Did you know that enterprises spent more than $2.3Bn on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in FY19 alone?
Automation is a phenomenon that is taking businesses by storm and is at the epicenter of digital disruption. With organizations hurriedly jumping on to the automation bandwagon, for the fear of missing the bus, the question to be asked is, ‘What are the key aspects that are to be factored in while considering automation?’. Here is a panel of experts who shared insights on their Automation implementation journey – the intent of automation, the approaches adopted, and the benefits reaped at Zinnov’s Intelligent Automation Conference, 2019.
The panel comprised of Asif Khan, Head – Global Automation Accelerator, Fidelity; Prakash Mall, Senior Director, Target; Randhir Bindra, Director, Dell EMC; Subaya Aiyappa, RPA Lead, Honeywell Finance; moderated by Siddharth Gandhi, General Manager, HCL.
Siddharth: Why was it important for your organization to think of automation? What was the starting point of your Automation journeys?
Asif: The starting point of our Automation journey was cost and efficiency. Being a financial services company, we deal with customers’ money. So, our key drivers for automation were to become digital and offer uncompromised customer experience. We evolved as we took a holistic approach to automation and started looking at the bigger picture as to where we are headed as a company.
Randhir: Interestingly for us, the driver was not cost, efficiency, or productivity. It was not a mandate from the corner office either. We are a professional services business, and we have a team of product managers, design experts, and implementation engineers. For us, the biggest KPI apart from revenues and margins is customer satisfaction (CSAT). We were struggling with achieving good CSAT scores. Pilots indicated that there was an increase in CSAT when the customers are well engaged with. However, our project managers were not able to spend enough time and engage with our clients. So, the question was, “How do we give our army of project managers enough time to engage with our clients?” One option was to extend their working hours – which was not a scalable option. The second option was to reduce the overheads, and admin-related tasks, which typically in a large corporation like ours, eat up a lot of time of our frontline resources.
The idea was to eliminate a few mundane tasks, free the bandwidth of our project managers, enabling them to spend time with our customers. This made us think of automation.
Siddharth: After the decision to automate has been taken, what do you do next?
Subaya: We made sure that RPA was a part of our strategic initiatives, by getting on board our Strategy & Innovation team. We started off with our initiatives in waves – Wave 1, Wave 2, etc. with one of our partners. Our business team identified the opportunities and ensured the pipeline was loaded. When it comes to design, our transformation team partners with the business, and designs the whole process, after which it is handed over to the Center of Excellence (CoE). As far as the cost-productivity-efficiency play is concerned, we understood from our Chief Financial Officer (CFO) that he was primarily looking at factors such as Controls & Compliance, Working Capital, Costs, etc. What interests him is how do we leverage data and the power of a product to augment the working capital. So, we changed the approach to automation, accordingly.
Prakash: In Target, the business is seasonal – For example a Diwali in India or a Thanksgiving Day in the US. On a normal day, say we receive 100,000 orders, while on a day like a Sale Day we might receive 1 Million or even 10 Million orders. Think about the processes that happen in the backend – the Packaging, Merchandising, Placement, Shipment, etc. An army of people works behind the scene. This scenario made us think about automation. We were figuring out where to start our journey of automation. The first challenge was to prove the value of automation. We built the platform ourselves. We picked a use case in Finance, built the platform in three months, went live, and showed the results to our Business leaders and Technology leaders. That is how our journey started. It has been 2.5 years now and today we have products in the RPA space, conversational interface space, etc. We have expanded across the organization, cutting across multiple businesses. The whole organization works in a product model now. We run our own Accelerator programs that help us collaborate with start-ups and build specific capabilities in our products.
Siddharth: Why did you decide to build everything in-house?
Prakash: It was the time-to-market factor that played a critical role in our decision to build the automation platform in-house. Building the platform in-house gave us the capability and flexibility to customize it according to our business requirements.
