Robotic automation the next wave in driving operational efficiency cost reduction

The coming storm: How robotic automation is set to transform back offices globally, disrupt traditional BPO business models and deliver substantial cost reductions.

A panel consisting of GenfourBlue Prism and the RAC  presented on our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) implementation within the RAC at yesterday’s EMRG Sourcing Summit. Present were Sharon Rosser, Head of Operational Support, RAC, Becci Lenthall, Sales Administration & Carnet De Passage Operations Manager, RAC, Pat Geary, CMO, Blue PrismJames Hall, Managing Director, GenfourJane Youdell, Head of Operations, Genfour and the event was chaired by Adrian Quayle, Managing Partner, Avasant Europe.

Q1: James please can you give us an introduction to Robotic Process Automation and the role Genfour plays

James – Lets do a quick poll of the attendees in the room to see how many people have heard of  heard of Robotic Process Automation – about 50%.

In order to set the scene and give all attendees a common understanding of RPA I’m going to start by playing Tech Market UK’s New Frontiers for Robotic Automation video.

As you can see from the video the key benefits of RPA are:-

  • Improve your P&L, as well as low cost to implement
  • Operational excellence and speed to implement
  • The ability to leverage your talent, which is  a great area for the whole digital agenda – with RPA supporting how you digitise your business and enabling you to drive this forward.

RPA is more than automating rules based process, there are now technologies that are able to understand pattern recognition and understanding voice. Most businesses still have a long way to get to true cognitive computing  and we are now having to go faster and faster to deal with what our customers are demanding. We see lots of legacy businesses struggling with this as they try to find ways to act with the speed and agility of a startup.

Q2: James can you tell us how your involvement with the RAC came about

James – It was through a former colleague I worked with at Capita who had recently joined the RAC, Mike Minahan. Mike was already aware of the potential for RPA and could see that with both the RAC’s existing and new systems that their processes were ripe for automation. Working together with the RAC we very quickly nailed that down.  We were able to complete a full assessment of the RAC operation and processes and commence the RPA design and build within a few weeks.

Q3: Sharon please tell us about the RAC and the part of the business you manage?

Sharon – RAC is a motoring organisation who have been around for about 116 years and was originally the RAC club. In my lifetime with the RAC, which is 15 years, we have been sold 3 times and most recently purchased by the Carlisle Group. We have grown quite successfully under the investment from the new owner achieving £486m turnover £145m profit last year. Our net promoter score (NPS) is key, our customer is the focus and at the centre of everything we do. Our team supports 2m individual members and the corporate sector, mainly through fleet companies and there is a need for us to be efficient with our back office operations.

I’m responsible for all support functions, which is 170 FTE, training to answer the phone compliantly – we are FCA regulated, governance, quality, business change and billings –  we aim to collect payments in the most efficient way.

Most importantly for this session I also look after sales administration which is all of our back office processing, including all the things that go wrong with systems etc and ensure that we pick up the pieces so our members aren’t affected.

Q4: Becci how does your team fit into the bigger picture, what do they do?

Becci – I’m responsible for the back office sales administration processing team for RAC’s individual membership base, which includes managing customer enquiries via email, letter etc, exceptions and resolving systems issues. We process online renewals and the team cover a variety of RAC’s product ranges including carnet, travel, breakdown and corporate accounts. We are tasked with going in and resolving the problems before it impacts the customer.

I manage between 80 and 90 different process types, with a large number that are repetitive high volume in nature.

Q5: Sharon, What was the RAC’s robotic automation need?

Sharon – When we were taken over by Carlisle, who are a private equity firm, we went through a period of significant change and were encouraged Carlisle to grow business, introduce new products and systems and separate everything from our previous owner Aviva.

The new owners said to me you’ve got an awful lot of people in your back office, how can you reduce this? Carlisle had introduced a number of new senior members to the board, Mike being one of them, and he introduced us to Genfour and the Blue Prism product.

We undertook a review in a short period of time to quickly decide if RPA was the right fit.

Becci – When we were owned by Aviva, 50% of our voice operation was offshore and a proportion of our back office. We repatriated our voice activity first and in July 2012 we bought back our back office. We had to show to our management that not only could we run the operation for the same cost but where could we further reduce our back office costs, which is where RPA came in.

