When soft robots are at work in the BPOs

Traditional improvements methods are all good but service providers have scraped the bottom. Customers want beyond 10-15% cost and performance benefits, to which we found the answer in Robotics –non-invasive software technology to quickly increase efficiencies from business processes.

Some things have changed: It’s a wake up call for the Service Provider world

This section would have ideally had me talking about how things are changing for our customers and why must they adapt to change, in an ‘adapt or perish’ tone. But for a change, this is really about us service providers adapting to a changing trend. Yes, that is right, the alarm just went off on us.

A quick recap of how the BPO industry has progressed in the last 15 years – BPO 1.0 was about pure offshoring and labor arbitrage based benefits; followed by BPO 2.0 that was about transformation through process harmonization, innovation, and evolving options of business models. BPO 3.0 today is about technology play for improved costs and efficiencies. And, what did BPO 3.0 do to us? Well, it had our back against the wall, literally.

Most of the engagement models which had a list of benefits on a 10-15 year window had begun to decline. We had seized to impress customers with the 10-15% efficiency gains and cost benefits from traditional improvement methods. These declining benefits became a natural ceiling to performance management and we simply had to bring in noticeable efficiency and cost improvements. Cost savings for all the right reasons stays paramount for any customer and they want more than the 10-15% benefits that we were good to pass on, until a year ago. With all options being maxed out, it got worse when process changes were introduced as they caused further decline in benefits.

When we looked around to see what could set us sailing, it was ‘Automation’. Automation isn’t new, it’s been around for a while. But pushing the envelope had the answer to getting right back on the horse. Call it Robotics, call it Robotic process automation (RPA), but do not miss out on what it can do for you. Leave the ‘how’ to the experts. As much as it’s a boon for service providers, it’s an equal blessing for all industries.

What’s in it for you?

‘Quick and dirty’ does it for most occasions where you are looking for a quick turn-around and need solid numbers to tell your story. But this time around, RPA gives you a ‘Quick and clean’ answer, and above all it’s non-intrusive. It’s a new and a great way to quick change. You can look at it as a short term method for adding immediate business benefits to automate a business process for increased efficiencies, or look at it as an aid to a larger change initiative. Either way its contribution to your life comes in the form of:
-Eliminating costly system integration through quick deployment window, reduced capex by avoiding heavy duty IT integration, and a non-intrusive method of collaborating with your existing systems
-Eliminating non-value add activities through business rules based repetitive tasks and zero-touch, end-to-end processing
-Automating for productivity improvements in a 24×7 window providing high accuracy due to right first time, high speed compared to manual processing and high scalability

The key to making the most of these three opportunities lies in an intelligent design framework that will hold all the aces. A framework that will pay due attention to process harmonization, redesigning of team structure, providing a case management tool, standardizing input, providing ongoing support and managing the flow.

Managing the nuts and bolts: Design holds the clue

Plonking a robot on the desk and ordering it to do the mundane repetitive tasks that processing advisors carry out would have been ideal, but unfortunately that’s not an option. Robotics in BPO is about making alterations in the traditional processing ecosystem. As much as it holds a quick fix to our immediate problems, it cannot be looked at as a mere point tool. It’s about the approach you take towards milking the concept – a framework. It’s about doing certain things in sequence in a well-designed manner to make way for robots:

1) Process Harmonization – an input system that allow smooth functioning of the robots
2) Role redefinition – to accommodate people with higher skills who will differentiate their work from the regular and repetitive tasks that will now be handed over to the robots
3) Deploying Control room – for monitoring and control in real time
4) Standardizing input – through the journey so robots knows what to pick up and process
5) Set up an ongoing maintenance structure for change management
6) Defining the seamless flow of every transaction

A few other things that will further work in your favor include a control system built within an Order Provisioning Platform that will manage the performance of a robot and building reusability in a cognitive model to aid decision making, and accrue learnings such that a robot knows when and how to call for assistance. Getting all of these right and in perfect timing can be challenging, but an expert service provider will know how get their ducks in a row.

‘They are firing on all cylinders’: not just a cliché, with Robots it’s for real

Four simple, tried and tested steps can lead you to a successful RPA implementation – Assess, Design, Build, Test and Deploy. Let’s look at them in more detail.
1) RPA feasibility: prioritize processes based on fixed parameters and assess impact across all stages
2) Future-state blueprint (Design): identify process changes to enable automation, design releases and plan resources
3) Build: create low level design document, build test environment and draw to-be process
4) Control environment(Test): Robotics usage training, fallout management training, user acceptance testing, parallel run and quality check
5) Release for mass usage(Deploy): live deployment for background processing, assign users to queues, systems and user support, followed by and live processing monitoring and analytics

A holistic approach to Robotics is required for optimum outcome. It involves 1) a high-end automation platform to reduce human intervention to the maximum extent 2) imbibes the aspect of Data management to power your decisions, and 3) relies on a business operations platform to accommodate the finest of operational nuances that hold the potential to increased process efficiencies. A combination of these three tenets bring long term and sustained benefits from the implantation of Robotics.

The giveaway is simple. If you shout out RPA, the echo in return must be ‘cost savings, improved opex and agility’. And the numbers are not small anymore!

The author is Practice Head, Telecom Fulfilment, Business Process Services, Wipro Ltd.

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