Razieh Ehsani of Digital Workforce presents her research at a Natural Language Processing Conference in Belgium

Digital Workforce Data Scientist, Razieh Ehsani presents her scientific paper on Open-source Morphological Analyzer for Azerbaijani Turkish language in Belgium at the 2018 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing. The event takes place in Brussels from October 31st through November 4th, 2018. We will be sharing highlights from the event and the latest research on AI, robotics and automation on social media and the Digital Workforce blog.

Looking forward to an exciting event in Brussels, we are proud to share with you the paper “MorAz: an Open-source Morphological Analyzer for Azerbaijani Turkish” by Razieh Ehsani, Berke Özenc and Ercan Solak from Isik University, Istanbul and University of Helsinki.

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.

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

Decoding the robotic potential – Stephen Chilton of Birmingham University Hospital on RPA

Digital Workforce attended Healthcare ADP-days 2016, a convention about IT in healthcare, held in Lahti, Finland on 24.5.-25.5.2016. Separate from the main event, DWN had invited a selected group of people to a private cocktail hour held on the evening of the 24th. The co-founders of DWN used the hour to present the findings of their Tekes funded research and had also invited a guest speaker, the IT director of the Birmingham University Hospital, Stephen Chilton to share his experiences in the use of RPA.

The cocktail hour was opened with words from Heikki Länsisyrjä followed by Mika Vainio-Mattila’s research presentation. Vainio-Mattila brought forward findings that suggested over 70% of healthcare professionals felt the time they used on IT-based knowledge work is time spent away from patient care. According to the study 30% of doctors use more than six hours per shift navigating and registering information on different IT-systems.

Answers given by the 5754 study respondents revealed the amount of knowledge work to be on the rise. Moreover, much of the time is spent on double registrations because of the limited integration of various systems. DWN concluded that the price of double registrations, based on direct salary costs within the nine studied healthcare districts, is around €54M. A further approximation was that around 2-10% of knowledge work, currently done by healthcare professionals, could be automated. This level of automation would generate savings of around €300M-600M in Finland and would also help in allocating resources more to core activities.

Decoding the potential, the guest speaker of DWN, Stephen Chilton told of his own experiences in utilising RPA. The Birmingham University Hospital serves around 900 000 patients with the amount expected to rise each year. According to Chilton, RPA has made it possible to handle the increasing number of patients with the manpower available without increasing the size of their digital workforce at the same rate.

Looking for a cost-effective solution to manage IT functions, the organisation had been challenged to find something that would fit their needs. Finally, in 2007, a small company called Blue Prism, a newcomer to healthcare, came up with a suggestion. Since then, RPA has proven its functionality by being self-sufficient with competency development, supporting a growing number of processes and transaction types as well as greater volumes.

Chilton told a story from 2010 when issues with the new hospital front desk design had posed a serious question: How to check in 2000-2500 patients a day with just two registration desks? As a response, a new kiosk-like check-in system, complete with the RPA software of Blue Prism was set up. The solution was found highly successful and became a commercial innovation on its own. Nowadays the solution is sold to other organisations, yielding royalty fees to the innovative hospital.

In another example, Chilton explained how the performance framework of the hospital is monitored centrally by the NHS & the Department of Health. The data can be gathered via an in-house or commercial system to be delivered to the national system. However, as the national system is a closed environment, the hospital cannot share data directly from their systems. Instead, dozens of people were needed to manually insert the information into the national system. RPA technology took over the task, generating savings, increasing efficiency and eliminating costly errors. In the Birmingham University Hospital, RPA is also being used in the downloading of referral letters, test results and examination notes of patients who are being referred to Birmingham via national systems.

Chilton pointed out that information from different systems needs to be well integrated but the prices of commercial vendors are often very high. For example, the Birmingham University Hospital used a stock control system for drugs while the drugs were physically in a warehouse controlled by second warehouse system. Both of these systems were found to be incompatible and vendors were contacted about developing an integration between the systems. The two organizations came out with a proposal of 6-month development time and prize of 20000 GBP per vendor. After politely declining the offer, Birmingham University Hospital implemented RPA to automate information flow between the two systems. The project was finished within 8 days with a fraction of the price. Chilton has approximated that in 2016 RPA will save their hospital £175 000 every hour in labour costs and a further £1,7M-2,2M in cost avoidance.

Beginning the RPA journey – Blue Prism CTO Dave Moss answers the customer’s key questions

Digital Workforce joined Blue Prism Partner World event May 11th in London, Langham Hotel. The event promoted global connections between partners and hosted eminent speakers sharing industry news and experiences.

Digital Workforce’s software partner Blue Prism is the original inventor of the now internationally recognised term Robotic Process Automation and a pioneer on the technology. The company provides RPA software to large organizations around the world and has proven the use of digital workers successful in many different industries, including health care. Robotic Process Automation specifically for the services industry is emerging as a major trend as discussed in papers such as The Economist, The New York Times and Forbes.

In London, Blue Prism CTO Dave Moss brought forward key questions posed by customers who are beginning the RPA journey. We would like to share with our readers some of these points:

Why are we not using desktop recorders to implement RPA?

A desktop recorder watches how a user navigates the applications on the desktop and records the steps taken – it’s a useful shortcut to building a process quickly if that’s what is required. The downside is that by using a recorder, users are not designing their solution to be re-used and are making choices based on short term imperatives rather than long term objectives.

