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Is Automation a Band-aid for Bigger Issues?
When supporting our clients across virtually any industry, more often than not, we find the same commonalities around relying on redundant and convoluted process workflows. Over time, people within organizations tend to create inefficient workarounds that can differ between departments, all the way down to the user level. As time goes on, the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in tasks within each process can rapidly deteriorate an organization’s turnaround. When they finally realize how inefficient their processes are, they tend to reach out to consultancy firms that offer band-aid solutions, such as intelligent automation – which used alone, will worsen their processes and increase inefficiencies.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.Bill Gates
While the statement above was made decades ago, it still rings true today – emphasizing the need for continuous process improvement before any form of automation can be implemented. So, how does an organization ensure that implementing automation will truly enhance efficiency and increase their ROI?
The Criticality of Discovery
During the discovery period, the first step is to identify processes that are suitable for automation and potential process improvement. It is crucial to ensure alignment with users, and their level of experience within the current workflows, to understand the areas that create friction on the path to productivity. This results in a cohesive solution that can provide organizations with a top-down and bottom-up approach that looks at the user’s experience while matching it with strategic business goals.
In the search for a simple solution, many clients’ first instinct is to take the intelligent automation route to improve performance metrics. While we do agree that automation is a tremendous way to rapidly increase productivity, organizations can’t rely on it solely; it must be paired with process engineering. Process engineering is what truly helps uncover the causes of inefficiencies in organizational workflows. By creating processes that are improved and streamlined – while standardizing disparate ways of working on various user levels – process engineering enables optimization of the organizational workflow. The combination of integrated tools such as IA, BPM, RPA, etc. and identified user level/skill gaps creates an opportunity for continuous process improvement.
Intelligent automation provides value by offering an enhanced solution for workflows, combining repetitive tasks, standardized processes and data manipulation within multiple systems. By reducing human effort in repetitive tasks and allowing users to focus on tasks requiring human attention, intelligent automation improves organizational turnaround time and bolsters overall efficiency. Thus, process engineering and intelligent automation are key elements that must coexist. Process engineering, followed by intelligent automation as a cohesive change approach, will allow organizations to provide a streamlined set of services to their users. That way, by developing an integrative change strategy, organizations are aligned with both their strategic business goals and the desired future state of their systems, while striving for high-level user adoption.
Experience & Outcomes from Detailed Discoveries
Putting this exact situation into practice, a leading insurance provider gave EPAM Continuum the opportunity to discover and assess the lifecycle of their claims process. The customer was experiencing roadblocks within their internal systems and processes, which led to inefficiencies that hindered their ability to provide optimal customer service and decreased overall turnaround time. This is precisely where we find a majority of the opportunities for process improvement within organizations.
During the discovery process, the EPAM Continuum team found three main areas of the claim lifecycle workflow that were suitable for process engineering. These areas included claim form integration, claim handling and data discrepancies between systems.
Following the discovery approach, the EPAM Continuum team conducted a step-by-step analysis of the current workflow, including an assessment of benefits based on process engineering and intelligent automation. Process inconsistencies from user to user and undisciplined manual work on different levels were discovered. Not only were we able to provide benefits to the claims department, but also to upstream and downstream departments that worked closely with the claims workstream within the organization. Similar challenges are commonly seen across other industries, along with disorganized and ineffective communication between departments. We identified those as areas for potential process improvement, whereas time-consuming processes containing repeatable patterns and poor user experience were spectacular candidates for intelligent automation.
Identified intelligent automation opportunities allowed the EPAM Continuum team to suggest multiple solution options to decrease turnaround time and improve user experience. Following the discovery steps and multiple studies that assessed the current state of the process workflow and its efficiency, the realized benefits of process engineering estimated savings that accounted for over 15 full-time equivalents (FTEs), before intelligent automation was even proposed. After looking at the potential benefits that high levels of user adoption could provide to the organization’s turnaround time, the implementation of intelligent automation was the next step. The EPAM Continuum team found that through the implementation of intelligent automation, we could create a better user experience by making the process more seamless for the user. Not only did this allow for an increase in user adoption rate, but also for replacement of an additional 2.5 FTEs, after the initial 15 FTE reduction from process engineering – providing us with a total of 17.5 FTEs available for redistribution.
Organizations that are looking for ways to increase their ROI and identify other improvements in their current workflows should not implement automation without taking a deeper dive into their workstreams. Rather, process-level improvement should be the first goal whenever looking to implement intelligent automation. It is – and always will be – a two-step process. Automation simply cannot reach its full potential without the prerequisite of thorough process engineering and improvement.