Hardly a day passes without some new and significant news related to Artificial Intelligence or Robotic Process Automation. Decision makers in large and small organisations alike are bombarded with technology discussions and predictions about what might or might not happen at the hands of these emerging trends. There are blogs, webcasts, new associations and institutions popping up everywhere as the hype is exploding on this unsuspecting market. The question is where can one find reliable well researched information on process innovation among this morass of data?
I’m pleased to say that finally a few of the analyst firms have recently published, or are about to publish, some excellent insights into the market for these new technologies and, in particular, around Robotic Process Automation. Everest and HfS Research in their latest studies have really got to grips with the various technologies and the trends that are emerging. They both make great reading and we are delighted to have been able to contribute to their efforts. Symphony as a specialist consulting firm in these Future of Work technologies is in the fortunate position to have actually used many of the latest products with clients and to have formed partnerships with many of the software vendors. This has given us unique insights into how to design and implement solutions not just in isolated automation projects but in end-to-end processes. So, here are our 5 insights for process innovators:
- Get to Pilot quickly. The great thing about these technologies is they can be implemented as pilots very quickly with virtually no impact on existing systems and processes. The key is working out which technologies are most compatible with your needs and assessing how well they can connect to your existing systems – this can be done in a matter of a few weeks. The winners here are those that ‘just do it’ and prove the concept. The losers will be the organisations that get locked into protracted procurement processes around the technology and miss the wave of opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The fact is that the technology itself is not the significant expense in these implementations.: whether you use consultants or implement in-house it’s the cost of managing a well-designed and tested implementation that should (and will in reality anyway) consume most of the budget.
- Look at end-to-end process. Having stated that getting to pilot quickly is vital, there is a time thereafter where a proper strategy and approach to the end-to-end process should be developed. A pilot is a great start.: you know that the new technology can work in your environment and you’ll have some really cool software robots working on your actual processes and delivering tangible and measurable (even if small) benefits. From experience this can get even the most cynical nay-sayers excited. However, the real power and long term business case will not come from a series of tactical solutions. Real value will be driven by taking a wider view and some strategic decisions around the desired outcomes of the end-to-end process. For instance: how do we want to fundamentally transform our customer experience? What are the implications for growth and infrastructure cost? How can I reduce my outsourcing scope? This is the point where the real, and potentially huge, value will be realised.
- RPA is not the solution to all evils. When you take an end-to-end view, you will soon realise that, whilst RPA is a very significant contributor of value, there are actually a range of solutions required. These can include cognitive software that can interpret unstructured data or voice instructions, work management tools to help harmonise and queue the work that remains for human intervention, and potentially simple e-forms and portals that enable the capture of data in digital format more readily or that can trigger robots to commence processes. A few of the RPA vendors do get this but there is a tendency for them to try and create a simplistic view. The more enlightened vendors are fully cognisant of the complexity, which is why they tend to partner with consulting firms (like us) rather than attempt to solution complex environments themselves.
- Consider the human Retained Organisation. Future of Work technologies are mostly targeted at freeing humans from performing repetitive low value-added tasks, or tasks that may be complex and value-added but can be codified within complex decision trees. The resulting processes will be managed by a different organisational model. On the one hand, a few people will be required to manage the automation technology, others will be required to set and maintain the business rules, and others will be required to make decisions based on interpretation and judgement. These are highly value adding roles requiring an in-depth knowledge of the process and the ability to interpret, redesign or flex the business rules to specific situations without creating risks or business disruption. At the other end of the scale, there will be roles that are lower value-added but things robots can’t always do, like truly interpret the meaning of voice instructions, interpret images or understand totally unstructured text, particularly if it’s handwritten. These changes will drive organisational decisions around who controls the robots, the operations team structure and how to manage the micro-tasks left for humans. My sense is that enterprises will want to hold the high value-added resources close to home: putting these roles at the heart of decision making is likely to lead to much more nimble, flexible and competitive organisations that are able to change business models at scale very quickly. I think the micro-tasks will eventually be further automated, but in the short term will give rise to a substantial growth in crowd and impact sourcing solutions enabling individuals to perform these more mundane tasks anywhere on the globe in highly flexible transaction-based remuneration models. In effect, the majority of work will be delivered ‘as-a-service’.
- Think about how to orchestrate your processes. In the new automated world, processes that were previously managed by humans will now be performed 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-per-year. Robots will pass work to other robots and other applications, queue up work for humans to perform when they are online, potentially access crowd / impact sourcing platforms or send it to outsourcing providers. With all this activity taking place and processes being performed by various virtual and human sources of labour, it would be easy to lose sight of the end-to-end process and to forget to measure and manage the outcomes. Whilst some of the RPA vendors are able to provide reporting and dashboards in respect to the robot performance, it is vital to measure the performance of the process overall and to monitor, for example, when volumes following an exception routine are outside of normal limits. Small errors in configuration can get amplified hugely in an RPA environment as, potentially, robots could tirelessly, accurately and very quickly repeat the errors they were programmed to perform. Not everyone has the benefit of Symphony’s Robotic Operations Centre (ROC) or Thoughtonomy’s managed robot services, so it’s an important consideration when industrialising your ‘Future of Work’ processes.
It’s clear that ‘Future of Work’ technologies provide the most exciting and impactful opportunity for business functions to make the biggest step changes in cost and performance that we have seen in the last 20 years. As these solutions mature, we need to think differently, manage different things, change our organisation structures and reconsider the talent within our organisations: it is because of these unique set of challenges that Symphony Ventures was founded, helping enterprises navigate these exciting times and for them to be part of the Future of Work.