How is Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) changing business – a reflection by Professor Leslie Willcocks

Digitalization, robotization and artificial intelligence have become business buzzwords, frequently brought up during conferences and board meetings. How does the reality of a modern enterprise look? Are companies ready to embrace the potential presented by new intelligent technologies?

Two years after our first exclusive interview with Professor Willcocks of London School of Economics and Political Science, one of the most respected experts in the field of knowledge work automation, Digital Workforce had the opportunity to reunite with him, this time in London. Reflecting on what has changed over the past two years and looking ahead at the future of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and other intelligent technologies, the discussion tackled some burning challenges companies face when implementing these solutions, how they currently stand with regards to knowledge work automation and how they should measure success.

How far have we gotten over the past two years in terms of technology and how managers see RPA?

RPA has gotten a much higher profile than it had two years ago, the technology has to some extent improved, in the sense of being more enterprise reliable than before. There are different, more sophisticated and highly customizable tools available now, solutions that are more scalable than others, but the underlying technology has not changed that much.

Business people have looked at RPA and realized they have to invest in it, due to its potential economic value. However, all managers have not come to this realization at once – we have observed three distinctive waves, implementing the technologies due to different motives. The first wave was a rather limited amount of relatively mature businesses who saw the value of RPA right up front. The second wave came in 2016, when a larger number of companies started investing heavily in process automation. Finally, the third wave started in early 2017, induced by heavily intensified marketing activities of RPA solution providers, and this enhanced visibility has been since than pushing companies to board the RPA train as well.

“RPA used to be sold as a “quick win”, easily adoptable and relatively cheap tool that would give you cost savings and a quick ROI – but people have now started to realize that it is rather a strategic weapon.” – Professor Leslie Willcocks of the LSE

Moreover, some risks have emerged that were not obvious two years ago. With regards to the main challenges RPA brings to businesses, only about 25% are directly related to technologies. The remaining 75% is about not managing it as a strategic project. Companies tend to neglect aspects such as good governance, quickly available resources, getting the C-suite on board, treating it as both a change management as well as a technical issue. There is a large number of steps the management should take and action principles that should be followed in order to reduce these risks.

What do you see as the major challenge for companies implementing knowledge work automation?

For sure, the biggest challenge is that companies are still not treating this strategically enough. They underestimate what they can achieve with it – something called a triple win, consisting of enhanced shareholder value, customer value and employee value. Their ambitions oftentimes do not aim high enough.

In the case of RPA – they are partially stuck with looking at it as a tactical tool rather than a strategic weapon, as a discrete tool rather than a potential uniting platform, as a software implementation and not as a change in the work processes. Ultimately, companies often miss on the real business value with RPA projects by this mistake. Looking for a quick ROI and hard business numbers to prove the added value while not factoring in that the main benefits might be unanticipated, such as improved customer experience and working morale of the employees, is the biggest mistake many modern enterprises make.

On top of that, cognitive automation has not yet taken off and is still at a promising, relatively immature stage. Some firms are implementing discrete uses of cognitive automation, which bring them real business value and progress. It seems so that the true synergies will arise from linking RPA with cognitive automation, eventually creating a platform that integrates seamlessly with other digital technologies in place.

Is this strategic approach towards RPA a necessary step on the way towards the implementation of cognitive automation and platform building?

Indeed, where RPA rests within the organization signals whether the company sees it as strategic or not. If you create a centralized center of excellence and you have senior executives involved in it, it is pretty clearly of a strategic interest. On the other hand, if you treat it as a lower level tool that you would apply increasingly across the organization, it seems to be more of a tactical approach without a sense of direction. The potential of RPA in relationship to cognitive automation is immense and the different automation technologies should be recognized as complementary pieces of a whole.

What is the most exciting development that you have seen in this field recently?

Lots of the cognitive automation technologies are truly exciting, carrying a massive promise. Once companies start combining them, they can get to an impressive level of automation, almost end-to-end in some cases, pushing the potential uses of the increasingly available technologies further.

Do you think that the organizational maturity is not necessarily there yet?

Mostly, the maturity of organizations with regards to their ability to absorb this level of change is not high enough yet. Companies are absorbed with way too many other IT problems and issues related to managing operations. This leaves them in a place where they are not ready to absorb even more technological change. As a result, learning to integrate the new advanced solutions is being postponed because people are still learning how to fit the previous ones into their businesses and to drive business value out of them.

How do you think the success of RPA and these first AI activities should be measured?

In some ways, measuring this presents the same problems as evaluating a success of an IT investment. There are some obvious costs and service improvement measures – you can reduce costs while offering a much superior service, the degree to which the automation does that is one of them. There is also a range of softer yet crucial benefits – such as customer experience that could be expressed by a plenty of measures. Especially in regulated industries, these solutions could help the companies to quickly and accurately comply with the imposed regulations, providing relatively cheap trial opportunities, compared to how would the companies do it without automation. Another set of metrics could revolve around employees – level of satisfaction, of morale, of productivity with machines as opposed to productivity without them and what the human beings bring to that combination. Last but not least, metrics around the level of innovation are also interesting – is the company innovating more in products and services?

