By now, people have begun to hear of the many benefits of robotic process automation (RPA); dramatically reduced costs, fewer errors and faster business velocity. But did you know that RPA also helps employees collaborate? It might not seem obvious at first, but yes, RPA encourages employees to work more closely with one another—as well as with customers and even the software robots (bots)that make up your new digital workforce. Here are five ways that collaboration is improving:
- Collaboration between IT and the business
For decades, experts have been advocating that IT and the business should be working more closely together. But at many organizations, this has yet to result in true collaboration between technical experts and business users. When taken to an extreme, this disconnect can turn into true technological dysfunction where rogue shadow IT activities proliferate because business users don’t feel listened to by IT.
This is simply not possible when deploying RPA. By definition, RPA needs technologists and non-technical employees to work hand in hand to identify processes ripe for automation and to rethink them so the automated processes don’t simply speed up outdated ways of doing things, but actually improve business processes.
A major banking customer of Automation Anywhere has succeeded at helping IT and business users collaborate by bringing them together to discuss such things as the complexity of proposed automation projects, the number of employees involved, the cycle time of the manual process versus how long the automated process would take. They use these criteria to determine which processes to prioritize when automating. And this methodology has proven to be as good for helping different business teams learn from each other in helping business users work closely with IT.
- Collaboration between employees and customers
Whether B2B or B2C, interactions between sales people and customers are complex. Discussions about product characteristics—size, color, features—that best suit the customer’s needs must be supported by more routine tasks like determining if the product is in stock, processing the order, and arranging for delivery.
Unfortunately, these more mundane aspects of selling often get in the way of closing the actual sale. By automating those aspects, and letting bots take care of them, you can collaborate with customers to make sure you deliver products or services that meet their precise requirements.
For example, one Automation Anywhere customer is a luxury timepiece brand that sells to high-end department stores. Its order-processing systems were so complex, that members of the sales team wasted time looking up inventory in individual retail outlets of each store chain to determine which models had sold at which outlets before they could process the order. This wasted up to five hours of actual selling. Preparing for a sale took up 50% of the salespeople’s time. When bots took over and automated inventory checks and order processing, the salespeople were able to collaborate with customers better—including discussing which features and functions customers would like to see in future product designs, and which models would be better aligned with the demographics of particular stores. The result? Both customer satisfaction and overall revenues went way up.
- Collaboration between employees who never previously collaborated
The act of automating an end-to-end process itself forces employees to collaborate—including employees who never before had reason to interact with each other.
That’s because to create bots that automate a process, you have to think through the process carefully. What’s the current way of doing something? How many humans are involved? From which departments? Is the current way of doing things the best way of doing things, or have you just “always done it this way”?
To automate well, you have to get cross-functional teams together—people from accounts payable, invoicing, finance, and customer service, for example—and think through all the conditions, constraints, and possible improvements. You may have a dozen different process variations that you weren’t even aware of. But talking it through makes you realize how everything is interconnected. It’s not infrequent for long-time employees to say, “Oh I didn’t know you could do it this way.” And by collaborating within cross-functional teams you optimize processes rather than just hardening processes that are a result of legacy systems or just out dated thinking.
- Collaboration between trouble-shooters and problem-solvers
Collaboration also helps with troubleshooting and problem-solving when automation processes go awry. Say a transaction that has been automated fails. A best-in-class bot solution will provide insight into what went wrong. By informing the right people, and keeping them in the loop, you open up opportunities for them to collaborate on solutions in a timely manner—including whether there is some systemic problem with the automated process that humans need to put their heads together to solve.
Several Automation Anywhere enterprise customers are developing bots using a dual-team approach to ensure the bots work properly. One team develops the core automation functionality whereas another validates the logic of the automation. If anything is misaligned, the two teams come together and work collaboratively to remedy the problem. This ensures that the logic is thoroughly tested and double-checked through close collaboration.
- Collaboration between employees and bots
As RPA deployments increase and businesses accrue experience with their bots, the processes that are automated are going to be increasingly complex, and will require hybrid workforces that require human and digital workers to collaborate. That’s because as processes become more complicated and multifaceted, human judgment will often be needed at some point—or multiple points—in the process. Bots will perform their share of a task, pass it onto a human, who will then pass it back to a bot to take another action—thinking, making a choice, deciding on a course of behavior—that only a human can do. We’ll see more and more of these bot-human collaborations the more deeply RPA becomes embedded in businesses.
RPA is here. But automation, despite conventional notions about it, doesn’t mean that human workers will cease to interact with each other. In fact, the opposite is true. RPA will actually encourage collaboration—between different business departments, between cross-functional teams, with customers, and even with the bots themselves. And in one sense RPA always encourages collaboration – by freeing humans from the tedious, repetitive tasks that a bot can do better, faster, and cheaper, humans will do what they do best: interact with each other collaboratively to create real value for the business.
By: Abhijit Kakhandiki, VP Products, Automation Anywhere.