8 AM. A typical Monday. Sarah is excited for the week ahead. As she reaches work and opens her mailbox, she is relieved to see fewer emails than usual that need her immediate attention. She first looks for an email from someone called Mars. She is thankful to have received this very systematic email with important reports. She didn’t have to probe into multiple apps! Having gone through the emails, she wonders how much her life has become simpler since Mars has joined her team. He is very good with numbers, hardly makes mistakes, and is quite fast too. In the short amount of time, he has learnt quickly, in fact become quite adept at many tasks! Also, he does jobs on her behalf that she used to hate, namely, having to send reminder emails to people! He has become quite an asset to the team. Smiling to herself, she sends an email to Mars- ‘Thank you for the reports. She gets a reply right away from Mars saying- ‘You’re welcome. Happy to Help. 24*7’
This out of the world member of Sarah’s team, Mars, represents what some of us call, a robot; a software bot, who is a Multitasker, always Accurate, works Round the clock and is Superfast.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI are beyond buzzwords today. With the adoption of automation across business functions on the rise, what is important and goes beyond operational and financial benefits is that the virtual work-force made up of software bots seamlessly works hand in hand with humans.
A bot wears different hats for different stakeholders and can deliver a great experience across all with well-designed handling of the interaction between bots and relevant stakeholders.
During one of my interactions with an F&A associate, she said “I don’t like sending reminder emails, I think people must hate me that I am always on their head! Glad a robot can do that and take all that hate for me”. A bot can execute transactional processes in a touchless manner and take the mundane out of a potentially mundane task, so that the associates in the team can focus better on more important, judgment based activities. An RPA solution can work best when the bots are configured to direct exceptions to the right team/person instead of just highlighting the fallouts.
In a different scenario, where processes are not entirely rule based, software bots can work on parts of processes with smooth handovers between bots and humans by exchanging emails, and with the use of notification alerts, shared folders etc. just the way different people across teams work jointly on a process today.
For a team leader, a robot adds value with high quality execution of processes within defined SLAs. “Our teams are especially stressed during the book closing period, during month and quarter ends. I would want the robots to work full-time on some of the closing activities and help us avoid over time”, highlighted a team leader in a record-to-report function of a retail company. By automating various tasks as period end reconciliations, postings, and reporting, a multi-skilled RPA bot can reduce a lot of manual efforts during period ends and execute other transactional processes in the rest of the month. With the capability of assigning and re-assigning robots across multiple processes, a team leader can manage spikes and put the total robot capacity to its best use.
A business process owner can have clear visibility into the performance of the robots in terms of time taken, success/failure rates, reasons for failure etc., all in real time. Advanced reporting features that enable tracking metrics at a process, bot and transaction level go a long way in identifying areas for improvement and maintaining an audit trail.
In the case of employees, partners and customers, not only do they have their tickets, requests or orders handled faster, but they also have real time response and resolution to their queries through well-trained and integrated chat bots and email bots. Bots having the capability of handing over the chat or directing an email in case of unsuccessful resolution to a domain expert based on the context of chat are integral in providing a seamless experience to the customer.
As with any new employee on boarded, some bots ‘wow’ from day one and some bots experience a learning curve depending on the process rules, data quality and applications involved.
If a bot is configured to process a certain fraction of transactions (say 70%-80%) to begin with, it can be trained better with time to manage complex cases and unseen exceptions to enhance the automation rate.
Reporting features can help pin-point the reasons of failure if any, such as missing data or missing rule or application issues and enhancements can be done in configuration to manage them if necessary.
Process improvements based on identified areas can also lead to increase in addressable scope for automation in processes.
Comprehensive key user trainings help effectively manage the interaction and handovers between humans and robots.
With the right tool, approach towards automation and attitude to adapt, virtual workforce consisting of software robots can become a sweet reality!