to the bottom line instead of just using technology for technology’s sake?

In this third post of the three-part blog series on RPA, we are going to talk about how businesses can ensure a successful RPA implementation and what to consider prior to rollout.

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Making RPA work right: Identifying the right processes for RPA

The IRPA-AI survey noted that the processes most ripe for RPA are typically in shared services organizations – areas where there’s a lot of repetition and well-defined processes but also a lot of human intervention.

Surveyed companies specifically called out financial processes as the most common processes they planned to automate in the future. RPA can help improve financial processes by automating expense receipts, collections, approval workflows and some standard reporting.

The second most common area prime for RPA mentioned in the survey is Human Resources (HR). RPA can enable HR staff to rapidly track timesheets, store documents, calculate benefits, and issue on-boarding information to employees. 

Finally, the survey also mentioned procurement as another target area for RPA influence. The automated approval of requisitions and invoice processing can significantly help reduce human intervention in procurement processes. Not only can organizations reduce costs and gain efficiencies by using RPA for procurement, but they also can improve the vendor management process with more communication and better expected planning.

RPA priorities: Narrowing the field

There are other areas in which RPA can fit as well, including high-volume and high-frequency activities, repetitive, transactional activities, data-intensive activities, rule-based activities (interrogation of data, tax and compliance), tasks that pull data from disparate systems, and activities with standardization opportunities.

While there’s a host of processes that could benefit from RPA, organizations should evaluate them each separately to determine how they can ensure a successful implementation for each one.   Before diving in and making any RPA project a reality, consider these suggestions:

  • Define “transformation” before thinking about the tools. Technology does not solve the problem. It’s the vehicle to get you to the solution. Would you select building materials before designing the house?
  • Define automation objectives – e.g. headcount cost reduction, improving productivity, accelerating financial reporting cycles, redeploying resources to higher-value activities, enabling the organization to bring roles back onshore while maintaining an efficient cost structure, or improving compliance and controls.
  • Establish the right governance. To accelerate transformation, an organization will need to expand automation in a managed and thoughtful manner and not just as a series of separate projects. With this in mind, it is useful to plan and work in concert with business-led, end-to-end process improvement initiatives.
  • Plan for transformation. Change Management is key for any RPA implementation. Considerations should include changes to job design, roles, capabilities and skills required.
  • Conduct a pilot to demonstrate and prove out your RPA thesis of value.   This can be helpful for understanding the effort required to program and run the tool and the impact on resources.

Alignment and sponsorship: gaining executive—and employee--buy-in for the RPA journey

 Once your organization has begun a RPA implementation, it’s essential to show ROI beyond cost savings to ensure you gain buy-in from both executives and employees for future projects.

You can do so by identifying and quantifying opportunities for how RPA can be used in revenue-generating activities in addition to cost-saving or compliance activities. Don't just focus on RPA’s ability to reduce labor costs as its only benefit. Carefully set expectations of what the tools can do and how your organization can use them to support automation in an overall digital transformation strategy.

You also can identify other processes that touch multiple systems across the enterprise that could benefit from a nonintrusive approach to automation. Evaluate RPA opportunities where you have people acting as "swivel chair integration" — rekeying data between systems — and where they’re performing work that involves structured, digitalized data processed by predefined rules. This analysis forms the basis for your enterprise automation roadmap.

Lastly, identify alternative existing tools or services which have most of your required functionality at a suitable price point and evaluate these solutions in parallel with RPA, or as a hybrid solution. Also keep an eye on future artificial-intelligence-based options to ensure your organization chooses the right technology for each future automation project! 

 

As always, please reach out if you have questions, comments or concerns about RPA. We appreciate your feedback!   

5 Practical Insights to achieve Digital Business

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Making a digital difference for companies ready to skip the hype.

Sitting down this week with CEO Rob McGillen, founder of Practically Digital, we ask his insights that business leaders should understand on digital business and transformation. 

"Digital means something different to every person, and every company" observes Rob McGillen.   "Many times, tech companies and consulting firms are sharing digital visions about the future 3 years from now - without any clarity on what you can do now to get to that future.     