Siddharth: What is the scale of execution of automation in your organization? What kind of resources were you looking at when you were building the team?
Subaya: When we started off three years ago, we started with ten pilot processes. When we launched the first couple of processes and started visiting clients, we understood that companies were churning hundreds of bots and we were nowhere close. Speaking of team composition, we have the head who is part of Honeywell, and the Program Managers, CoE leads, the Transformation people, who are all part of the internal team. The resources for the execution wing which comprise of developers and Solution Architects are outsourced. We operate in a hybrid model that gives us the flexibility to scale up and down.
Asif: From an RPA standpoint, we operate in a Federated model. As our automation journey evolved, we added the component of external consultants. They were a group of people who understood the current scenario, the problem statement and figured out the right approach to solve it. When we look at an opportunity, the first point to deliver Straight Through Processing (STP) is technology investments. But everything is not 100% STP in tech, thereby leaving a space for automation. We then try to figure out the best way to bridge the gap. To understand this better, we added the consulting component to our journey. The consulting was done in-house, because it required the context of the business, knowledge of guardrails, etc. We have around 200 automated processes, globally. The business decides the processes to be automated and consulting component analyses if it is pursuable.
Siddharth: We got to hear the experiences of the experts from a technology implementation standpoint. Can you talk about the Business side of the automation journey?
Randhir: It is important that the Subject Matter Experts are from the business. The business knows the processes well, understands the processes that require a human touch and the ones where the bots can do the job. The thoughts of the business are then converted into a workable model, on which the automation delivery team starts coding. We have an automation COE with the expertise to tell us about the processes that can be automated, and the ones that cannot be. The business contributes to this phase. For example, we as a business decided that we don’t want a bot to interact with our end customer.
Siddharth: What are the Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to the implementation of automation?
Prakash: From our experiences, we have identified a few Do’s and Don’ts in Automation Implementation. They are:
So, the learning was to find all the stakeholders and engage with them from the beginning.
Siddharth: Can you share your views and experiences on the Myths vs. Reality in Automation Implementation?
Subaya: One myth is that it is an As-Is process that is being automated, it is mere mimicking of the user actions, and it will get done seamlessly. No. It is extremely critical to factor in security and compliance, and ask yourself simple questions like, ‘How do you assign access to a bot id?’, ‘Who owns the Bot id?’, etc.
Randhir: One of the biggest myths is with respect to the P (Process) in RPA. To implement automation, process reengineering has to happen at a large scale considering the legacy systems and applications that are in use. So, we end up automating tasks instead of processes.
Siddharth: Talk about the benefits that your organization has seen through the implementation of automation.
Subaya: Some of the benefits that we have seen are:
We have tracked tangible benefits in the implementation of automation.
Asif: I agree. A benefit incurred from pursuing automation that is agnostic to platforms or technologies is the scope to try various approaches to automation – automation beyond transaction processing.
Randhir: We started with a clearly defined KPI – ‘How do we achieve increased customer satisfaction?’. 12 – 14 months into our automation journey, our CSAT clearly went up (From the 80s to somewhere into the 90s). That is the clear, tangible outcome that we achieved through automation.
Prakash: Adding on to the benefits mentioned by the others, an increase in accuracy was another outcome we achieved through automation. In a human-based process, the accuracy lies between 90-93%, but in a bot-based process, the accuracy is around 98%. Another benefit is the flexibility to scale up and down based on the requirements, given that our business is of a seasonal nature.
What is clear from the panel discussion is that there is no one right way to implement automation. We had representatives from four organizations who had adopted four different approaches to implementing automation but are happy with the outcomes achieved, like increased customer satisfaction, or enhanced employee experience. Bill Gates once said, “Automation applied to an inefficient operation, will magnify the inefficiency.” Therefore, it is critical to identify the right process to be automated, define the value intended to be delivered through automating the process, and decide on the automation implementation model accordingly – be it a Hybrid model, Outsourcing model, or building it in-house.