Business processes: your people reimagining (less tedious) work

A key automation lever is deciding how to start: with end-to-end processes or with discrete tasks. Within a function, or across the business, successful automation initiatives identify problems that technology can solve—as opposed to starting with a specific technology like RPA or AI and looking at where to apply it. And those problems often come down to data, or, more specifically, to helping the people who currently must wrangle that data. For example, they do this within applications working in ERP systems or between applications when they need to pull data, manipulate it and feed it into another application. Or they manage data across the company, with standardized data groomed for access by many applications.

An enterprise software company completely reinvented its distributor sales process, including the roles of salespeople by incorporating automation. The result? Orders increased 30 percent.

Filling the gap between spreadsheets and ERP

In some cases, the “spreadsheet-land” sitting between applications (such as ERP systems) and programs where enterprise data is analyzed (such as supply chain demand management programs) can be replaced with tools designed for business users. The tools are good at logging into systems, pulling data and running rule-based processes with that data. For example, SL Green Realty Corp. automated the time-consuming​ ​process used to test real estate investment trust (REIT) qualifications, a complex exercise that took three to four weeks and involved over a thousand spreadsheets. Annual and quarterly REIT testing draws on volumes of data from multiple ledgers, systems and spreadsheets in support of calculations that confirm that the majority of the REIT’s income and assets are derived from qualifying sources. They were able to automate 98% of the process from end to end, reducing the process to just minutes, mitigating risk and allowing for real-time execution of the REIT tests and analysis.

In other cases, using data and RPA tools as gap-fillers may be too limiting, particularly across the company. Bigger gains from automation are within reach across the enterprise when people use intelligent automation tools to reimagine a process and play to the strengths of both humans and machines. An enterprise software company, for example, wanted to fix a dozen discrete pain points within its distributor sales process. After taking a closer look at the process, the company completely reinvented it, including the roles of salespeople, because of what automation made possible. As a result, orders increased by 30%.

Small automation projects leads to big benefits

Small automation” projects that address discrete pain points can also be chained together into larger process automation projects. One large industrial company, for example, automated its purchase-to-payment processes in a series of six- to eight-week sprints. These sprints, covering bite-size tasks such as “reading” emails for purchase order information, were designed to help to build momentum for the overall end-to-end project. Sprints like this can continuously make business processes more efficient and effective over time, as opposed to a traditional approach of protracted preparation and big bang implementation.

Not sure how to identify your starting point? You can automate that, too. There are automated process identification tools that can help identify pain points in existing processes. These bots monitor keystrokes and system and server logs, instead of conducting interviews, to identify automation opportunities.

Sprints can continuously make business processes more efficient and effective over time, as opposed to a traditional approach of protracted preparation and big bang implementation.

Key takeaways

Take two tracks: fast and forward-looking

Automating some tasks will require simpler approaches where people train tools to take on repetitive tasks. This may be all you need—or it may be a stopgap while you optimize processes to take best advantage of people and more intelligent technology.

Fix problems while finding new value

Orchestration—the process of reimagining processes through unique combinations of human and digital labor—is the key to unlocking new value (e.g. more time to serve customers, better quality data for analysis) while eliminating your pain points.

Look across the business

Back-office functions like finance or compliance are often where companies focus their efforts, but there are big gains to be made in automating front-office activities that directly touch customers.  

Contact us

Andy Ruggles

Andy Ruggles

Partner, PwC US

Michael Engel

Michael Engel

PwC's Intelligent Process Automation Leader, PwC US

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