How robotic process automation became the unsung hero of 2020


More companies are looking to the power of robotic process automation (RPA) to help them overcome some of the greatest challenges of our day. Yet, many companies remain on the fence, looking from the outside in at a successful community of early adopters that have already discovered many RPA benefits.

It’s hard to blame them. The past year has put unprecedented stress on business, and it’s hard to make the case for new technology – let alone a large-scale digital transformation – during such intense disruption. But experts say now is the perfect time for businesses to act on those automation goals that may seem long-term.

“For people considering automation or who have just started their automation journey, business resilience has become the lifeline in the quicksand, and the imperative to digitally transform the organization is more important than ever before,”

said Shail Khiyara, Intelligent Automation Executive and Thought Leader. “The question isn’t, ‘Should you transform?’ or when to do it. The question is how and how quickly you should do it.”

So, I sat down with Shail Khiyara and Daniel Laverick, head of SAP & IT solutions at Zuellig Pharma, to learn how companies can get started in 2021. In a recent interview, we discussed the value and future of RPA, as well as lessons learned from an intelligent enterprise innovating with intelligent automation.

You can watch our conversation in the first episode of this new LinkedIn Live series “CXO Corner”.

RPA benefits: How robotic process automation became the unsung hero of 2020

Robotic process automation helps basic tasks within an organization become automated via both software and hardware systems. RPA software mimics human behavior and automates basic, repetitive, high-volume rules-based tasks. Businesses most often use it to create quicker processes by automating certain steps, which can also improve accuracy and even reduce costs by empowering people to focus on more value-added work.

RPA can learn workflows with numerous steps, for example:

  • Sending receipt messages
  • Filing forms
  • Updating spreadsheets
  • Accepting forms

RPA can automate and streamline process for lines of business like:

  • Finance
  • Sourcing & Procurement
  • Sales
  • Supply Chain
  • Production
  • Professional Services
  • Data Management

RPA benefits: 

  1. RPA reduces operational costs
  2. Improved analytics via accurate data
  3. Increased productivity, thanks to employees being freed from manual tasks
  4. Better customer service and CX
  5. Highly scaleable and flexible

Getting business on board for change

Today, businesses are extending the power of RPA benefits with the introduction of additional next-generation technologies.

“Intelligent automation is the combination of RPA and AI technologies to empower end-to-end businesses, driving business process automation and accelerating digital transformation,” said Khiyara.

Daniel Laverick is a technology leader at Zuellig Pharma, one of the largest healthcare services groups in Asia. He oversaw Zuellig Pharma’s recent digital transformation, and continues to champion the benefits of intelligent automation across the company.

“The first thing to understand is that it’s a journey,” Laverick said.

At Zuellig Pharma, quick wins from pilot projects helped get stakeholders on board.

From there, the company figured out precisely how it could measure the success of its automation implementations and validate its business case. A rapid rise in adoption soon followed. After beginning with just a few RPA deployments, the number of automated instances soon snowballed across the enterprise.

Khiyara echoed the importance of quantifying outcomes and sharing them with stakeholders, and he said that Laverick was spot-on in his method for helping intelligent automation attain cultural adoption at his business.

“How do you identify automation value? Not necessarily just the number of bots that are being applied to the organization, but how do you derive actual value from an end-to-end process that you’re automating? I think that becomes very critical in the early stages of the automation lifecycle – to be able to show the organization what this technology can do,” Khiyara said.

The benefits of intelligent automation not only helped see Zuellig Pharma through to the other side of the pandemic, but also helped the company continue to work toward its goals of making healthcare more accessible.

For instance, the company used RPA to continue business-critical activities while the workforce quickly shifted to working from home.

Keeping humans at the heart of automation

Zuellig Pharma is a traditional company that’s also an intelligent enterprise, meaning it values the worth and unique perspective of its workforce. Laverick stressed that merely adopting technology is not enough to survive as a competitive business.

“To be a forward-thinking company in this era, we need to become more human – not less,” he said. “It’s not whether machines are going to replace humans or do humans’ roles. It’s, ‘How do we adapt and create a business model where humans and machines complement each other?’

We can program machines to do RPA, intelligent automation – whatever we tell them to do. But they’ll never have those unique human skills: creativity, innovation, integrity, and imagination. It’s how we bridge those two gaps.”

Khiyara uses a whole-body analogy to describe RPA benefits. He says integrating intelligent automation is like adding the mind and all its capabilities to the arms and legs, which are responsible for performing the everyday functions of a business. The arms and legs can get to work when they have the mind to do so, but the ideal model leaves room for human intervention and insight.

“If you look at how automation has been described over the last half decade, you’ll find this phrase: ‘Take the robot out of the human.’ I find that to be very surgical. I think it’s all about putting the human back inside,” Khiyara said.

Harnessing competitive differentiators

The pandemic has altered the competitive dynamics of today’s markets.

The unique challenges and disruption posed by COVID-19 has shifted the rat race of focusing on cheaper and faster. Today, competitive companies are focusing on value, and know that value is defined by the customer and their own experience – not by the product vendor alone.

The focus on resilience has also moved to the front and center at many organizations. Automation technologies like RPA can help provide a new level of resilience, significantly improving CX, for example, by using conversational AI to create chatbots capable of better customer service.

Companies that don’t begin to explore automation are going to miss out on a competitive advantage, said Khiyara.

“At the end of the day, everything you’re doing – around automation and digital transformation or building products or providing services – you’re doing for the customer. RPA gives you a tremendous opportunity to really get closer to your customers, get insights into their data, and ‘wow’ their customer experience,” he said.

Khiyara noted two trends to look out for in the modern market:

  1. The convergence of automation technologies: Automation was created to improve ROI by connecting disparate applications that did not work together. But today, automation technologies are themselves sprawling, and many companies are looking toward solutions that stitch these technologies together on a platform for automation.
  2. Changes in the nature of work after the pandemic: In the future, it’s likely that work itself will become a conversation. “Why should we have a meeting, and take the time to summarize that meeting, and then delegate work?” Khiyara posited. Work today is being done outside the conversation, and he envisions a future where bots are always listening to our conversations so they can act based on our cues.

To hear the full conversation, visit us on LinkedIn.

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Abadesi Osunsade

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