What do you expect to happen in the upcoming two years?

I would expect to see a lot more RPA use-cases showing how they fit with cognitive automation, bringing lots of business value. Additionally, cognitive tools would improve on certain fronts – not the machine learning or the algorithms behind them, these are already advanced. Rather, image and data processing together with natural language processing is going to improve greatly, integrating the enhanced productivity and performance.

 

Leslie Willcocks, a professor of London School of Economics and Political Science, is considered one of the world’s most respected researchers, speakers and business publications writers in the field of knowledge work automation.

Professor Willcocks held the closing keynote at this year’s Blue Prism World event in London. You can check out the highlights of his speech titled “Robotic process automation 2018: Now, Soon, Later” here.

The robotic journey of Shop Direct – Interview with Lindsay Harrison


Shop Direct is the UK’s second largest pureplay online retailer. Head of Business Agility, Lindsay Harrison has worked for the company since 2006 and has been instrumental in pioneering RPA within the company. She is also a founding member of the Operational Agility Forum, the first forum for enterprise RPA. Harrison spoke about her experiences with RPA at the recent Future of knowledge based work- seminar in Helsinki.

Taking the first steps

Shop Direct started out with RPA back in 2007 without a set robotic objective. The company had merely recognized an interesting opportunity in robotics and started the journey out of curiosity. The first selected trials were obviously automatable processes – easy to identify, but to scale up the company needed to learn a new approach.

“We started to understand the true opportunities, as we learned what the software could do and how we could apply it. We added more structure and started to look at how we prioritize things. And how we can add value to the business in different ways, not just with cost reduction”, Harrison explains.

Today, opportunities for automation at Shop Direct are identified by Harrison’s team as well as through a continuous improvement ideas platform.

Making it measurable

Shop Direct’s key metric for RPA success has always been ‘hours back to business’. But potentially automatable processes are also scored to make well-educated choices in selecting new projects.

“We score potential projects by answering questions like: will it improve our customer journey, does it take away pain from manual labor, will it help to drive business revenue”, Harrison lists.

With the I.T. focus on long term strategic projects, RPA enables the business to address the long tail of tactical change requests from business users.

When asked for advice in implementing RPA Harrison quickly replies: “Always engage I.T. and look at RPA as a strategic model. Don’t dismiss opportunities even if they look difficult at first.”

The opportunities – looking passed cost reduction

“With RPA we have been able to test new ideas fast and without heavy up-front investment. For instance, as a tactical solution we implemented a process to support our credit teams which has now been progressed strategically. This helped to generate revenue and is a great example of business agility’’, Harrison explains.

According to Harrison, Shop Direct’s customer journey has also significantly improved and this has in turn improved customer satisfaction scores.

Today, Shop Direct looks forward to building new capabilities around RPA – that has already proven successful – and sees technologies such as AI as exciting addition to the ecosystem.

 

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation and visit Digital Workforce Academy to learn more about our training programs.

Live-blog: Future of knowledge based work 11.5.2017, Scandic Park Helsinki

Follow live also on Twitter and Instagram #tietotyö17

Event hosts: Digital Workforce and Talouselämä
Visit the event page here.

 

8.55 Guests are arriving to Scandic Park Helsinki. Breakfast is served.

9.05 Emilia Kullas, Talouselämä: Opening remarks.

9.08 Heikki Länsisyrjä, cofounder Digital Workforce: Welcome to the event!

 

9.15 Emilia Kullas: Introducing Dr Jacques Bughin, Senior Partner at McKinsey and Director at McKinsey Global Institute.

9.15 Keynote by Dr Jacques Bughin: 

”We are now entering the second machine age. What does it mean? Its a lot to do with robotics and AI.”

“The economics of the second machine age are different from before.”

“AI is spreading over all verticals and we see more and more startups disrupting industries with it.”

”The move towards AI also shows in investment that has grown by nearly 50% since 2013.”

”So what are the different AI technologies?”

  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Machine learning
  • Language tools
  • Computer vision
  • Virtual agent
  • Robotics

”Companies are facing 3 questions:”

  • Is this real (at this time)/ Should we take AI and robotics seriously with a sense of urgency?
  • Microeconomics – Does it matter for the way we compete?
  • Macroeconomics – Does it lead to self-inflicted future? (“automation killing jobs and wage, depleting demand”)

”To answer question #1: Yes it is real.”

”The AI & robotics industry has developed immensely: A simple GPU can now offer a 5-10x improvement in training time for a neural network compared to a conventional CPU architecture, algorithms have improved, we have gained experience from succesfull applications and research, and the popularity of deep learning is attracting more talent.”

”#2 Tapping into the competitive edge of AI…What are the domains promising value?:”

  • Business models enabled by data
  • Hyper scale real-time matching
  • Radical personalization
  • Disruptive data integration
  • Data-driven discovery
  • Enhanced dicission making

” AI current play is mostly a digital native game but the potential is much larger than this. We are still in the beginning”

”Case Netflix: 2011: Development of full deep learning algorithm based recommendations. Making people choose all the time in the interval is the Netflix challenge met- the combined effect of personalization and recommendations save Netflix more than $1 billion a year, or ROI of more than 300%!”