We very quickly identified 4 high volume, resource hungry processes from our existing CRM that were sound automation candidates. The processes ranged from data entry via spreadsheets amending customer policies to managing data outputs from website renewals via a console which both updated our CRM system and triggering fulfilment and next steps within the process.

Sharon – We also identified that within our new CRM system we had a gap whereby credit card payment failures were not automated.  The business would need to either to employ more support staff or turn to robotic automation. There are 5 processes that make up key components of our end to end payment failure process and all are business critical in terms of our cash flow as about 50% of our renewals are paid by credit card. Had we have not automated this process we would have needed to employ between 7-8 people to manage that work.

Q6: Sharon can you tell us about the early stages of implementation journey, from your perspective, what was it like?

Sharon – It was quite scary to start with both it was completely new technology and not many people within our business had heard of robots doing work with us. It was important for us to have a partner we could work closely with us and we chose Genfour.

We needed to decide if RPA was going to be a business led or IT led project and we decided it would be a lot more beneficial to run it as a business led project, with IT project management involved. We relied heavily on the strong project management skills from Genfour. As a joint team we did the ground work properly and we choose the right processes for automation having started with a long list which we had to priortise to ensure we were going to get a clear business case. For us it was critical to have the right business case to stand behind it.

It’s important you make sure you understand the impact on your current IT estate, how will the new technology align to your existing infrastructure. We very quickly realised we needed to involve a technical project manager even though we ran the project from the business.

When you are accessing RPA you need to understand the full costs, BAU as well and implementation and don’t forget the ongoing licence costs. Genfour were brilliant at helping us understand our business case and helping us sell this into our stakeholders – key to that was the RAC making sure that Genfour could feel the pain with us.

We’ve all worked with suppliers who are passionate about the project but never document anything which leads to all sorts of problems. With Genfour the Statement of Work (SOW) was always delivered and we knew exactly what we were getting.  All the processes have been documented and these documents still support us through the business now.

Q7: Jane can you talk us through the process that Genfour follow

Jane – Once we were engaged on the account and understood the RACs drivers, we worked to identify and understand the processes. This involved working closely with one of Sharon’s PMs and Becci’s SMEs. We very quickly wanted to understand how long would it take to build and did the business case stack up.

Working together with the RAC we identified the key processes that were suitable for RPA, which for the RAC were simple, rules driven processes and those that are prone to human error. Once the processes were identified I then worked with the RAC to build an automation plan based on their priorities with clear timelines, scope and deliverables

Once the processes were identified and the order agreed we moved to the design phase which involves understanding the current as-is process.  To do this, I work with the SME’s to map the process to a granular level into a process design document.  This is a key document as it is what we then use to build the process.  It is important to get the right input by watching more than one SME to get a common agreed definition. Once everyone is happy we sign off the document.

We then hand over to our developers to design, build, create and test the process.  They continue to work with the SMEs throughout the development stages, particularly testing.

At this stage we don’t automate everything in a process, you won’t spend weeks building something that only happens a couple of times a year. We focus on building the 80% that is repeatable and work on the variations later, handing these out as exceptions for people to work manually.

We work very closely with the client’s UAT team, again identifying and actioning any scenarios that need to be worked through. We then move the process from the testing environment into live where by we agree a roll out plan with the operation over set period of time.

When we are ready to take process into live, we completed all documentation with the RAC PM which ensured that all cases were signed off by the RAC change board.

We don’t just flick a switch, we hand hold the process through to live to make sure the operational team is comfortable.  We start by putting through a small number of cases through we put through 10, then 20, then 50 and only moved onto higher processing numbers once the SME and the team are comfortable. This is when we push the process through to live

Within the RAC the implementations on average took 6 weeks to design, build, test and put live.  This is longer than we are seeing with a number of our other clients’, mainly because the RAC’s systems are accessed via Citrix, which means the development time does tend to be slightly longer.

Q8: What about when the processes are in BAU?

Becci – As we sign off each process to be put into live, Genfour support us with a schedule for when the robots will work, and which processes the robot will pick up first. My team manage all of the RPA processes through the RPA control room to ensure everything running as it is set up to run  and of course actioning any day to day issues that pop up within an operation. Genfour were involved in training key back office individuals in the control room.

