robot toy among other toys
PHOTO: Lee Soo hyun

The first law of process improvement is to focus on customer CTQs — specific measurable characteristics that are perceived by the customer as critical to quality. Is that being forgotten as we rush to automate our business processes?  Yes … and no. Here’s why.

In Pursuit of Speed and Quality

Process improvement is about delivering on the promise we make to our customers to provide a respectful, efficient and high-quality experience.

This should be true for both our internal and external customers. For how can we provide a positive end-customer experience if our own employees and partners are caught in manual-intensive, non-productive, confusing and, at times, mind-numbing processes.

So, we push to automate to speed our customer response, and at the same time improve the quality of that response. 

Related Article: Navigating RPA Potholes on the Bumpy Road to Digital Transformation

Automate Tasks — Got Bots?

One approach to automation is to substitute manual work with a digital workforce of bots. This is the premise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). 

RPA is the “new” hot technology for process automation. According to Gartner, spending on RPA software increased by 63% last year, making it the fastest-growing enterprise software category in the world.    

RPA technology has demonstrated it can improve quality by removing human error from well-defined repeatable tasks. Theoretically, this also lowers costs through reduced manhours, freeing human knowledge workers to perform higher value work. Case in point, Gartner found that finance departments can save their teams from 25,000 hours of avoidable rework caused by human errors by deploying RPA in their financial reporting processes. As Gartner expert Dennis Gannon explains, this can result in additional benefit, “The departments that have experimented with RPA in their reporting processes, however, report a series of additional benefits, from less staff time fixing mistakes and more time allocated to higher-value work. The result is typically higher employee engagement and less turnover.” 

Increasingly though there is an understanding that RPA does not stand alone. As industry expert Neil Ward-Dutton (@neilwd) so aptly puts it,

“A new kind of business automation toolkit is emerging — a toolkit that addresses a broader practice that we call intelligent process automation.”  IDC Blog

Related Article: Robotic Process Automation's Growing Stake in the Workplace

Make Processes Intelligent

As the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz laments, “If I only had a brain.” Business process automation might well join in that wish for intelligence. Human intelligence has typically fueled business decisions, but now artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an important part of the automation toolkit.

Examples of AI are increasingly a part of the process automation conversation; including:

  • AI is being used in the medical industry to spot cancer in tissue slides and is performing better than human epidemiologists.
  • An MIT study found 80% of CX leaders report improvements in service delivery and contact center process performance by using AI.
  • According to Digital Insurance, the global value of premiums underwritten with AI assistance have reached an estimated $1.3 billion this year.
  • Using AI model scores instead of classic age-based segmentation, banks are “using science to figure out what somebody might need versus just throwing out offers.”
  • And, financial customers are checking the status of their loan applications and stock portfolios and requesting refunds using AI-powered conversational interfaces.

The common thread in each of these examples is improving the process as it ultimately impacts the customer.

Related Article: The Transformation of RPA to IPA: Intelligent Process Automation

Take Process Automation to Impact

To impact customers, organizations need to integrate AI technology into core business processes, not just innovate in a lab or innovation center. These target processes are often complex, as they are fundamental to the way in which business is conducted. They serve the enterprise from the back office through to the customer touchpoints. And, these complex core processes require a mix of digital and human intelligence. 

This calls for a particular type of technology — low-code application development platforms — that can address complex process requirements with speed and power. 

As Michael Beckley points out in 10 Industries AI Will Disrupt the Most by 2030, "While we work on inventing explainable AI, financial services firms are using AI and RPA with low-code platforms to augment human decisions rather than replace them. AI-powered image recognition, document classification, entity extraction, and translation services can make humans far more efficient without fundamentally disrupting the way humans process claims and make decisions.” 

Related Article: From the Lab to Real Life: Operationalizing AI and Data Analytics

Go Beyond Technology

While our technology choices are important, Forrester Research cautions there is another factor that is more important to process improvement success:

“What does influence success or failure — more than any other factor — is the human component. Too often, companies lack the cultural, leadership, and organizational capabilities needed to take powerful new technologies on board. Without a clear vision and support, employees feel intimidated and disempowered. Familiar processes and mindsets remain entrenched.”

That means a sole focus on technology will not be enough if meaningful and measurable business process improvement is the goal.

Keep in mind what the Wizard of Oz told the Scarecrow, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity!” As he awards him the honorary degree of Th.D. "Doctor of Thinkology," we realize the Scarecrow’s innate vision, ability to reflect in the moment and adapt to change was what mattered the most in the merry old Land of Oz.

And, that just might matter the most as we look to succeed with process automation.