”Case Amazon: Since 2015 Amazon uses 30,000 Kiva robots across 13 warehouses to make inventory management more efficient. Traditional Impact “click to ship” cycle done in 60-75 minutes by employees versus by robots in 15 minutes; Each Kiva-equipped warehouse can hold 50% more inventory per square foot than centers without robots, with operating costs have been sliced by 20%. Savings USD 22 million – per warehouse or ROI of about 50%.”

”We need to understand that technology is not a business model: AI requires digital maturity and an offensive strategy mindset!”

“Odds are in favour of digital natives.”

”#3 Do we have the right perspective? The content of work has changed but new jobs continue to be created.”

“What are the new jobs, whats going to be exciting? The market has proved flexibility before. We just need to put our focus on responding to the change.”

”What is a job? A job is first of all not monolithic, but a bundle of tasks; hence we need to see how AI capabilities can match task productivity in the first place. Fewer than 10% of occupations will be fully automated – and the impact will be rather sector specific.”

”What do the future developments look like?”

  • Feeding the supply side of AI – building and maintaining robots
  • Maximizing Roi of AI – Big data analysts, IT architecture development, etc.
  • Transitioning the future – Building the new set of legal rules for interacting with msart machines
  • Building the new infrastructure – Wireless, IoT, 5G, etc.
  • New jobs – Cybersecurity, micro-grid, conversion, digital blockchain tech, self-built 3D tools (up to home and cars) senior living, new digital molecular agriculture, space tourism, etc.

“What matters is creativity.”

”AI will improve service productivity, quality of health care, and enable re-shoring of manufacturing.”

”Last remarks for the audience:”

  • Don’t resist, adopt and unleash!
  • Embrace the opportunity – while there are risks to consider, the potential gains are far greater!
  • Think in terms of developing new systems that allow participation!
  • AI is likely the largest boost for productivity we will have in near future!

Q/A

What has impressed you most?

“The challenge of robotics. How software and engineering are combined – mechanics and AI together. The abilities of the new technologies are absolutely fascinating.”

How do you see the income tax affect to countries such as Finland?

“Its necessary to make sure we create value to the country. The infrastructure and public involvement needs to be in place.”

 

10.10 Emilia Kullas: Introducing Lindsay Harrison, Head of RPA, Shop Direct & Alex Bentley, Director of Corporate Development, Blue Prism

10.10 Bentley: “Shop Direct is UK’s 2nd largest online retailer after Amazon. Lindsey has been with the company since 2006 and has had a big role in introducing RPA in the company.”

Bentley: “How did your Blue Prism journey start?”

Harrison: “Shop Direct management asked her to start investigating robotics in 2007. We found that BluePrism was the only one able to do what they promised with RPA.”

“When we started we did know what to do with the tech. We started with 3 straight forward processes as a proof of concept. Moving to the next level though required more rethinking.”

“At the moment we have 50 robots and we a still planning to increase the capacity.”

“Our metric has always been hours back to the business. Last year we brought 280000 hours back to the business with RPA.”

Bentley: “What were the main challenges that you faced in the early days, and how did you overcome these?”

Harrison: “Our mistake was to not involve IT from the start and we experienced a push back from this function as a result. By now we have gained everyones trust and support. Communication is important.”

Bentley: “RPA & the Digital Workforce provides a completely new way of working. How was it perceived by staff at the start of your journey, and has this changed over time?”

Harrison: “RPA helps us release time and skill on value adding tasks and customer service. Our employees are more committed and happy with their jobs. We have also been able to realise some customer projects that have made our customers more happy.”

Bentley: “How much work are your robots doing at Shop Direct? What level of productivity do they achieve?”

Harrison: “RPA is often thought of as a cost reduction tool. But it also helps create revenue. We can offer new services – for example increase our customer’s credit limit that brings massive additional income for the company.”

Bentley: “How do you develop the next generation of talent at Shop Direct?”

Harrison: “One of the things I’m looking to do at the moment is setting up an RPA internship. This technology is here to stay so we want to make sure we have enough fresh talent skilled in it.”

Q/A

How many processes have you automated?

“Over 120 (some 24/7).”

After this long journey, is there still more potential?

“It took us a while to start seeing the processes that fit automation but we can now recognise the huge potential. There is massive potential in functions such as fulfilment, warehousing, HR and finance.”

10.40 Coffee break

 

10.05 Panel discussion: ”Who owns software robotics in the organization and what are the set targets?”

Panelists:

Lauri Peltola, Senior Manager, Process Development & RPA, OP
Petteri Hannula, Head of Aditro Enterprise Finland, Aditro
Pasi Mauno, Deputy Managing Director, Lähitapiola

Facilitator:

Heikki Länsisyrjä, one of the founders of Digital Workforce

“Hundreds of digital workers are increasing the efficiency of processes in Finland liberating simultaneously humans to more productive tasks across all industries and functions.”

Heikki Länsisyrjä: What are your success measures?

