Robots and Telcos ? Get ready for C3PO and R2D2

Untitled.png Just as industrial robots are remaking the manufacturing industry by creating higher production rates and improved quality, Robotic Process Automation  “bots” are revolutionizing the way we think about and administer business processes, IT support processes, workflow processes, remote infrastructure and back-office work. RPA provides dramatic improvements in accuracy and cycle time and increased productivity in transaction processing while it elevates the nature of work by removing people from dull, repetitive tasks. Although the term “Robotic Process Automation” connotes visions of physical robots wandering around offices performing human tasks, the term really means automation of service tasks that were previously performed by humans

RPA is actually a software development toolkit that allows non-engineers to quickly create software robots (known commonly as “bots”) to automate rules-driven business processes. In RPA parlance, a “robot” is equivalent to one software license At the core, an RPA system imitates human interventions that interact with internal IT systems. It is a non-invasive application that requires minimum integration with the existing IT setup; delivering productivity by replacing human effort to complete the task. Any company which has labor-intensive processes, where people are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions, will boost their capabilities and save money and time with robotic process automation.

Similarly, RPA offers enough advantage to companies which operate with very few people or shortage of labor. Both situations offer a welcome opportunity to save on cost as well as streamline the resource allocation by deploying automation . After processing the work using rules and adding data as necessary by accessing more systems, the human inputs the completed work to yet other systems like ERP and CRM.

Early adopters of RPA are finding that automation can radically transform back offices, delivering much lower costs while improving service quality, increasing compliance, and decreasing delivery time. But as with all innovations, organizations must learn to manage RPA adoption to achieve maximum results.In 2010, Telefónica O2 managed over 60 core processes (amounting to about 400 subprocesses). To reduce costs further, Telefónica O2 began eliminating non-value added processes and optimizing and simplifying the processes that remained.

As an example of an eliminated process, Telefónica O2 removed a legacy process that verified order shipments. The order process had become so mature that it was 99.99 percent accurate—the legacy verification process was no longer worthwhile. Besides process elimination, Telefónica O2 also sought to optimize processes by simplifying them, and by bringing the BPO provider onshore to gain a better understanding of Telefónica O2. The entire process rationalization initiative—which included process elimination, simplification, and optimization— reduced labor headcount by ten percent.

Telefónica O2 began its rollout with 20 robots. The next wave increased the number of robots to 75. Eventually, a third staff member was trained. With just a team of three RPA developers in-house, Telefónica O2 automated 15 core processes including SIM swaps, credit checks, order processing, customer reassignment, unlatching, porting, ID generation, customer dispute resolution and customer data updates, representing about 35 percent of all back office transactions by first quarter of 2015.

As of April 2015, Telefónica O2 deployed over 160 “robots” that process between 400,000 and 500,000 transactions each month, yielding a three-year return on investment of between 650 and 800 percent . In just three years, Telefónica O2 reported £950,000 in net benefits. For some processes, it reduced the turnaround time from days to just minutes. Subsequently, customer “chase up” calls have been reduced by over 80 percent per year because fewer customers needed to inquire about the status of service requests. Scalability was unbeatable—its robotic workforce could be doubled almost instantly when new products were about to be launched—and then scaled back down after the surge.

Some robots are designed to replace a human being, but they can usually work faster. This speeds up the process, perhaps causing a bottleneck elsewhere. Robots can also carry out tasks that are impossible for humans, or at least impossible for humans to complete within a reasonable amount of time. This might create opportunities to introduce greater complexity or more decision points into your processes than a human would be able to manage. But there are certain exceptions to this rule.

When humans execute processes, they make many little judgments based on common sense. So, for example, a human can gauge that “St. Louis” and “Saint Louis” are equivalents, but a robot will only recognize them as equivalents if instructed to do so. Robots will only execute exactly what they are configured to execute. In short, robots lack common sense. Thus, the explication of rules for robots must be much more detailed than for humans. Telefónica O2 provides an anecdote that illustrated this lesson well. When the Apple iPhone was announced, Telefónica O2’s customers could preorder the phone. In their exuberance, some customers preordered the iPhone multiple times. Whereas a human would likely recognize that a single customer is really requesting a single phone, the robot did not. The robot shipped customers multiple phones !!

Although Telefónica O2 is clearly an RPA proponent, it views RPA as a complementary tool along with process elimination, process improvement and even with other automation tools. It also stressed the importance of sequencing these tools so that process elimination and process improvement preceded RPA. Telefónica O2 has continued to use both BPMS and RPA solutions. Within the wider business, Telefonica still have ways and means of eliminating or automating processes using different technologies such as BPMS or removing a query type out of Back Office and adding it to their customer-facing online self-service capability. So RPA is not the only solution to everything, but it’s obviously a great tool to have in one’s repertoire.

The global market for RPA Software and Services reached $271 million in 2016 and is expected to grow to $1.2 billion by 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 36%. The direct services market includes implementation and consulting services focused on building RPA capabilities within an organization. It does not include wider operational services like BPO, which may include RPA becoming increasingly embedded in its delivery . Digital effectiveness is all about organizations enjoying real-time process flows forged through the elimination of manual process break-points and intelligent linking of data patterns across the front and back offices. RPA is a critical building block in facilitating this journey.

You can’t create value – or transform a business operation – without converged, real-time data. Digitally-driven organizations must create a ” Digital spine ” to support the front office by automating manual processes, digitizing manual documents to create converged datasets, and embracing the cloud in a way that enables genuine scalability and security for a digital organization.Organizations simply cannot be effective with a digital strategy without automating processes intelligently – forget all the hype around robotics and jobs going away, this is about making processes run digitally so smart organizations can grow their digital businesses and create new work and opportunities.

This is where RPA adds most value today… however, as more processes become digitized, the more value we can glean from cognitive applications that feed off data patterns to help orchestrate more intelligent, broader process chains that link the front to the back office. In the pundits’s view, as these RPA solutions mature, we’ll see a real convergence of analytics, RPA and cognitive solutions as intelligent data orchestration becomes the true lifeblood – and currency – for organizations.

Maybe in the future an artificial smile may even appear on robotic faces from the pride of a job well done, a business outcome met – and maybe they will share their pride with one of you while sipping freshly brewed, fragrant and delicious coffee data from a fancy digital coffee mug. So bottom line : If you claim to be a DIGITAL TELCO then RPA will have to be part of your Digital DNA !!

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

 

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