One great advantage enjoyed by many start-ups is that their activities and processes are ‘digital by default’.

The often referenced customer onboarding process of Starling Bank for example brings to bear a range of intelligent automation capabilities that in real time serve the customer, while also fulfil a range of internal processes. Comparing this with the many anecdotes of online application forms that end up being printed and re-keyed in the back offices of traditional enterprises makes the challenge of shifting processes to digital apparent. How can organisations provide a best-in-class digital experience to customers while at the same supporting the digital shift internally and optimising and automating processes?

In our recent articles in the Twelve Shifts of Digital series, we discussed the changes that are needed in architecture, data and insight. This week we turn our attention to processes, and how to move from manual, disjointed processes to an organisation where processes enable us to function as connected, smart enterprises.

Established organisations seeking to digitise their processes are facing a principal challenge: many of their processes have been built to meet rather different initial goals. They may have been developed to support a division of labour between front, middle and back office activities (e.g. to support outsourcing activities) or they may have ‘grown up’ and now need to be moved manually through a range of poorly integrated systems. Often this results in disjointed processes where customer needs can only be fulfilled through a sequence of manual, hand-off ridden chains of internally focused activity. Creating seamless, connected and automated processes often requires going back to the drawing board. Using techniques such as design and systems thinking can help with standing back from immediate constraints and reimagining how to deliver customer needs with a digital-first mindset.

Using Intelligent Automation to drive digitisation of processes

Advancements in automation technology have helped many organisations to overcome some of these challenges. The explosion in RPA technology has allowed many organisations to close integration gaps between systems and eliminate repetitive, manual rekeying activities. What’s more, the automation industry has been through its own digital shift of sorts with many of the main players now focusing on ecosystem arrangements with technology partners. These unlock additional capabilities that can add intelligence (often broadly referred to as Intelligent Automation), e.g. understanding and routing unstructured data (such as customer e-mails), generating human-like interactions with conversation engines and extending into the world of machine learning to help assist with and automate decision making. For example, Rainbird - the intelligent automation software company - specialise in automating complex decisions, replicating human decision-making whilst providing a full audit. In a specific case, investigation of fraud alerts for false positives was automated and resulted in 25% more accuracy and a 60% reduction in back office costs.

Practically however, the majority of organisations use automation to replicate simple human tasks—various polls and studies estimate that around 80% of organisations primarily focus their automation in this area. While this delivers great results to the organisation in terms of freed-up capacity and cost savings, it will often fall short of delivering a step-change towards the desired digital end-to-end processes.

How then can we move processes forward? While there is no silver bullet, there are a number of helpful principles to consider:

1. Start with the question ‘If we were born today, how would we expect our processes to operate?’

Designing digital processes requires us to take a nuanced approach to conventional design. Think about how to bring the best technology components together to meet the customer need with automation as the default, rather than a retro-fit (be that through RPA, IA or a range of strategic technologies). Understand how best to enable the flow of information through the process and minimise unnecessary hand-offs. Low-code workflow and orchestration technologies can be spun up more quickly than their predecessors. They can help coordinate digital processes and, if needed, provide direct visibility of progress to customers.

2. Consider where your people can add the most value 

One advantage of automating processes is that it frees up capacity in your teams. Consider where people can add the most value to customers and also develop meaningful skills and careers. We will consider this aspect in the context of digital shifts in one of our next articles.

3. Beware the perils of automated customer experiences

When it comes to customer-facing processes, starting from the ‘automation by default’ principle can also be an impediment. Adding a well-designed chatbot for example can be valuable to better route customer queries, but you don’t have to look far in the media for examples where inappropriate use of automation can be a detriment to customer experience.

4. Don’t lose sight of the data shift

A huge amount can be achieved with off-the-shelf intelligent automation solutions, but when it comes to automating decision making, more is often needed. The power of machine learning to enable data-led decision making and even automate certain decisions is enormous. However, as we emphasized in our last article, making use of this technology and maximising the power of an organisation’s data requires dedicated focus in its own right.

Join us again next week, when we will share our thoughts on the next digital shifts and focus on Organisational Alignment across organisation & talent, culture, method and risk & resilience.

Please feel free to reach out to Rob Ward, Partner, Customer & Digital to find out how the Twelve Shifts of Digital could inform your digital strategy or transformation journey.

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