Pasi Mauno, LähiTapiola: “Its important that the tech supports our strategy. The goals are not separately set for RPA at the moment, but its evaluated as part of the strategy.”

Lauri Peltola, OP: “Development speed.”

Petteri Hannula, Aditro: “Moving employees from routines to more value adding tasks.”

Heikki Länsisyrjä: “How do you see the future and the set up of teams?”

Pasi Mauno, LähiTapiola: “The manager’s role will be more about evolving the workforce – training and taking care of people.”

Heikki Länsisyrjä: “Do you think the current technologies can disrupt the space and be base for competitive advantage?”

Lauri Peltola, OP: “We can offer new products/ services for our clients with the help of RPA.”

Petteri Hannula, Aditro: “Eliminating mistakes and offering efficiently better quality is a big competitive advantage.”

Heikki Länsisyrjä: “Have you thought about other benefits than cost cutting?”

Pasi Mauno, LähiTapiola: “It all starts from the customer. We want to serve them better than before (quality & speed) – better than our competitors.”

Petteri Hannula, Aditro: “We see our employees have more complex jobs as a result of automation and they are also more full-filling.”

Heikki Länsisyrjä: “What are the challenges?”

Petteri Hannula, Aditro: “We are trying to increase our internal capacity so we can act quickly when we recognise an opportunity.”

Lauri Peltola, OP: “We want to have robotics as part of process re-engineering this means starting to understand robotics on a strategic level. Its a learning curve.”

Pasi Mauno, LähiTapiola: “Communication across the organisation is important otherwise you will face resistance.”

 

11.40 Round table discussions:

”AI and Software Robots to Create Advantage”

Guests and hosts discuss the following:

  • How do you take advantage of digital workforce and software robots in new business creation?
  • Can we turn routine work and slow information systems into competitive edge?
  • With robots, can you achieve market leadership?
  • And can you achievce this less than in six months?

 

12.05 Emilia Kullas, Talouselämä: Concluding remarks.

12.08 Lunch is served.

Thank you!

Focus matters

Something extraordinary took place in the U.S. this spring. A car manufacturer producing tiny volumes of just a few models and not creating any profit at all, rose to be the one with the highest market value. Huge giants, General Motors and Ford, are now #2 and #3. As you can easily guess, the number one manufacturer I’m talking about is Tesla. Automotive industry is being disrupted by a new player. The engineers of the Tesla company don’t have any plan B combustion engine in their back pocket: electricity is a “do or die” for Tesla. This lack of alternative strategies forces them to rethink something quite ordinary, a car, with totally new goggles on. And while doing so, they are disrupting a market currently dominated by global giants.

Why is a single cause so powerful?

The example of Tesla is not unique. We have all heard of Netflix, which in a less than a decade nearly eradicated the movie rental business. They created a new business model based on a new status quo: almost everybody having a wide band internet connection at home. The dominant thinking for Netflix wasn’t about how to bring a monthly online subscription on top of existing stock of physical DVDs for rent. Neither was it for Tesla on how to bring a new kind of electric engine to an existing car make. Essential for both companies was to rethink how something we thought we already knew (a car or a movie rental) could work in the best possible way considering newly emerged technology. And even more importantly, to start with a blank sheet and to go all in with something new and unique.

Digital Worker is a new emerging technology

You have most likely already heard quite a bit about digital workers. These tireless new employees being able to perform routine tasks far more accurately and efficiently than a regular human employee. But it may well be that you haven’t considered the full nature of digital workers. In the same way as the experience of driving a Tesla Model S is different from a Ford Mondeo, a business process created to take the full benefit of digital workers really is something quite different compared to the ‘as is’ manual process. Delivering service to a customer in hours instead of days, serving ten times bigger volumes or eliminating costly errors are just examples of individual benefits. Key question should be “if digital workers were available when we created this process, would we have built it differently?”.

I give an example on how this works. Let’s say the help desk needs to open ten different legacy applications to be able to type in agreed actions after a customer call. So, in practical terms, help desk assistant spends 5 minutes for customer interaction and then 5 additional minutes for keying in all the information. With a Digital Worker working in the background, the agent could type all the information to a simple template. While the agent takes the next call, the Digital Worker types in all the actions to the underlying systems.

For us, Digital Workers are our ‘do or die’

We, the experts in Digital Workforce, are proud to state that we focus only into enabling new business models based on full utilization of digital workers. This means that we take a wider perspective than only considering current manual processes from the point of view of suitability to Digital Workers. Additionally, we are the only Digital Worker provider having a 24/7 cloud based Robot as a Service Platform, an online Academy for training your own people to maximise the value of these new colleagues as well as a mobile reporting tool for following up the results of the work.

Focusing into a single cause forces us to be better than anyone else in the market. Otherwise we wouldn’t be there at all. Even more importantly: we are not just better, we are distinctly different.

We understand how to turn this new technology into concrete business value. Want to know more? Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation.

Article: Tuomo Sievilä – Program Manager, Digital Workforce

Tuomo has extensive experience from process management in banking industry and previously worked as Robotic Process Automation Concept Owner at Nordea. He joined Digital Workforce in March 2017 and is currently responsible for extensive and international robotics projects.

