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Automate. Automate, Now

Published 06 May, 2020 – ITWeb

Featuring: Wilhelm Greef, Business Manager: Modern Workplace

Business processes are circling the edges of excellence and efficiency as automation takes control.

Is business process automation (BPA) really worth it? Is it genuinely the essential tool that every organisation should consider in a recession? Perhaps the best quote to answer these questions is the one from Byron Reese, CEO and publisher at Gigaom: “Individuals need to ask themselves, ‘What drudgery do I engage in that I can use technology to destroy?’”

According to a survey developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and UiPath, 73% of respondents claim that they’re happy with the benefits that their BPA implementation delivers. Across different industries and verticals, BPA has changed how these organisations empower their employees, improve their processes and manage their expenses. It’s also changing how organisations view their employees, giving them more opportunities to create and innovate while intelligent technologies take on the mundanity that’s slowed them in the past.

“The challenge doesn’t lie with the technology, but with the business case.”

Daniel Acton, Google Cloud, Sub-Saharan Africa

BPA is not the bringer of empty cubicles, but, rather, the liberator of brilliant minds. It can be used to free employees from the tedium of processes while allowing them to fully explore their potential within the organisation. It can also help cut costs by automating repetitive tasks, a money-saving capability that may very well put BPA at the front of the queue when it comes to recession-proof investments. BPA’s capabilities can potentially ease financial pressure on companies currently staring at stock markets plunging across the globe as a bear market with zero interest causes uncertainty on every front.

In addition to its ability to reduce the pressure on the budget, BPA’s efficiencies can be leveraged to improve customer experiences – something that will become critical in the coming months.

In the declining economy, customers are going to be pinched financially, which means purchasing will be based on very rigorous criteria. BPA can not only improve customer experiences through automation efficiencies, but it can free up human capital, allowing employees to focus on strategy, innovation, and customer engagement. The survey found that organisations that did implement BPA effectively experienced increased productivity, reduced human error, improved consistency in processes and output, enhanced customer experiences, increased revenue, and reduced operating expenses. It’s a good track record for a technology that may help many companies navigate the uncertainty that hovers dark over market and customer today.

“BPA is going to shift the posts when it comes to customer experience.”

– Richard Firth, MIP Holdings

However, like any technology that’s bursting with promise, BPA needs to be implemented properly. It’s not going to save money or improve processes or introduce agility if it’s not aligned with a strategy. A clear understanding of processes, an even clearer vision as to end-goal results, and the right skill-sets are essential if BPA is going to do what it promises. BPA, like every other digital solution, needs complete buy-in from the top down. If it doesn’t have people pushing its agenda, it’s not going to get results. And if it isn’t capable of evolving with new technologies and delivering new functionalities within the existing business ecosystem, then it’s not worth the expense.

BPA isn’t a cure, it’s a tool. Ensure that data and privacy are managed, that deployment is delivered by skilled partners or staff, that employees have bought into its potential, and that the barrier to entry is lowered. Then, with these boxes ticked, it’s a tool that will work.

Brainstorm: What are the biggest benefits of implementing BPA?

Daniel Acton, regional lead, Google Cloud, Sub-Saharan Africa: Companies that don’t look at AI and ML as a means of automating business processes are likely to be outpaced by their competitors, which are changing and delivering value to customers. Implementing any kind of automation will deliver benefits such as cost-effectiveness.

Craig Nel, MEA Cloud Platform leader, Oracle: 

Predictive analytics driven by AI can help businesses leverage the large amounts of data available to anticipate trends, take proactive actions, and even automate data-driven decision-making so they can respond to changing market conditions in real-time. Companies should not ignore the benefits that BPA could deliver; however, each should carefully consider the extent of automation appropriate for their business and industry. BPA certainly has the potential to distinguish companies from their competitors.

Marcell Otto, Software Product specialist, Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa: Speed up turnaround times for customer-facing processes, boosting customer satisfaction and enabling the capacity to take on more business.

Wilhelm Greeff, business manager, Modern Workplace, Decision Inc:Organisations that are not considering BPA are already losing out against the competition, which is reducing costs and have adopted these platforms that are making them more efficient and competitive.

Eugene Cronje, business unit manager, ModernFlow: In the same way our communication and collaboration is changing, our interactions with our business processes and tasks are evolving through chatbots and interface-independent BPA.

Brainstorm: What are the challenges of implementing BPA?

Daniel Acton, regional lead, Google Cloud, Sub-Saharan Africa: The challenge doesn’t lie with the technology, but with the business case. If you’ve not looked at your systems and processes to identify where your company can benefit from a redesign and automation of processes, you won’t see the benefits. You have to know what you’re doing and what you want to achieve rather than throwing technology at the problem.

Suman Moonilal: senior manager, BDO Financial Services: A key determinant of whether an organisation should adopt BPA or not would be to firstly assess whether BPA is aligned to the strategy that the organisation has set and whether the value created from embarking on the BPA journey exceeds the cost of changing its current processes and practices.

Craig Nel, MEA Cloud Platform leader, Oracle: High on the list of challenges is the fear of job losses as a result of business automation.

