Workplace automation – a board level discussion


By Simon Shah, Chief Marketing Officer, Redwood Software

Robotics and automation made it to the top of the agenda in several major speeches and events last week. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a major increase in research and development funding for universities, backing technologies including robotics and AI. These topics also featured heavily at the annual CBI conference, which explored “innovation, growth and prosperity in a world of disruption”. Automation was a major talking point within this, addressing the Fourth Industrial Revolution taking place in the back office, which has seen advancements develop at breakneck speed.

This was a much more pragmatic conversation than we sometimes see in headlines around this topic. There’s no doubt that we are in a robotic age – but this does not mean a fully robotised workforce (yet) – it means that tasks that are repetitive and routine for humans will be increasingly undertaken by machines. This change in the way we deploy human resource will give rise to The Robotic Enterprise™.

Put simply, it’s out of the shadows and into the spotlight for the back-office. This ‘behind the scenes‘ area of an organisation stands to benefit most quickly from this revolution. Except it’s not really a revolution – it’s an evolution. Many of the tasks that sit in this portion of the business have already been outsourced. Why? Because of the wealth of manual activity and updates that don’t require thought, judgement, or cognition – it’s just work that needs to be done. Think about some aspects of transactional accounting, or HR. Lots of the activity here revolves around effecting move, change and add requests to the system – reflecting benefits and salary information or change of address details into multiple insurance, or healthcare providers for example. Salary arbitrage means that historically, it’s been cheaper to do this elsewhere – ‘your mess for less‘, as the saying goes.

Not anymore. These activities can now be robotised, saving staff costs, and reducing the risk (either real of perceived) of having these processes removed from the day to day business operations. You can outsource activity, but not accountability. In a Sarbanes-Oxley environment, this has all too often led to businesses building up large parallel organisations to check the quality of this outsourced work. It doesn’t take a management consultant to deduce that this is a woefully inefficient way of doing business.

For businesses to be ready to take advantage of the technology in this way however, we need to start changing the way we talk about automation. The notion that it’s an IT engineering programme is somewhat tainted – the minute you start talking about ‘re-engineering processes‘, minds wander to dollars falling into black holes, stretched across many years with no assurance the project will ever reach completion, or deliver what it was originally set out to.

An overnight bid for radical change is never going to work. It’s about taking an enablement approach, helping people who are engrossed in and engaged with the process to build their own centre of expertise and excellence. Effective automation is heavily reliant on business rules, and these are best defined by those with intimate inside knowledge of the processes at stake. It’s then a phased process, taking the time to not only understand where human effort can be replaced, but whether the end to end process itself could be made more efficient.

We see a future where the back-office is 100% robotised. All processes will be run by robots, only including humans when robotisation makes no sense, like during an approval or review task. This guarantee of consistency and first time right performance will be a crucial pillar in freeing up budget that can then be utilized where it delivers real impact to the business such as in customer care, marketing and product innovation.

With a faster and more agile business, you’re suddenly more proactive than reactive, first to market with in-demand products and solutions, and easily able to differentiate your business from all competitors.

The dream of a having a fully robotic enterprise has to start somewhere. And that’s with the first step toward Intelligent Automation.  

Categories:   Robotics   Financial Close Automation   Financial Process Automation   RoboFinance  
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