Robotics (RPA) Brings New Rules to Process Automation

Post by
Scott Francis

This post was originally published on Medium to share the the Austin Startups publication. I'm sharing it here as well for the BP3 audience!

BP3 has been helping our clients find a faster way to do things since 2007. We got our start with process automation in the 2000's, and we never stopped looking for ways to help our clients get to their business outcomes faster. Our background in process has really served us well as we've done more and more work leveraging Robotics (aka Robotic Process Automation, or RPA).

The Big Three

The traditional big consultancy also comes from a process foundation, but focuses on the following triangle of process improvement:

     
  1. Eliminate - How do we keep work from coming into the organization?
  2.  
  3. Deflect - If work exists, how do we determine who and how it is handled?
  4.  
  5. Automate - Of the work that remains what can be automated?

What's interesting about these three imperatives to the big-four consultancy mind-set is what it has done to undermine customer experience.

Undermining the Customer Experience


Eliminate work sounds good except when you read the description, it means preventing work from being put on your plate, as a company: ?how do we keep work from coming into the organization? translates into process changes like: not having phone support, not taking returns, or eliminating services that aren?t explicitly profit-making.

Deflecting work sounds, more ambiguous. By deflecting work to shared service centers or specific organizations or groups, the hard costs of that work can be exposed and minimized. In a growth phase that can be a healthy outcome, but this leads quickly to both work silos and sub-optimizing company resources across these silos. Once a cost is known, it is hard to resist an organizational imperative to reduce that cost, even if the ROI is quite high, even if the right strategic move is to spend *more* to further improve ROI or differentiation from competition.

Automation - I'm here to tell you that Automation can be a force for good or for ill in any business, it all depends how it is applied. Automation gone wrong has accounted for our distaste for automated receptionist systems, for example. But automation can also be fantastic - email over snail mail, voicemail over having someone ?take a message? for you and hope that it gets to the right person, mobile app turn-by-turn directions vs. getting out a physical map. It turns out that the company I co-founded, BP3, specializes in Automation, because it is our mission to help our clients find a faster way to get things done.


The Failure to Account for New Technology?

For longer than I've been in the workforce myself, the big consultancies have been bringing a variation of this three-trick pony to solving client process problems. During the 1990's, consulting firms either largely ignored technology when rethinking processes, or looked to monolithic ERP systems like SAP to define and enforce the new processes, and then CRM systems like Seybold, and financial systems like Oracle Financials. Innovative software solutions to automate product configuration or pricing were often overlooked in their approach. And the process approaches largely ignored the technological limitations or accelerators, leading to massive inefficiencies when mapping the new business operating model against the monolithic operating software systems.

In the 2000?s, a new wave of software tried to solve business process automation. From my cat-bird's seat at Lombardi Software, I could see how again, the big consultancies failed to take software capabilities and limitations into account when designing solutions. The methodology again called for subjugating technology to the strategy, rather than having strategy and tactics informed by the technology.

Fast forward to the RPA wave that is sweeping through businesses. The big consultancies have again brought their process-triangle to the table. They see RPA as fitting nicely in that third bucket of automating the stuff you can't Eliminate or Deflect. And at a very philosophical level, they?'re not wrong. But business doesn't operate at a philosophical level, and we need new rules for applying the old ideas.


The New Rules of Automation with a Process Lens

Business operates in the gritty real world, where we might want to re-evaluate our three points of the triangle, knowing that we now have automation technologies that can change the cost of execution of elements of our business by up to 95%:

Eliminate: There's work we've truly eliminated -we simply don't do it anymore. And there's work that we have pushed from our organization to our customers. What work have we previously eliminated, but that our customers would value? What work have we eliminated that would represent differentiation from competition? What work have we eliminated that would make our business more valuable? What work have we eliminated that could inform better offerings to our customers? What work have we pushed to our customers that we could take off their hands and improve their experience? What work have we pushed to suppliers that we could take in-house, and make their relationships with us more permanent and valuable?

RPA changes the calculations that go into answering these questions.

Deflect: Where are the bottlenecks in getting work done? Which of those bottlenecks has been artificially created by under-investing or under-resourcing? Can we automate the allocation of work with machine learning?

RPA changes the calculations that go into answering these questions.

Automate: This is where we all expect to see RPA applied, as we should. But this is also where we have to take a fresh look at what can be automated, because RPA lends itself to automate tasks that were previously out of reach -specifically those that require emulating a human driving the interface of various software programs to get the job done. Traditional integration software doesn't get the job done, as it expects an API (Application Public Interface) to program the integrations against.


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