There is a significant chance of employees losing jobs, especially those who are engaged in manual, repetitive tasks. The impact needs to be analysed and clearly understood by the business and how this will be dealt with needs to be clearly communicated to those affected employees.

Grant Field, CEO, Fedgroup: People often take a manual process and try to replicate it onto a system. A paper process gets reapplied onto a system, without the benefit of the paper. It’s important to have someone who understands how the process actually needs to be changed at the same time as the automation is taking place, to ensure you’re not just taking one thing and automating an old-fashioned process.

Brainstorm: What’s the potential of BPA over the next year?

Marcell Otto, Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa Software Product specialist: As a typical end-to-end business process involves structured as well as unstructured data, over the next six to 12 months, organisations will use a combination of RPA as well cognitive abilities to provide a full range of business process automation. The addition of cognitive abilities to RPA provides the capability to convert unstructured data into structured data that can be fed to RPA for processing.

Richard Firth, CEO, MIP Holdings: BPA is going to shift the posts when it comes to customer experience.In the old days, we spoke about service levels because business had the propensity to only manage service levels through a single process. Customer experience is a consolidation of individual service levels that are measured not by service levels documented by a BPA system, but, rather, by real-time surveys and interactions with the customer over their individual journey as a customer.

Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO, CLEVVA: The automation ecosystem is maturing rapidly and it really is important for companies to get going in this area. Identify the end-to-end processes that, if automated, would transform your business. Then look at the digital worker ecosystem you would need to put together to make this work.

“A human can only do so much in the time they have, which means we will always be behind what’s required to keep our IT functioning at its optimum.”

– Frank Mullen, Zinia

It’s all in the Zinia

Zinia took its struggle with systems towards simplicity and digital strategy with intelligent business process automation investments.

South African ICT and telecoms company Zinia had used three different business systems since its inception in 2009. The systems didn’t meet the company’s needs in terms of scope, simplicity, and ease of use, nor did they provide the company with any analytics or insights. In fact, two of the systems couldn’t deliver against any of the expectations that had heralded their arrival and were expensive to customise. The result? The development of an internal business solution that could automate key business processes and form the foundation of Zinia’s digitisation strategy.

“We needed technology that would give the company what it required to stay on top of its different functions,” says Frank Mullen, CEO of Zinia. “The problem is that when you are managing a business and information on spreadsheets, your decisions are always reactive and there’s always leakage. Whenever you’re not dealing with information in real-time, you’re not on top of it.”

Zinia didn’t want to sacrifice customer experience or profitability when building the solution. It had to work for the business, not the other way around, and sometimes the risk of automation is that it doesn’t always deliver a better outcome. In fact, business process automation can’t just drive efficiency on its own, it has to be powered by a solid methodology and managed outcomes, and improve decision-making in real-time.

“BPA is about taking tasks, particularly repetitive ones, and automating them through technology,” says Mullen. “However, the business has to understand their processes and the improvements they want from their BPA initiative before they start.

We knew from past experiences that it’s critical to compare the cost of implementing a BPA initiative, which can be costly, with what the actual returns will be based on the business objectives. Is it going to improve efficiency? Is it going to improve productivity, and by how much? Are the outcomes what the business expects?”

It was critical that these questions be answered prior to embarking on a new BPA road. Zinia also wanted to ensure that it could achieve the alignment and optimisation of business processes across the organisation as a foundation. This meant a clear understanding of which areas of the business could be automated against relevant business requirements.

Zinia did rigorous research and planning before it implemented two initiatives in 2019 that were powered by three strategic objectives: manage the growing business with real-time data analytics; improve efficiency within the business and drive productivity and customer service; zero compromise on customer experience or profitability. The initiatives were the development of a business customer engagement platform, and the automation of network and IT management tasks in the Zinia IT service business.

“We’re currently in the second phase of our BPA initiative, which includes the automation of our marketing communications, integrating WhatsApp into customer support and helpdesk systems, and streamlining the customer lifecycle,” adds Mullen.

Zinia leveraged cloud-based systems with customisations to create the Zinia customer engagement platform that includes elements such as helpdesk, customer service, CRM, and data analytics. It further incorporates features such as intelligence and customised reports as well as automatic, rule-based workflow deployment. In addition, the company developed the Zinia IT Managed Services platform (ZMS) that allows for improved management of customer IT and network environments.

The list of ZMS features is extensive, but the benefits have been impressive. Zinnia achieved 70% improved IT staff efficiency via the automation of routine IT tasks, which reduced the need to hire more staff and lowered resource costs. Downtime was reduced by an average of 80% and teams can find the root causes of issues 90% faster than previously.

“A human can only do so much in the time they have, which means we will always be behind what’s required to keep our IT functioning at its optimum,” says Mullen. “Through BPA, we’re able to free up thousands of repetitive IT tasks and now our staff can focus on more complex and challenging work. Our customer engagement platform has allowed for us to move through the customer journey from end to end, with 360-degree views into customer experiences for improved outcomes and decision-making.”

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