We strongly believe that for RPA to truly deliver value, longevity and resilience, automations should be carefully planned, modelled and designed in order to leverage principles such as re-use, componentization and economies of scale.

By modelling the parts of applications that are going to be used first and then creating re-usable objects, processes can be layered in a chain, creating a flexible, maintainable structure.

If changes are made later, all of the processes that use the information inherit these changes, without re-recording or rebuilding them. And processes can be written more quickly as the building blocks that already exist can be re-used in different business scenarios.

With this approach, the Total Cost of Ownership reduces over time, rather than increasing.

What is unique about today’s RPA compared to desktop scripting solutions?

Up until 2 or 3 years ago, what many RPA vendors were actually providing were desktop scripting applications designed to automate short tasks on a user’s desktop. Because of this heritage, the architecture of these software products is not designed to scale across significant estates or to leverage centralisation and design control – they are utility products.

One thing to look out for is how an RPA product captures and then replays the automation. Many of these software products produce “scripts” that are compiled into files that can be run on a desktop. The disadvantage with this approach is that these scripts are slow, inefficient and difficult to maintain. They are also very linear in approach.

We think about running the automations at scale as well as developing and maintaining it. Workflow is very important when it comes to scaling a solution and workflow doesn’t just mean coding a schedule for a robot. It manages the state of the work items, tracks them, records any exceptions for later review and allows you to prioritise, retry, analyse and predict completion times across your automation estate.

What about information safety?

Controls can and should be put in place to ensure that the data the robots are using stays secure. This means protecting the RPA infrastructure from human intervention, locking down the robots so they cannot be accessed by developers, testers or administrators.

It also means ensuring that the data used by the robots is encrypted during transportation and whilst at rest, and having robust access management policies as well as centralised control.

How does the virtual back office connect to front office operations?

RPA can be seen as a rapid response team of virtual workers in a separate back office. Users delegate them work to do, they do it, and then report back. Blue Prism only deliver server side, unattended automations. The virtual workforce is secure, reliable and scalable, and can’t be interrupted by human staff as they do not have access to this new team of virtual workers.

Before implementing RPA, consider what needs to be done in real-time, and what can be queued for the robotic workers to process as part of their daily workload. Hand-offs through e-forms, existing systems and workflow can be a very effective way of splitting processing into online and offline segments to optimise both human and robotic workforces and get the best from both.

That said, some processes do need a human decision or involvement along the way. In these scenarios you can use standard workflow techniques to achieve this by way of a hand-off – work can be moved between the respective workforces just like you would with existing teams, either as a call wrap function, or as an authorisation step before pushing the work back to the robots to complete.

The more the software robots learn, the more efficient they become. RPA works without ever taking a vacation. It can be small one day or large when your business hits a spike. Importantly, it frees up your best people in both the line of business and IT to do their best work on your highest priorities.

Watch Dave Moss deliver TEDx talk about RPA here.

New research: A third of doctors use over 6 hours of their shift on knowledge work

Press release – free publishing 20.4.2016
Knowledge work with its routines grabs up to half the work time of doctors and other healthcare professionals. Tekes funded pioneering research by Digital Workforce Nordic Oy, and investigated the use of time on knowledge work among public health care workers. 5754 people working in nine Finnish health care districts participated in the study, the respondents represented 64% of all health care district employees. The response percentage was 9,2%.

Registering the same data multiple times produces costs. A third of all respondents report registering the same information on different IT systems over 30 minutes a shift. This adds to the amount of overall knowledge work and frustration of employees. 83% of doctors say that the current IT systems communicate poorly with each other. Doctors have become expensive secretaries as put by one of the respondents.

Hundreds of millions worth savings potential in knowledge work automation

Knowledge work has increased over the last two years among all participants but especially nurses (84% of nurse respondents) report an increase in the amount of knowledge work. 62% of doctors say they use over four hours and almost one third more than six hours per work shift on knowledge work.

-One third of respondents report to register the same information on different IT systems at minimum 7% of their work shift. Measured as direct salary costs the used time is worth 54 million euros annually just within the nine examined health care districts. The study identifies this and many other subjects for potential savings through process automation explains the founder and CEO of Digital Workforce Nordic, Heikki Länsisyrjä.

Registering and maintaining patient information is the most time consuming part of health care knowledge work. Doctors spend 160 and nurses 185 minutes of their shift taking care of this one function. Over 70% of doctors and nurses feel that work done on the computer is away from the time spent on patient care.

-Work is becoming more computerized in all sectors. The research confirms our estimate of 300-400 million euros worth of potential savings via automation to exist within public health care. Great savings could be rapidly generated through RPA technologies supporting SOTE reorganization’s target savings of several billions, Länsisyrjä sums up.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for better knowledge work efficiency

Digital Workforce Nordic, the organization behind the study is a Finnish growth company offering RPA services. Investors behind the company aiming for international operations include Timo Ahopelto of Lifeline Ventures and Leena Niemistö.
Software robotics offers a prominent solution to automate knowledge work without changes or additional investments to the existing systems. Software robotics is especially applicable to health care industry where many routine rule-based tasks and processes are used. RPA is currently being tested in many public health care organization.

Find the study summary as pdf here.