It’s key that you manage the change within your team.  People working on their own is one thing, people working with robots is different. If the robot doesn’t do everything, then the team need to be trained on how to manage the exceptions.  For example, saving a file somewhere different so the robot can access it and continue processing.

Using RPA helps you deliver on your SLAs, however it imperative you manage your control room.  This ensures you are getting the efficiencies you require. Genfour are absolutely a key part of this ongoing review and refine cycle.

Sharon – As a senior manager it was my role to help remove blockages within the business and ensure that we had the right processes in place to introduce this new service into our service management with our IT teams. Whether it was Genfour who needed to complete the action or the RAC IT team, it was important to not get into a position where we didn’t know who should fix a problem. Genfour worked with us to set up the maintenance and support processes. These are crucial to go live with a process, ensuring there is a clear path for dealing with IT issues and obtaining resolution.

 Q9: What were your challenges?

Sharon – You cannot have a waterfall approach to managing a RPA project, you need to be agile. Understand upfront the importance of engaging SMEs and ensure that managers, such as Becci, are able to release people to work on the project. Process development in Blue Prism is an agile development and does require the engagement and time of your Operational SME’s, specifically to answer or validate process questions.

Engage your IT department early on. Ours doesn’t work at the same pace that we needed things to be done in and it caused us some unnecessary delays, such as firewall problems and building the new server environment.

Understanding how to fit the robots into our schedule. Our CRM batch processing windows determine the times the robot can work – in our instance we are unable to have the robots processing 24 hours of the day.

Jane – If you are using more than one operational SME, be careful!  We found that 2 people had 2 different ways of working a process, which meant rework and delays for the developer until we established the right way!

Becci – Embedding the control room into BAU has been challenging, it’s a different mind and skill set for our back office team and they are continually learning as we progress on our automation journey. The control room is still work in process for us and this is another area where we are get ongoing support from Genfour.

Becci – It’s no different to working with humans, it takes time to get a robot up and running as you would if you were working with a human.

Q10: What have the benefits of robotic automation been?

Becci –  We have achieved operational cost savings and cost avoidance by not having to recruit people to work mundane and repetitive processes, in addition the robot processes efficiently we don’t see the errors we get with humans.

RPA has increased speed and quality of processing and this keeps us within our SLAs. This has opened up a wider window of opportunity to process work including weekends, late evening and early mornings.

Most importantly it has removed mundane processes for the team enabling them to focus on more value added tasks and we have significantly reduced the number of temporary resource we were required to recruit, those you tend to loose quite quickly.

Q11: As you move along the maturity journey with robotic automation, how are you managing automation routines within the operation?

Becci – I am making sure that my team leaders are accountable for the efficiencies for the automation processes, alongside Genfour. We’ve learnt a lot and if we did it again we probably would do it differently, however the team are beginning to build their confidence in the control room. This is still an area we are maturing in and something Genfour are continuing to support us with in terms of process optimisation and on-going best practice

Q12: Finally, what would you advise to those considering embarking on a Robotic Automation Programme?

Sharon – Make sure you can commit all your resources up front with your provider. Get everybody properly engaged, commit SMEs and cost for it.

If you have to work with your IT department to implement RPA they need to be working at the same pace you are working at, we had a number of trip-ups with IT. Ensure that you bring them on the journey right up front.

Look at the window of opportunity of when the robots can be working, we have to run high volume processes through the night and this can impact what hours can the robot work? Can the robots work 24/7 in your batch schedule? Be clear about what you want to automate and why.  Consider the longevity of your investment and define your ROI, ensure your IT set up and licence costs are factored in for today and for your future automation needs

If this is the 1st, 2nd or 3rd time trying to do this don’t try and go it alone, invest in the experts. You might think you can save money to do it alone but there’s a lot more to it than you realise.  You’ll spend a lot more if you decide to do it by yourselves.

Becci – It’s absolutely critical to bring your operational team on the journey with you, make sure they are bought into the concept, be clear about what’s in it for them and ensure you utilise your SME’s for the process discovery and on-going support as required. If you bring your team on the journey you get their total buy in.


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