RPA – From zero to hundred in just 100 days

Utilizing the digital workforce (or RPA – Robotic Process Automation) is easy, they say. The projects are fast and Lean. In just a few weeks you can automate practically any routine in your organization. Finally, we can say good bye to IT budgeting and long IT wish lists that never get implemented. Or is it really that rosy? Well, yes and no.

In search of replication and scalability

Implementing automation scripts is easy and fast – once you have first found the right tasks to automate and decided what will happen after the automation: how will the teams work in collaboration with virtual workforce and what kind of new tasks will the human take on once they are no longer burdened by trivial and boring routines.

Also, before RPA becomes replicable you need to figure out how to build a scalable technical platform where you can add more digital workers with a snap of a finger. But the fun part really hits in once you start upgrading your core IT systems and the automation scripts you have implemented will stop working. All this reminds me about the good old days when IT was a new thing and everybody was so creative. We had these heroes who were keeping the company up and running. Everybody knows that when “Jack is on holidays nobody else knows how the systems work”. Not perhaps the optimal way to run critical business processes.

If you do not know where you want to go, you can pick any road

Organisations do not implement RPA just because it is fun (It is fun, by the way), but because they want to achieve tangible results. Sometimes the results are better efficiency or quality, sometimes higher value. Whatever you target, be sure to define it well and then build an engine to deliver the value. It will not happen by itself.

RPA is an extremely useful and flexible tool when you use it the right way. But even the most flexible tools require management and governance. You might even claim the more flexible the tool the more thinking you need to put in the governance. After all, if the tool is so simple that everyone can benefit from it, as well as implement it, you’ll quickly end up being flooded with automation solutions – that will unfortunately suffer from the next ERP upgrade and most probably need to be reworked after that.

Digital workforce needs to be managed, just like their human colleagues

Imagine a situation where you had no rules or targets. Everyone could do whatever they wanted and come and go as they like without agreeing anything with anyone. I doubt this would work very well. Despite the rising trend of self-organizing teams and “Teal Organizations”, in reality even these structures are far from anarchy. Self-organizing teams share a purpose and ground rules. Similarly, digital workers need targets and governance (they cannot, unfortunately self-organize, not yet anyway).

How to bridge the gap from pilots to real productivity?

Some organizations experience a disappointment following successful RPA pilots. Business cases may not be fulfilled or results get stuck on a modest level. Usually this is caused by a lack of targets and governance combined with poor scalability of the platforms and missing operational models.

We at Digital Workforce have recognized a need to accelerate the RPA take-off among our customers. When you start the right way from the very beginning, the rest will sort itself out much easier. You need to set a vision and target for automation and build a robust platform. You will also need to organize yourself around the topic and define priorities and governance models. This is not rocket science, but it is a necessity. If you are not quite sure how to do it or where to start, why don’t you give us a call. Let’s talk!

Take the fast lane and pick up speed

Digital Workforce has made this journey already with several organizations. Our experiences with key customers in the Nordics have derived best practices for establishing RPA management while being sensitive to organizational culture. We have created a comprehensive program that helps you set in place the necessary elements for automation in just 100 days. After this you are ready to go with your truly self-funding RPA program! Gone are the days of numerous pilots, trials and small scale automations. Want to know more? Contact us!

Contact Jari Annala: jari.annala@digitalworkforce.fi, +358(0) 400 33 85 85

 

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Article: Jari Annala –Digital (R)evolutionist, Digital Workforce
Picture KeWynn Lee license CC BY 2.0

 

Public entities in digital transformation – New frontiers of cooperation

Can governments truly be a source of innovation or is it up to companies to lead the way? Can public entities be forerunners in implementing digital technologies and how can companies be involved in the development process?

Ultimate goal: Be great at serving your customers

The goal in using digital technologies is to serve customers more efficiently. In the case of public organizations customers being us, the people. The Finnish Ministry of Finance currently develops a platform gathering up all public digital services and best practices of implementing these solutions (beta.digisuomi.fi). The State Treasury also organized a new function, D9, dedicated to realizing the digital objective. The main driver behind utilizing digital technologies, as noted on both sites, is to serve customers better than before. For example, The Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Kela, has already announced its intention to make a large investment in automation in order to cut waiting time and improve customer experience. Many public processes carry high potential for automation and digital development. In some cases, the potential for digitalization is even higher when envisioned to be used across organizational boundaries. Collecting data in more centralized systems available for multiple uses, could greatly enhance service and optimize governmental operations.

On the other hand, the Finnish government is under pressure to reduce its general costs. The set goal is to cut costs by 10 billion euros between 2019 and 2029, of which the health- and social services reform (SOTE) is intended to cover 3 billion euros. The so called “SOTE”-reform is going to change fundamentally the structure of Finnish health services; The nation will be divided into five SOTE-districts that are allowed to provide services themselves as well as via private operators. Citizens can choose their own primary healthcare center, which increases competition between providers. On the customer’s perspective, the reform is envisioned to improve service quality and freedom of choice as well as abolish inequality between different service districts and income-groups. The government relies heavily in the assistance of digital technologies in organizing and operating SOTE. Data sharing between multiple, previously separate systems needs to be realized for the reform to function. In addition, other areas of digital service development, such as remote health services and personal health data banks, have been identified. According to Tuomas Pöysti, Undersecretary, and Project Manager to reorganizing Finnish social- and health services (SOTE), many of the new services are developed in cooperation with private operators.

