BOLT the BOTS

bolt-the-bots

Not in my wildest imagination did I think that the 4000 years old fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin will become a reality of today – around the 2nd decade of the 21st century!!! In the story, the miller’s daughter with the help of the imp-like creature turns straw to gold overnight. In the modern day Organisations, Businesses have the capability of turning work into results overnight with the help of BOTs.

Akin to the story of Rumpelstiltskin, there are demands on the Businesses from the BOTs and there are specific inputs needed to produce the relevant outputs. And like the miller’s daughter, Businesses have ways and means of managing the demands of the BOTs. Let us take a deeper discussion at the fairy tale of the Business world or rather the IT transformation world.

With the growth in digitalization and IT led transformation across Businesses, the need to pace up data collection, processing and utilization determined the competitiveness of Business. The shift from service economy to experience economy coupled with the expectation of Customers for speedier and accurate outcomes, fueled the ask for better customer engagement along with improved employee experience. This expectation for improved customer delight experiences in combination with technology, creativity and deep customer understanding paved the way to automate certain mundane, routine, standard set of activities traditionally done by human beings!!

Needless to say, that we are at the pinnacle of an era of constant change. Businesses and Individuals akin are considering automation of everything possible under the sun including social interactions and even more in the recent past of less than half a decade automation is akin with BOTs.

What is a BOT? In simple terms, it is a logic / software that has the capability of mimicking human actions. They are software robots which perform standard operations as per pre-set rules with instructions. BOTs are those software logics which can perform the mundane set of activities / logics.

As is the case with everything in life, we need to make a clear cut distinction between the Good and the Bad BOTs in every sense; from ethical and social to business potential and efficiency. While we reserve the discussion on the topic of Bad BOTs from an ethical and social points of view, may be it is good to understand the good and bad BOTs from the business potential, operational efficiency point of view.

Let us now look at when is an Organisation ready for a BOT. The journey of process automation in an Organisation starts with a process automation or transaction automation, which may also be through ERP implementation. This step not only automates and integrates all the business processes across the Organisation but to standardize processes and drive policy controls and frameworks within the rank and file of the setup. As the Organsation gathers some level of process maturity with the process automation or ERP implementation, the next phase would entail implementation of Business specific software to help augment the core revenue function. This leads to a need for integration across systems and a strong BPMS (Business Process Management System)

The process maturity in an Organisation improves further when there is an initiative to outsource certain non core Business processes. This means that the standardization of the processes and the maturity of process automation renders itself to allow Business Process Outsourcing. This is where the operations are preset and rule based paving the way for it to be outsourced beyond the Organisation. This helps in better focus on the core initiatives within the Organisation.

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is an extension of outsourcing of the activities but the difference being that human activities are mimicked through software logics or algorithms. At this stage the human intelligence, discretion and decision is still retained for manual / human execution. The next step of building intelligence once repetitive standard set of rule based operations is fulfilled is Artificial Intelligence.

To determine whether the activity qualifies for an RPA initiative, it has to qualify under the following three criteria –

  1. Repetitive, deterministic, rule based transactional activities
  2. Structured data input and interaction across multiple applications non-invasively
  3. No comprehension/ discretion/ intelligence needed

How should a Business go about its RPA journey ? It is critical to follow the right approach to reap the most at the shortest time. The following are some guidelines on how businesses can adopt their RPA journey –

  1. Spot the key objective or the sole purpose for the RPA initiative
  2. Identify the business process(es) to be automated. It may be good to start with a tactical initiative before scaling it up 
  3. It is important to make sure that the shortlisted process(es) have a high degree of maturity in which it is executed before the RPA initiative
  4. Realistically estimate the objective or outcome of the initiative based on the process being automated
  5. Shortlist the RPA product considering the overall RPA objective of the business and not restricting to the current POC initiative. This will include key features, OCR and image processing capabilities, Alignment with cloud strategy, integration with commercial, opensource AI/ ML products, support services and commercial considerations- current and ongoing. 
  6. The cost considerations and ROI computation to be based on infrastructure, product, add-on products and services- including OCR, image processing, NLP requirements – required from the overall RPA objective and not restricted to the POC
  7. Choose the Implementation Partner who has fundamental functional knowledge, process re-engineering capability along with the expertise to execute the development
  8. Extensive process re-engineering efforts to be undertaken to ensure accuracy in the execution of the same 
  9. Plan for the transition and align the learning and development needs along with the HR department for alignment of employees / outsource partners. A short to medium and long term plan for the reskilling and retraining needs of the Organisation is essential
  10. Make sure to build in additional time for reiterations post roll out to improve on the outcomes. This is essential as the RPA outcomes improve with improvements in the BOT coupled with the settling in of the process re-engineering initiative 

With this background on BOT, let us briefly see some key use cases as  – 

  1. Chatbots – As regards the customer facing activities, a lot of enquiries and complaint registering process is handled through chatbots. These BOTs essentially manage dialog turns and twists in the given context along with offering multilingual support. They provide sentiment and behavioural analytics and have seen very quick adoption amongst the business fraternity
  2. Swivel Chair Processes – Processes that require interaction across multiple systems, in the nature of copying information from one system and inputting in the other for retrieving another set of information or for processing the transaction in the other system. These are pretty mundane and standard and entail cross system references. This is a standard case with high adoption rate 
  3. Payable processing – This is the vendor invoice processing and invoice posting transactions which would entail reading of the vendor invoices through OCRs and onward input of the details before creating a payable transaction in the ERP. Another classic case of high rate of RPA across businesses. 

It is important to realise, that we are at a precipice of stellar change and adoption of RPA is a necessity to keep up with the rising demands on business. Job transformations and the future of work will undergo a big change and Organisations need to adapt and prepare themselves for the change sooner than later.

Author: Rajeshwari Bhattacharyya, Co-Founder & Global Head

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