Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has fueled industry concerns about job security and the future of the human workforce. These concerns make good headlines, but the focus on the automation of existing processes may be misplaced. The Business Process Management (BPM) industry has done a great job pushing RPA and they’ve succeeded in breathing new energy into what was a slowing software space. While I’m happy with the increased focus on efficiency through automation, RPA might not ultimately be the technology that gets us there.
If you are automating your current manual processes using RPA, you may be missing the opportunity for innovation.
Every industry is being transformed by technology, and how enterprises re-invent themselves is crucial to their success. Back in the 90’s, Amazon formed a vision for how retail should work, and that focus was on operational efficiencies. Yet, Jeff Bezos didn’t focus on mechanical cashiers or robots to replenish store shelves. Instead, he completely rewrote the rules and put the consumer experience first. To drive revenue, he focused on what customers wanted: to buy quality products for less money and receive products as fast as possible. He rebuilt the entire retail process using automation to meet this goal.
The same will be true of the next generation of automation for industries like financial services, insurance, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and government services. If you are currently running a manual set of processes (typically in the back and middle office) and you are considering Robotic Process Automation to help streamline them, you may be missing an opportunity to innovate the next generation of business. Automating existing manual work through clicks, client emulation, and human like workflows using bots is just streamlining an outdated process. Instead, organizations should be working to re-invent how their business works.
Teams will become more efficient as the technology supporting them becomes more interactive and automated.
We’ve become used to highly-personalized customer experiences for shopping, ordering a ride or playing a movie. Successful companies are also starting to provide this level of customer experience to their internal processes their employees rely on every day. Whether you’re asking for a sales report, making decisions about how to deploy capital or optimizing product pricing, the entire organization will increasingly become self-serve as the processes that are used to support the business become more interactive, real-time, and automated.
This perspective may seem idealistic as companies scramble to squeeze efficiencies from existing processes, but the incremental automation approach prescribed by RPA may be throwing good money at bad processes. Instead of replicating the clicks, data transfers, and email responses of your current processes, look at the goal each business process is trying to achieve and focus on creating intelligent services that cut out manual steps and makes the old process obsolete. For example, instead of automating email responses to customer inquiries, build an intelligent service that gives your customer direct access to the data they need. Instead of automating the collection of sales and revenue projections from your business units, create an intelligent application that allows teams to define their own performance algorithms that provide up-to-date projections to both the team and the enterprise.
Don’t just automate, create more intelligent processes that deliver better results.
Intelligent Automation (IA) is an emerging term in the automation space. In some cases, this term has been applied as a solution to the shortcomings of early RPA projects (I can’t anticipate every situation my cashier encounters, so we’ll add AI and make the cashier bot smarter). This promise is a fallacy – we can’t yet create AI bots who can think as creatively as your average cashier. A better application of Intelligent Automation is to re-invent business processes so that type of exception thinking isn’t required because the new processes are more intelligent from the ground up. Give your customer clear choices, with instant feedback from the choices they make. Avoid the second-guessing and exception processing inherent in our current human focused workflows. Eliminate the secondary processes entirely by making decisions and outcomes instant for your customers (like buying on Amazon).
With automation, humans will not become obsolete, but they will have a lot more time to innovate.
Companies who are able to re-invent how they operate from the ground up using Intelligent Automation represent the future. We see it with start-ups who are able to create a better consumer experience (in financial services, insurance and retail), but most of these companies have yet to deal with the operational, financial and regulatory complexities of running a multi-billion-dollar company. There is an opportunity for established organizations to become bolder in their ‘intelligent re-engineering’ where their old processes aren’t automated, they’re completely eliminated. In the next generation of business, services, operations and financial reporting will be delivered as more intelligent real-time services and humans will not be obsolete, but they will have a lot more time to innovate.