Finding synergies

As the Finnish government moves ahead with its intention to supercharge digitalization, many opportunities for business arise. Private operators can serve simply as service providers or suppliers, but also take part in more cooperative development projects. To identify these synergies, having an active dialogue between public and private sector operators is imperative. Building mutual understanding also reduces the sense of risk related to exploring new opportunities – technological or otherwise.

Unfortunately, public discussions on the subject of digitalization tend to be quite vague or have their focus on long-term broad visions. These visions need to be complemented by more specialized/operational conversations that address the points of action – challenges and capabilities – where synergies are best found. Building mutual understanding also creates an opportunity to leverage new technologies beyond their most obvious applications to maximize benefits.

The opportunity of RPA

Since its founding, Digital Workforce has actively engaged in discussions with public sector operators to understand the unique processes that take place in these organizations. The company conducted a research across Finnish public healthcare districts in 2016, that measured healthcare professionals’ use of time. The Tekes funded study indicated that doctors and nurses used on average 30 min a shift on double registrations (registering previously registered information again in a different system). Of doctors 83% reported poor communication between systems and 63% reported using over 4 hours a shift on computer based knowledge work. The findings suggested a major need for integration and automation. In the context of SOTE a savings potential of 300-400 million euros was calculated by eliminating double registration with Robotic Process Automation.

Based on the developed understanding, Digital Workforce has had the opportunity to work with Finnish public sector operators pioneering the use of RPA. Some of our public healthcare projects were discussed in our previous article.

Despite the success, many more public opportunities remain untouched. As pointed out by Leena Niemistö, 2016 business angel of the year, in many cases solutions to current problems already exist but organizational practices need to adjust to the changes brought forward by technological development. In the case of RPA being utilized by Finnish public sector, scaling up and exploring the technology as a strategical tool holds great potential.

 

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Photo Zeevveez license CC BY 2.0

Reaching automation excellence with Dave Moss

Following our RPA seminar on processes and information systems development last month, we sat down with the keynote speaker Dave Moss, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Blue Prism. Elaborating on issues discussed at the event, Moss shared his expertise, and vision for the future of work.

Q: What is the first step in identifying a process for automation?

A: For most businesses, the work best suited for automation are the back-office clerical tasks that are tedious, rules-based, often manual and repetitive in nature. These are “swivel chair” processes, and are susceptible to human error that stands in the way of efficient, effective delivery of products and services. More importantly, employees can be freed up to contribute higher value work to the organization.

The first step of any automation project is to ensure that both IT and business operations are invested and involved in it from the start and that they work together to create a strategy and plan for the ongoing automation program. Too often, organisations start with a flurry of automation activity only to later discover that discrepancies between what the business needs and what degree of governance IT require lead to the two sides becoming misaligned. Mission-critical operations in highly regulated industries require IT to ensure that all solutions comply with strict security, governance and resilience criteria. IT and the different functions should work together to identify a pipeline of processes with a strong business case (for RPA) and agree on the governance platform at the outset. This will underwrite a much more successful project with longevity and resilience built in.

Q: How does automation blend with the public concern of “bringing back jobs”?

A: While many people believe automation eliminates jobs, in my experience, it’s simply not the case. Rather than remove resources, automation reallocates them – putting human and technological capital to its best use within the organization. By automating the repetitive, mundane work, employees have more time to do the strategic, creative and customer-facing work that they’re better suited for.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve discovered and invented ways to make our work faster, less intensive, more safe and, ideally, more enjoyable. Enterprise automation and the optimization of process work via technologies like artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) is just the latest phase in this evolution. In the end, if companies are using automation strategically, employees should benefit. This means using automation tools to automate very repetitive and boring work, increasing productivity, customer service and quality and freeing up the time for internal staff to work on tasks that are more varied, complex, and interesting. Rather than eliminating jobs, automation transforms them.

Q: What is the smartest advice for building teams of IT and business leaders for automation projects?

A: The best advice I could offer organizations launching an automation project is to understand both the business and cultural imperatives required to be successful. Of course this begins with the understanding that business operations and IT must be working together, but more broadly, it should be the commonly held belief that automation is not a “silver bullet.” It will require significant time and effort invested by both sides, so early buy-in is key if the desired outcome is organization-wide transformation.

One way to do this is by developing an automation strategy that sets the direction for the entire project – aligning expectations and tying back to a single common vision. Collaborating and agreeing on a few priority deployments at the outset can help alleviate these issues, and work towards developing a project roadmap that will carry the organization from current state to desired outcome with a smooth transition.

Q: How do you create workforce competencies so automation, once in place, can be managed properly?

