Cognitive

From RPA to Cognitive Computing: Finding the right robot for the job

Artificial Intelligence. Digital Labor. And Robotic process automation. Finding the right answer for your business. (1).png

Digital Labor.  Artificial Intelligence.  Cognitive Computing.  Robotic Process automation (RPA). The possibilities of new A.I. business model are increasing by the month, as is the hype.  Finding the right platform, adoption process, and long term value can be a challenging journey.

Insights on what works and why are becoming more clear, and sharable.  Earlier this month, I participated in a panel on robotic process automation and cognitive computing sharing such experiences, as part of the DePaul University Digital Innovation conference. I was joined by several business leaders with deep practical experience, including Dwayne Prosko from Deloitte, John Stiber from Mondelez International, and Steven Pyke from W.W. Grainger.  The panel discussion was wide-ranging, and provided the assembled audience much to consider with the challenges and benefits of digital automation.  

6 key insights from the panel discussion included:  

  1. Automation, of any sort - is a process transformation before it is anything else. Realize you need to focus on the process(es) you wish to change, understand the why (business and mechanical), consider the human factors (job / performance changes and differences in work ‘speed’), and evaluate which platform(s) help achieve the business / process goals. Do not start with an automation 'hammer' and look for 'business problem nails' to hit.
  2. There are many layers (and complexities) to digital automation.  While the business process itself may jump off the page needing to be improved - deeper thought on the underlying systems, processes, and connective tissue of a business function need thought.  Something as simple as a Windows software patch, normally done without thought to the impact in a company - can completely disrupt the performance of an automated platform that is handling thousands of returns an hour. Third parties are also bringing their own automation tools to the table now - consider how your automation solution will interface with third parties for joint automation (e.g. procure to pay, or payroll processing / outsourcing). You might be surprised which platforms do and do not work well together.
  3. Digital automation does not mean digitally unattended.  The ability to automate a business process or event does not preclude the need for human supervision.  Sampling for accuracy in the automation, review of exceptions, and performance tuning are all part of the journey of digital automation. Ensure you have a clear vision who will be 'managing the digital labor / platform' (both from IT and from the business) as part of your change journey. And be ready for surprising adjustments / changes to the situation as you accelerate the pace of performance.
  4. Crawl, Walk, Run, then Fly.  Many times, businesses respond to the hype that can proceed a digital automation investment. The better advice - be clear on the why, take it at pace and go patiently forward. Focus on a single function / department business process change you want to transform as a starting point to prove out the benefits, and increase organizational buy in. Learn how the business responses to faster, increased accuracy, or differences in efficiency. Ensure your culture can sustain the change and grow on the knowledge gained from the automation experience (vs. rebel and resist - see the next point).  
  5. Human / cultural alignment is key to success. Putting a human face on the automation process increases the acceptance and utilization / leverage of digital automation in a business.  Something as simple as ‘naming’ the automated platform, including in work schedules, and ensure team members who are working with the digital colleague’ understand the ‘why’ and the ‘WIFM’ - improve the chances of cultural adoption long term.   If you do not address - myths and worries will manifest around the 'real reasons' for the automation change- something which can become difficult to overcome in a culture that relies on the automation process.
  6. The idiom - “Horses for courses” certainly applies to digital automation.  A key insights agreed: No A.I. platform can do it all in the area of digital automation. Companies are now finding that ‘moonshot’ A.I. programs that focus on becoming a digital game-changer can quickly miss the value target (and revenue / ROI expectation) if implemented in an eco-system or scenario that fails to integrate the digital automation itself.    

And last - a better automation model:

Consider having a 'automation eco-system' vs. a singular platform. Instead of relying on a singular answer - consider how you can optimize the benefits of multiple platforms to your digital advantage (and do this over time, learning and absorbing in your culture).

An automation eco-system model: an RPA solution gathering normalized data and performing entry / validations at record speed, a digital autonomics platformevaluating and managing exceptions and acts as an ‘engagement agent’ to support high volume customer interactions, while a cognitive computing solution provides analytics, guidance, and exception ideation that helps surface new value in the business.

Leveraging these insights above, achieving a digital automation platform (or eco-system) for your company can be a smoother transformation in the digital world. Focusing on process, the change journey (and the human factors), and finding the right digital 'horses for courses' will improve your chances for digital success!

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