5 reasons to implement intelligent process automation (IPA)
Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO, CLEVVA, discusses the five reasons business should implement intelligent process automation (IPA) into their operations.
Intelligent process automation (IPA) is beginning to take its rightful place in businesses as a subset of and precursor to full blown artificial intelligence. It consists of a number of digital workers that together allow a company to automate processes with precision and speed. They include process specialists, often collectively categorised as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), that perform both front-office and back office processes. This includes automating logic that sits outside and inside operational systems.
These process specialists require input data to automate these processes, and that is where a number of intelligent digital co-workers are stepping in to help. Natural Language digital specialists, for example chatbots, engage directly with the customer to gather required input data for the process specialists. Optical Character Reading (OCR) digital workers help read image files such as pdf forms to get the required input fields into required data formats. And AI algorithms can help collect additional missing data found within vast unstructured data sources.
As these digital workers get better at doing their specialist functions, and working together to automate end-to-end processes, companies with legacy systems are being empowered to automate within dynamic changing realities.
Some African businesses are still reluctant to take the automation plunge though, because of concerns about job losses. While those are valid, automation is increasingly playing a role in making humans more productive, and freeing them up to focus on being creative, reasoning, innovating, and, well being human.
Here are 5 ways your business could benefit from IPA this year:
Allowing staff to do more with less training - Imagine starting a new job, or a new role, and having someone there to hold your hand and guide you through every step of onboarding, induction and training. Once you’re up to speed, they will sit beside you - all day, every day - to guide your decision-making, and help you to focus on delivering value. They will free you from repetitively following processes and procedures, and then hook up everything you do to a back-office worker to close the loop. Sound good? That’s what IPA can do for you and your teams. Today.
The happiness dividend - The 2018 Deloitte Global Robotics Survey shows that 80% of organisations that have implemented and/or are scaling RPA have a happier workforce as a result (didn’t see that one coming, did you?). It’s not that hard to work out why, though. If you previously spent half your day copying and pasting data from one place to another, and it’s now automated for you, you’re going to be a lot happier on a day to day basis.
ROI - A McKinsey statistic from 2016 indicates that just RPA alone can deliver returns of 30% to 200% in the first year alone. McKinsey is quick to note, however, that the financial returns shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all. For companies in heavily regulated sectors, building an IPA workforce lets them step their compliance efforts up a notch - effortlessly. For customer-service heavy sectors, IPA frees workers up to focus on the customer and not the process. Returns like these deliver much more than the immediately obvious ROI figures.
Speed and accuracy - IPA digital workers can work flawlessly, and tirelessly, never needing a break. This can have a big impact on the accuracy of the data residing in a company’s systems (especially important in the era of POPIA). IPA digital workers can ensure the right data is gathered and the right processes executed without breaks or errors, smoothing out and speeding up processing times.
Customer service is king - Flawless data capture has another benefit - reducing customer irritation with data errors. How many of us spend our lives trying to get our addresses corrected on bills, or being addressed as Mr not Mrs because whoever onboarded the customer initially wasn’t paying attention when transferring data from one system to another? IPA digital workers can ease errors like this out of the system, or flag them for a human to make a decision on and correct.
No matter what industry you are in or what legacy system environment you operate in, IPA can deliver benefits. The best returns are still in industries that are highly-process driven and highly-regulated. From ensuring clear audit trails to helping technical specialists diagnose problems on oil rigs - IPA digital workers can go anywhere, and do anything. And with the technology available today, you don’t even need to be a coder to create your own digital workers, meaning it frees up your IT function too.
For more information on business topics in Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Africa.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”