We see it differently.  Working across industries, we sense clear business trends and digital investments that make a major difference.  That is what we focus on with our clients - finding better choices and helping them on the digital journey now."

2 years on, business is growing rapidly for Practically Digital.  Part of the growth success is the intentional focus of Practically Digital's services: 

Practically Digital: Focusing on digitizing the business processes that matter

Practically Digital: Focusing on digitizing the business processes that matter

"Many companies are daunted by digital 'moonshots' which take years and millions to achieve.  These big bets are risky and impact growth. " shares Rob.  "Our focus at Practically Digital is to help digitize the common business practices all companies face.   

This approach helps build confidence, delivers incremental value quickly, develops change skills on digital business, and establish a 'digital first' eco-system for the business.   When everyone is thinking and working digital - it is much easier to go for the moon, and much less cost and time."

 

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the top trends in digital business that make the difference

Looking across all of the clients and talking with hundreds of business leaders, we see the following 5 trends making a difference:

1) Stay hyper focused on the digital / real world customer.  The customer experience remains key, and needs to be continuously aligned with.   Journey mapping the customer experience (B2B or B2C) across your real world and digital touch points with your brand and service / solutions makes a major difference as you adopt digital solutions.  Bring those touch points and insights back to a cloud based CRM / relationship system.    

2) Digital Sales Enablement is the secret weapon to digital growth.  Digital marketing and social media are 'table stakes' activities - you need to do it, your brand absolutely needs the visibility, and- it has become a commodity.   Digital Sales Enablement - integration of 'facilitated sales platforms' and CRM solutions is becoming the major capability that companies can leverage to increase sales and growth.    

3) Artificial Intelligence has reached a maturity stage, where smaller players who are specializing and partnering.  You will see A.I. embedded in over 1/3 of your products and platforms in the the course of the next 24 months.   It is now found in part on chips in the newest iPhones, and more importantly - the cloud-enabled platforms are embedding and making possible for customer service, sales support and analytics, relationship builds with customers, and even tailored customer intake processes.  

4) Robotic process automation (RPA) is ready for the prime time.  As more companies are struggling with outsourcing (either visas, quality, or contract renewals) - the alternative that is now commercially viable is RPA.  Over 20 solution providers now exist in this space, and you will see the major consulting companies and outsourcing / system integrators will be offering this as a strong / lower cost alternative to the traditional BPO / ITO solution.  Get ahead on this curve and decide which makes sense for your company.   

5) Digital collaboration platforms (with video and content targeting and sharing)  that work on mobile are becoming a major supercharger for corporate speed and decision making, and engaging field / remote team members with a core corporate center.  We are finding companies who leverage these new generation are finally making a difference in the area of collaboration.   

 

A final insight from Rob McGillen. "These 5 digital activities are not hard efforts to rapidly prototype and bring online if a company is ready to make the journey.  The right thing to do is tackle one or more of these initiates together that enhance the collective value to the company. 

If you want to engage the customer better - focus on Sales, Marketing, transactions.  If you want to improve efficiency and growth within - collaboration and video engagement are great choices.   It depends on your business goals now and next. 

The key point is 'don't wait' for the digital moonshot opportunity.  Be practical and get moving! "

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To learn how Practically Digital can help your company on digital transformation and capabilities you might consider, get in touch!

Digital Labor and RPA: Part 2 in our series on robotic process automation

By Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

By Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net)

In our first blog post on RPA, we defined what Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is and provided some examples.    In this second post of the three-part series, we will explain why RPA is important regardless of your role in an organization, and how it will significantly impact employees and processes going forward.

RPA vs. outsourcing – the benefits and the gains

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While robotic process automation is touted as a solution to many inefficiencies, in practicality RPA is an iteration of companies seeking to increase efficiency and reduce costs in various roles and processes within their organization.    

Over the past decade, many businesses have tried to achieve cost minimization and improved efficiency of capital and labor by employing offshore capabilities. While some gain is achieved when done well, offshoring creates various communications issues because of language, culture and time-zone differences, often resulting in an increased number of hours—and costs--to get the same amount of work accomplished.