A: The key to properly manage automation is to make sure that you’ve established strong standards and best practices. You can use the first batch of automated processes to establish the ideal methodology, and leverage it as a foundation for subsequent process deliveries. Establishing a tailored, centralized model that aligns with the organization’s business goals and structure will ensure that the automation program meets its ROI goals. The organization gains experience in training and managing the digital workforce, creating an internal center of excellence that can help ensure quality across the board and apply automation in new, innovative ways throughout the organization.

Q: In five years, what will be the relationship between automation and the workforce?

A: Automation is redefining the way we live and work. Organizations of all sizes and scopes are making it a critical part of their business strategies, and I don’t see that slowing down. The evolution of automation technologies and humans’ roles in workplace will take place in tandem. It will be the responsibility of senior leaders to understand, educate and engage both their human and robotic workforces to work together to achieve business success.

 

Click here for a short presentation on topics discussed at our Seminar 9.2.2017.

Find out why business managers should pay attention to RPA and how robotic process automation sits with digital strategy and other technological solutions.

 

 

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Photo Tori Pal license CC BY 2.0

 

 

Digital Workforce marches forward on a mission to improve healthcare processes

Digital Workforce continues to actively participate in the development of healthcare processes. The company was recently accepted on a list of suppliers of an acquisition ring led by HUS and Ropsu, a home care software robot, took victory in an international innovation competition. Inspired by the news, we decided to share some practical experiences from our completed projects.

Automation has produced exciting results in many healthcare processes and induced positive reactions across staff in all organisation we’ve worked with.

Tasks we have delivered software robots to perform in healthcare organisations include:

  • Registering examination referrals
  • Reporting laboratory results
  • Making food orders
  • Resourcing staff
  • Creating reports for management
  • Transferring data between hospital and home care systems
  • Checking invoices
  • Transferring data from an old system to a new one in a system reform
  • Processing reminders related to examination reports

Take a peek at our customers’ experience with RPA in the following videos:

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Photo Blue Coat Photos license CC BY 2.0

Intelligent Automation – Steps of progression

Often when people first hear about Robotic Process Automation, or RPA for short, they picture robots doing the job humans currently do. Not only that, in their mind the robot might even do the job the person currently holds. That is, understandably, an unpleasant thought. Nobody wants to be replaced, not by another human being, and certainly not by a robot. Yet it is extremely unlikely a person would be completely replaced by a robot when we’re talking about RPA.

The robots are trained to handle certain situations and react to them in certain, predetermined ways. Any sort of creative thinking, or novel situation, will make them too confused to function. This puts pressure on the design and creation of the robot, but should also ease the fears of the people who fear robots are here to take over their jobs. In fact, people tend to open up to RPA after gaining personal experiencing in a project that utilizes the technology or just by seeing in practice how software robots work.

In 2015 a U.S. based research company Horses for Sources created a model of continuum between the simplest data centre automation and fully automated processes. They aptly named it “The Horses for Sources Intelligent Automation Continuum”. The model visualises the progression from the most rudimentary automation – simple scripts and scheduling – to full automation with true artificial intelligence. Depicted between the two extremes stand various stages of progression.

 

hfs
Image with permission: HfS Research, The Services Research CompanyTM, Intelligent Automation Continuum.

 

Intelligent Automation Continuum

Far left – Data centre automation

As said, this is the simplest form of automation. The automation is done using scripts, schedules or some other fairly simple means. No matter what exact method is used, the process is based on some sort of trigger – a certain time or an event (such as an email being received) – and the data it handles is very rigidly structured. The process is always done the same way without variation. There are minimum number of branching behaviour and decision points.

RPA

To the immediate right to data centre automation is RPA. While RPA solutions mimic humans in the use of keyboard and mouse, they are still very simple, handle structured data, and are triggered by a scheduler or another event.

Autonomic platforms

Autonomic platforms are already much more complex than RPA or data centre automation. An autonomic platform makes decisions on its own, whereas in RPA the decisions are hardwired to the system. These systems check and optimise their status in order to adapt to changing conditions – so they can make better decisions in the future.

For example, say a specific service goes offline. Unless the designer of the solution had prepared for this, an RPA solution would send error messages incessantly unless it was shut down or the service came back online. An autonomic platform would realise something was amiss and maybe keep trying the service to see if it came back online, but it would not send alerts to anyone after the first alert.

Cognitive computing

Cognitive computing is again one step closer to how a human brain works. These are systems, that, according to IBM, are capable of learning at scale, reason with purpose, and interact naturally with humans. They are able to learn as information changes, and react to changing goals. They can often interact with both humans and other devices and thus gather information efficiently. They are often designed to handle ambiguity by asking questions and prompting for more information. They can also “recall” previous interactions to help resolve future cases. They can also identify context specific information, such as meaning, syntax, goals, etc.

It is telling that while products in the other categories have names similar to any other software products, such as Cicero, Blue Prism, and ignio, products falling under the cognitive computing category are likelier to have humanlike names, such as Accenture and IPSoft’s Amelia and IBM’s Watson.

