Process Automation is not a new concept. This journey has been embarked upon by many since several years, and that’s how the whole IT industry has come into existence. My first attempt at automating my task was when I wrote rules in MS Outlook to categorize and move emails to different Inbox folders. Although that was at an individual level, I would still like to extend this approach of mimicking human actions using rules, to a larger concept called Process Automation. Organizations have experienced the business process journey shift from Outsourcing to Offshoring, and now Radical Automation is being looked at to bring about disruption in operations.
There is a different perspective of automation to what IT believes – a system provided for executing tasks vs. what automation is from the standpoint of business operations. Industry leaders like SAP have standardized the processes in most industries. However, the practical issue arises when business heads look at completing one transaction in such systems and it mostly takes multiple screens to navigate. This increases human dependency, thus making operations inefficient.
This fact holds true for Business Process Management (BPM) as well, where we have seen a quite lower rate of success than normally estimated. I believe we have approached BPM to create generic processes like Customer Onboarding, Loan Origination Payout, and Policy Issuance. These are more generic, configurable and can be applied across products. So, ideally the vision of the companies implementing BPM would be to run these individual processes like horizontal units.
Just do a floor walkthrough on operations and you will understand that it takes years to realize this vision of common and generic process at the organization level, and has a really long gestation period in this fast changing world. As a result, businesses have still been unable to reap the benefits of BPM, and face delay in becoming agile. We have been talking about aligning with business, but most critical is that we align with operations.
Process Automation has to be looked upon as a journey. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), has become a buzz word only very recently. While organizations have still only scratched the surface, and the industry as a whole is yet to see deep adoption of this concept, L&T Infotech has experienced mega & speedy implementations and can bring in Scalability, Adoption and Change Management experience to fast track clients to embark on this journey. Based on these experiences, we believe that Robotics is just a step in this journey, and it requires business operations processes to be looked at through a different lens of:
- Human Task Automation
- Digitization by giving meaning to Documents and driving Processes
- Integration and Process Agility, using BPM & Externalization of Rules, and ESB (Enterprise Service Bus), which are existing concepts
Robotics will deliver quick wins for Improved Task Time, Increased Processing Capacity and Productivity Benefits. I recommend organizations to focus on highly human-intensive areas to get quick and maximum benefit realizations. But as the adoption increases, processes become more federated and require more investment for automation, thus reducing ROI. Many of our client IT organizations look at Robotics as a tactical solution, and hence, aligning with strategic technologies like BPM are being looked upon to make processes more horizontal and increase their applicability. Needless to say, the objective of BPM process should be looked upon from the operations view, i.e. Applying for one product line and designing it in such a way that it is reusable, scalable, generalized and configurable for adoption across products or service lines.
I still believe that Robotics will be a complementary technology, rather than a replacement of BPM. There will still be processes where integration between systems will be cost-effective only because of the speed of execution using Robotics, rather than transforming integration initiatives. But yes, BPM, Integration and Rules are the expected end-state, and it will take time for a complete conversion to create a fully automated and integrated application landscape.
Above are the areas that will help Task Automation, but we still need to look at Machine Intelligence, which will address the following key areas:
- Cognitive OCR/ICR to deal with areas of Account Payables, Bank Statement Validations etc., which cannot be templatized.
- Assisted decision-making, using Natural Language Processing (NLP), web crawling – This is required for areas like Financial Investigations, Anti Money Laundering (AML), Compliance areas like Subpoenas, etc.
- Advanced Analytics to make humans more intelligent to enable faster decision-making, especially around lending to the existing bank customers, product cross-selling and customized offers.
One more area, that of Voice Technologies using Artificial Intelligence (AI), which forms 30-40% of business operations, is soon becoming a reality. AI applications including IBM Watson, Nuance, Google etc., will surely become mainstream in the coming years as technology matures and becomes cost-effective. After all, business operations’ prime objective is to deliver Faster & Better services in a cost-effective manner, cost-effective being the key mantra! Currently, AI requires a lot of investment and therefore preparing a business case may still be a difficult task.
So, while the industry is still at the cusp of Robotics, L&T Infotech, through its various client experiences, has already carved a path for Automation beyond Robotics, through its Business Process Automation Framework. This Framework covers all the areas of Automation using RPA, BPM, Integration & Digitization; and that of Machine Intelligence using matured and standard technologies available in the market. Based on our experience, this covers the whole nine yards of Automation Adoption areas in Strategy, Architecture, Delivery, Operations and Governance.
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