To combat the hidden offshoring costs, some organizations have tried to make offshore processes as specific, static and repeatable as possible.  This approach increases efficiency certainly, though limits upside growth and scale of such a capability.  In contrast, with RPA, companies gain the benefits of scale and growth, plus the efficiencies possible (but rarely achieved) with offshoring or outsourcing efforts.   

The benefits of RPA

RPA - Taking the error, inefficiency, and complexity out of frequent tasks

RPA - Taking the error, inefficiency, and complexity out of frequent tasks

So who gains in the adoption of RPA?   In an interesting twist, outsourcing companies are often the ones leading the movement to RPA because they foresee the efficiency gains that can be achieved by moving to less labor-intensive processes, and less costly remediation efforts on projects or services which are already in place.  

The value of RPA is certainly not limited to companies that have outsourced their efforts for a specific process. The benefits that RPA can bring to any organization include:

Cost Reduction: Automating manual, menial, repetitive tasks that follow a consistent, logical flow can reduce the need for costly human intervention.
Performance Improvement: Allowing RPA to execute on linear tasks with high accuracy, speed and quality can improve quality assurance.
Risk Mitigation: There’s less risk associated with decreased reliance on outsourcing partners.
Increased Innovation: Allowing employees to focus on more innovative and creative projects and tasks can lead to increased thought leadership.
Workforce Flexibility: Using RPA can help mitigate against the decreasing access to white collar labor as baby boomers continue to retire.

How does RPA benefit your employees?

RPA allows the humans to focus on the creative, decision, and growth priorities.  

RPA allows the humans to focus on the creative, decision, and growth priorities.  

If you’re a worker and not a decision maker, RPA can still be beneficial to you because it removes the repetitive, administrative work that you’re currently doing. And let’s be frank…you don’t like to do that stuff anyway and you mostly likely aren’t valued for it.

RPA will allow employees to focus more on analyzing data and complex decision making, instead of just completing the processes involved in it. And that change will significantly increase a person's value to any organization.

RPA can offer various benefits from the enterprise level all the way down to the employee level by automating tasks and processes that are repetitive and consistent. It can reduce costs, improve consistency (and therefore reduce errors in processing), and potentially provide a better engaging experience for the end customer because these processes now can be done 24x7. 

Stay tuned for Blog 3: Making the RPA investment a success

Digital Labor and RPA: Part 1 in our series on the benefits of robotic process automation

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net) 

Blog post by Don Sweeney (don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net) 

Digital Labor.  Artificial intelligence.  Robotic process automation.  Lately there is a lot to talk about the potentials for digital labor, and the benefits of automation in all companies.   While moon shots like cognitive computing / platforms require heavier investments of time and capital, there are easier and faster ways to generate digital labor benefits.   Specifically, a strong first step is through the use of robotic process automation.   

To help clarify the how and where, we wanted to create a multi-part blog to bring more awareness to the topic and cut through a lot of the noise that is out there.  This first post is defining what is RPA since there are a lot of items that sometimes fall into the overall bucket of RPA.  Our next installment will be why RPA is important and why it matters to you.  Finally, we will  provide steps to focus on for a successful implementation.  

So, what is RPA?

The Institute for RPA and AI  defines Robotic process automation (RPA) as “the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.”  So what does that mean?  Simply put, RPA is the automation of a process (or processes) that will remove or reduce the human intervention in that process. 

This can be as simple as removing the redundancy of re-entering data in multiple systems or removing the frequently updated items based on simple logic.  Overall, the benefit of RPA is to reduce the manual intervention in repetitive, routine tasks within a process flow and automate it so it is accurate and predictable going forward but also to free up the human intervention for more significant tasks like analyzing and interpreting the data.

RPA seems to be the next iteration of how organizations have focused on technology improvement.  In the late 80s and though out the 90s and 2000s, organizations implemented enterprise software.

The original goals for implementing enterprise software were to A) improve processes with the “built in” best practices and B) have consistent, accurate data that was integrated with other parts of the organization.  For instance, vendor setup was shared with the purchasing application and accounts payable application – thus limiting the redundant data management in both applications. This was the argument for Enterprise ERP or HCM solutions. 