True artificial intelligence

This means completely autonomic system which can interact with the world in any sort of situation and accomplish its goals. In other words, working like a human mind would. While computers have become more and more capable, it has been easier to say which is NOT in the domain of artificial intelligence, than defining what is within it. For example, image recognition used to be considered an example of artificial intelligence, but nowadays it is seen as routine technology.

In this end of the continuum the process is completely based on rules, instead of rigid triggers. The system can also deal with unstructured data just like a human could.

Note how there are no example solutions here yet.

 

Business Process Management and information storage

Overarching everything is business process management (BPM) and the way information is stored. Business process management is essentially the optimisation of business processes. This is important, since regardless whether a process is to be automated, it should be executed efficiently. Automation is just one of the tools used in BPM.

It is also significant how and where the data, the process uses, is saved. Is it saved in a database with a clear structure? Is it essentially scanned forms? Is it on the same server the system is running on? Is it in the cloud? These are all questions which affect the automated system.

So as exciting as the thought of handing off all my work to a robot is (we all dream of a break once in a while, right?) it seems it’s not possible to hand off ALL work tasks anytime soon. But just think, is there anything you’d like to pass on? Reporting expenses? Writing reports based on some data you get from a system? For most people there’s something in their workday or week they could do without. Surprisingly often it could be handed off for a robot to do.

 

Face tomorrow’s challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Article: Emma Luukka – RPA Solutions Consultant, Digital Workforce
Picture Melissa Brawner license CC BY 2.0

The strategic role of software robotics: Why business executives should pay attention to RPA?

Why business executives should pay attention to software robotics?

Many business executives can relate to frustrations that come from painfully inefficient implementation of strategy. When speaking of this problem, managers most often refer to a lack of technological readiness and staff resistance to change. Another popular topic for discussions is the growing necessity for digital strategy. Producing digital services is rarely straightforward, as standing technological integrations rarely serve the purpose. On this basis, software robotics provides an excellent tool to improve the technological agility of knowledge-intensive organizations. Next to that it helps to allocate human resources to have more productive tasks.

Agile businesses operate cost-effectively and react quickly to change

Mikko Kosonen, the president of a Finnish public fund Sitra, sums up the value of a company to be agile and capable to identify and implement change. Additionally, company value is dependent on the organization’s ability to implement change cost-effectively. It is generally recognized, that friction to change increases as an organization grows bigger in size. This organizational stiffness relates to staff attitudes, as well as heavy and incompatible IT-systems.

In an agile organization, the company management is able to initiate cross-organizational strategic programs quickly and cost-effectively. An example of such program, could be changing company structure from functional to customer-led. The decision to do so, may arise from a will to increase efficiency and avoid internal competition. The transition to a customer-driven structure requires all information related to the same customer to be collected quickly and flawlessly. Unfortunately, the different functions rarely use compatible systems, and building an integration is both slow and costly.

Software robotics provides a fast and efficient way to automate computer-based routine tasks and helps to allocate human workforce to more productive tasks. In many cases, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) can be used to replace or push back expensive integration projects – for a tenth of the price of a traditional solution. Implementing automation technology doesn’t require any changes to existing information systems or security policies.

Software Robotics reduces friction to change

Our experience shows that the use of RPA can positively influence both technological agility and staff attitudes towards change. Negative attitudes are reduced by the experience, that implementing change no longer means a disruptive amount of extra work. For this reason, company management may more easily earn their staff’s support and be able to create cultural flexibility for change. In this case, the company culture becomes supportive of learning through trial and error, and the management can experiment with new business models quickly, cost-effectively, and almost risk-free. Digital workers can be exploited to implement changes involving IT-systems within days, and get comparable results almost immediately. Organizational changes require less commitment from employees, while deploying RPA is quick and easy.

On the other hand, software robotics support strategic change by shortening technical set-up times. Set-up time refers to the length of time, from the moment of decision to the moment when the required information is available for use, in the desired location. Compared to traditional IT reforms, RPA set-up times are just tenth of the norm. In addition, and partially for the previous reason, the costs are also a tenth of what companies traditionally pay for these changes. New strategic opportunities arise, when large-scale organizational changes can be implemented up to ten times faster and cheaper than before.

RPA as part of the digital strategy

In addition to strategic agility, automation technology can support the implementation of a digital strategy. Many companies look to create competitive advantage by offering effective and comprehensive online services. However, creating a digital service is often slow and difficult, if it requires manual integration between IT-systems or implementing entirely new systems. Under these circumstances, offering the service only adds to the employee’s workload and quickly causes internal resistance. With software robotics these integrations can be set up in days, while guaranteeing the accuracy and safety of the transfer.

Processes supporting digital strategy are an obvious area of application for software robotics. Organizations pioneering the use of RPA have reportedly achieved up to 35% higher productivity by automating IT-routines. On the other hand, short process-specific projects can generate measurable results very quickly. RPA provides company management an excellent tool to concretize the objectives described in digital strategy, and helps to enhance the functionality of digital services.

 

Face tomorrows challenges with digital workforce by your side! Contact us to unravel the automation potential hiding in your organisation. 

Article Heikki Länsisyrjä – Partner, Digital Workforce
Photo Zengame licence CC BY 2.0