Few technologies rival the potential of automation to enhance an organisations performance. A recent survey of IT decision makers around the globe, revealed 89% have already seen increased business growth in the past year, thanks to process automation1. Yet many organisations are persevering with painfully inefficient and manual swivel chair processes.
By swivel chair we mean the process of a person looking up data in one system and then punching it into another. This could be for invoicing, provisioning, or any number of basic admin tasks. These are jobs that require precision but aren’t usually the ones we’re leaping out of bed for.
This is why Automating Business Processing (ABP), which is software that takes care of repeatable, multi-step business processes, can make such a difference. When deployed strategically it speeds up basic tasks, streamlines operations, and eliminates errors. It can also be the glue that binds systems, like ERP and CRM, together and is therefore a useful way to extend the life of large legacy systems that are still fulfilling a useful role.
But best of all, ABP frees your people to do more valuable things, improving efficiency and creating a competitive edge while at the same time reducing costs. In fact, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Intelligent Automation survey revealed organisations expect to see costs reduce by an average of 31% over the next three years, up from 24% in 20202.
ABP comes in many flavours with perhaps the most basic, most vanilla, being Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is when the software bot understands the keystrokes and can mimic the human action to automatically fill out online forms. Or it could be automated invoice processing where Optical Character Recognition software extracts invoice information from a document or PDF format and automatically verifies it and sends it through to the accounts payable system for payment processing.
Moving up the value chain, ABP can be combined with smarter technologies, namely artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to automate more complex processes. An example of this is a complete end-to-end marketing journey, which uses AI and ML to recognise and make decisions. This could be identifying an existing customer open to upselling, emailing a targeted marketing campaign with an option to opt in and then automating the sign up and order processing steps.
At Spark, we use ML models to identify customers that are potentially interested in adding Spotify or Netflix to their broadband bundle. Once they are identified we use automation to send an eDM to their inbox and, if the customer likes the offer, we use business process automation to provision the new service in our order management system. This helps us understand our customers’ needs, increasing our ability to better serve them. As a result, automation not only allows Spark to work more efficiently, but also gives our customers tailored information, relevant to them.
You can also use ABP to help your people in the field who need to keep in touch with the team back at base. One automation use case could be if a field engineer identified a health and safety hazard they could use their mobile phone to take a picture and send it back to attach to the job record or to ask for guidance on how to proceed. Using computer vision technology, the hazard can be identified, assessed and instructions given out to keep the employee safe.
As technology advances, more and more business processes can be automated. While swivel chair activities are high potential processes for automation, not every process is an ideal candidate.
Choosing where to automate requires a strategic approach to not just identify inefficient, repetitive processes but also consider the upstream, downstream and adjacent processes.
- Lisa Chapman, Tribe Lead Automation & Analytics at Spark
It might be efficient to empower a software bot to automatically dispense a $5 customer credit, but a $500,000 credit is probably a decision best left to a human.
When thinking about automation, data privacy and data security are areas where businesses need to practice good hygiene. And, while you might adopt good practice to protect customer information, such as anonymising data sets used in AI models, there are also important design considerations needed to help prevent bias, which might compromise the outcome and business decisions you make. AI is trained on data, but you don’t want it to spit out marketing offers that unfairly benefit one customer over another.
At Spark, one of our fundamental principles is about helping everyone win in a digital world, so we have strong governance in place and take a responsible and ethical approach to the design, deployment and operation of AI and ML technologies, data and automation.
Having got to grips with the basics of ABP, the next step is to grapple with the return on investment or the benefit profile. And that involves asking a lot of questions, the first being: what are you hoping to achieve with automation?
Is it manual cost out? Improved customer experience? Tackling revenue leakage?
Then you need to consider how complex it is going to be to automate. If it’s taking 10 hours of labour out a month, but it’s costing a million dollars to build, then you might need to reconsider the return on the investment and look at other potential solutions.
It really pays to be clear on the benefit profile and to know that when you banish the swivel chair situation from your business, it is replaced with something that truly does remove the pain.
Our teams are working alongside organisations adopting automation in all sorts of areas, from customer experience to IT service management to business intelligence and are here to help.
Lisa Chapman is the Tribe Lead for Automation & Analytics. This team is responsible for deploying business process automation solutions to Spark’s internal teams.