Cloud computing makes a difference with RPA.  For the last couple years, organizations have been moving their enterprise software to the cloud.  This provides the value of having someone else support the software as organizations realized how cumbersome and costly supporting large enterprise applications can become.  RPA becomes the next iteration of the organization’s focus where an entire process flow becomes seamlessly integrated and can require little or no manual intervention. 

My good friend Paula shares an example on this transformation in the telecommunications industry.   Many years ago, if you wanted to call someone you would call the operator and explain to that person who you wanted to call. They would manually connect your line to the destination’s line (sometimes requiring many operators to get involved if the call was of a significant distance).  You could not call someone without the manual intervention of the operator.  Eventually, the telephone systems were all automated and now you simply dial the number you want and it is connected with no manual intervention.  This is significantly more efficient and cost effective as the use of the telephone exponentially grew. This is the same as RPA, but on organizational processes, in real time.

RPA can include “bots”, which are small pieces of a process that are now automated.  An example would be where an organization that automated the process of answering questions for their staff on how much vacation time they had left or questions about their insurance information.  This “bot” (short for robot) would know the identity of the person asking the question based on their active directory authentication when they logged into the network. 

The employee could ask this Human Resources Bot what amount of vacation they had left and it would go and query the HR database for the balance and display their current balance as well as when the last time they took vacation.  It could also answer simple questions like the contact information for their benefits insurance provider or what benefit plans they were signed up for.  All of this minimized the impact of the internal HR team to answer routine questions and allow the staff to work on more important tasks – yet still answering the questions that the employees needed answered. 

RPA is not new, the capabilities to drive enterprise adoption are.  RPA has actually been around for about 10 years already, but has significantly picked up steam in the last 12-18 months.  It is commonly perceived to be the first stage on the evolution of automation and artificial intelligence.  Those stages are:

·       Robotic Process Automation

·       Autonomics (automation augmented by humans)

·       Cognitive Computing (end to end automation with human oversight)

·       Artificial Intelligence (fully automated with computers “learning” by analyzing trends in repeated processes over large numbers of transactions)

We will address the items on the “A.I. Spectrum” in future blogs where intelligent automation services blurs the lines between RPA and A.I.  In the next blog we will address in more detail RPA and why this is important to you and your organization. 

About the author:

Don Sweeney has over two decades experience as a technology consultant and digital visionary, working with companies to automate business processes with digital solutions, including robotic process automation platforms.   Don has worked at global organizations like Andersen Consulting, Oracle, and most recently at Emtec to enable companies in their digital journey.  Don can be reached at don.sweeney@practicallydigital.net 

Digital video: the next frontier of digital engagement

Live video.  Video blogs.  Video everything.  The brave new world of video engagement is here.  Combined with collaboration technologies like Facebook Workplace or Salesforce Community Cloud, the ability to connect, collaborate, and share knowledge is reaching a new level of digital engagement. The question is, are you ready to leverage effectively?    
 
Video on the Internet is far from new.   Video streaming has been in our lives pervasively now for nearly a decade, and on our mobile devices in the past five years more often.  

What is new is the commercial ability to integrate, embed, and engage your audience in effective ways.  A major change in the business universe is thelaunch this month of live streaming video on LinkedIn.  Taking a queue from Facebook, the ability to stream video messages to your subscribers will soon occupy more of our business networking real estate.  

We tried it ourselves this month. The video promotion for Practically Digital above  is a good example of how easy, and effective the outcome can be.  Utilizing a handful of technologies and $150 in licensed content, we engaged thousands of people.  We had dozens follow up with a query, and several new client leads were generated. 
 
Video is more than advertising though.   Guided video sales is a new experience as well.  As part of our sales proposals, we deliver a client portal and include a guided video outlining the opportunity.  The extra level of experience both demonstrates digital value and differentiates. 

Video is collaboration.  Starbucks utilizes the Facebook Workplace platform and streaming Live video to engage store managers throughout the US weekly.  This provides real time engagement from the CEO to the unit manager - a major difference in management.   

Curious to learn what options exist for better video engagement?  Get in touch and we can share the better practices to differentiate your business!