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Perspectives

How to Obliterate Obstacles that Hinder Intelligent Process Automation (Part two of a two-part series)

2019-08-29


Intelligent process automation (IPA) is being explored and adopted by businesses seeking to shift rote, repetitive tasks from employees to software bots. The results can be impressive if systems are maintained and operated appropriately, and potential challenges are surmounted head-on. In part one, we discussed many challenges users may encounter when implementing IPA. To conclude the series, we’ll explain how enterprises can overcome roadblocks and instate IPA to unlock more value in business processes.

Obstacle: Subject matter experts (SMEs) don’t fully cooperate.
Solution: Clearly communicate to SMEs their role and value to the enterprise.
It’s common for SMEs to view an IPA initiative with fear and mistrust — they may believe that bots are being trained to take away their jobs. To combat this understandable unease, it’s important that companies proactively and honestly explain the project and its potential outcomes. Employees need to know that they may be retrained, play a key role in the ongoing automation project (working manually when needed, or retraining bots), or shift to a new, higher-functioning role. In fact, many employees may enjoy taking on more creative and challenging work as the IPA bots help ease the strain of repetitive or data-driven tasks.

Figure 1

Obstacle: Documentation isn’t kept up to date.
Solution: Document processes extensively, and continuously.
The term “hidden factories” refers to the workarounds, rules of thumb and undocumented routines that inevitably crop up as procedures evolve or become outdated. To automate processes, it’s crucial that enterprises tear down these factories by documenting all processes as completely as possible — with the help of SMEs who know them best. Moreover, this documentation cannot merely be written once and considered finished; it must be rigorously updated to accurately reflect the intended functionality of processes. This requires diligence, strategic questioning and careful listening. Remember, SMEs such as bank tellers or insurance adjusters have probably been tweaking processes for so long that they don’t realize how far they’ve strayed from standard, “by-the-book” practices.

Obstacle: Processes become fragmented over time.
Solution: Exhaustively review process variations, close gaps and retain top SMEs. When businesses implement IPA, they often find far more process variables than anticipated, no matter how well companies document their processes. Before implementation it’s important to assess the intended process, compare it to the process as executed day to day, and minimize differences between the two. The key here is extreme diligence when studying manual processes with SMEs. These workers may not realize that the way they’re performing tasks is undocumented, which hinders IPA progress and accuracy, so thoroughness is imperative.

Obstacle: You’re missing the right skills.
Solution: Assess needs realistically, recruit aggressively and choose your partner carefully. According to Forrester Research, 10 to 15 full-time employees will be needed to manage an IPA initiative for every 100 whose jobs are targeted. With more companies embracing IPA, these employees or equivalents — engineers, business analysts and others — are in high demand and must be recruited accordingly. Understand the full spectrum of skills needed to do the job and how many people with each skill set are needed. Armed with this knowledge, you can construct project teams able to bring together out-of-box implementation, with advanced skills to take it to the next level. Additionally, companies that work with an IPA partner and hope to get support from knowledgeable staff should extensively question prospective partners about the caliber and depth of knowledge in IPA as well as within their industry.

Obstacle: IPA economics are poorly understood.
Solution: Get a good handle on potential costs.
In part one, we noted that HFS Research found that licensing represents just 25% to 30% of total IPA program costs, with far more required for support — not to mention ongoing maintenance and program expansion. In a rush to implement IPA, many enterprises don’t fully understand the total cost of ownership (TCO), as well as the potential return on investment (ROI). First, calculate the TCO for your IPA program. Determine what the upfront and ongoing costs will be for software licensing, third-party integrations, infrastructure, center of excellence (CoE), training and other aspects of the program. Then, determine the value levers for each process targeted for automation. These levers can include time and cost savings, as well as less obvious benefits, such as reduced cycle time, increased quality through reduction of errors, greater compliance, reduction of penalties, and improved customer experience.

Obstacle: Businesses underestimate IPA governance needs.
Solution: Get company-wide buy-in early, and set guardrails. Security and compliance issues undermine many automation initiatives, as companies neglect to create a plan for issues such as access credentials, maintenance responsibilities and chargebacks. It’s best to address these issues up front, starting with senior management, to avoid problems down the road. Waiting to address issues until they arise creates a ripple effect across functions and business systems that can easily be avoided through proactive planning.

IPA has immense potential to cut costs, improve the customer experience, and mitigate compliance risks. Realizing these benefits takes an enterprise-wide approach that effectively drives process improvements and expertly applies these IPA principles.

Learn more about common IPA pitfalls in part one of this series, “Six Obstacles that Derail Intelligent Process Automation,” and by visiting the IPA section of our website, or contact us.

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How to Obliterate Obstacles that Hinder Intelligent Process Automation (Part two of a two-part series)