ROI: There’s more than one bottom line for automation

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In the past, automation was primarily used to take out costs. Cost is still important, of course. Thus, modern automation addresses productivity as a starting point. It also achieves other business objectives. New opportunities will present themselves with automation—and along with them come challenges, including unforeseen line items in the cost-benefit analysis.

Additional gains from automation can appear in more human impacts or in raising the quality of work. At both LinkedIn and Boston Scientific, for example, executives focused on how automation could improve employee satisfaction. Southwest Airlines wanted automation to improve the customer experience. And at medical technology company BD, automation improved merger integration. At another company, one internal audit team used automation to test all of a certain class of transactions every month, rather than sampling once per year, so they could raise the quality of their risk assurance. And yet another company used automation to smooth audit season workflows for its audit teams because it wanted to be more competitive in the talent market for millennials—who famously value work-life balance.

The Tax team used a self-service data management tool to automate the extraction, transformation, and loading of data to the tax reform model and was able to pull automated data from source systems as assumptions changed and the team considered business issues.

Better customer and employee experience through automaton

These different examples highlight what automation can achieve. But they present different challenges: The ROI of these outcomes is more difficult to measure than if there were an immediate drop in hard costs, the traditional yardstick for automation projects. Employee engagement, customer satisfaction or other business outcomes are different ways to justify and measure automation investments. So is improved data quality. Consider what insights or activities are possible with more complete and clean data.

Greater flexibility to meet business demands is another important benefit of automation. For example, the Tax function of a large technology company needed to assess the impact of tax reform’s new Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI) calculation. Tax needed to pull 17 independent data sources in order to feed the tax reform modeling tool. The Tax team used a self-service data management tool to automate the extraction, transformation, and loading of data to the tax reform model and was able to pull automated data from source systems as assumptions changed and the team considered business issues. Further, the team was able to share with stakeholders the potential business impact of tax reform’s new calculations using dynamic, visual reporting and analytics.

From front office to back office

Automation enables executives to rethink processes from end to end—in other words, from the front-office point of contact with a customer to the back-office processes behind producing a product and completing a transaction. If you think about customer experience as a part of every process, then operating models that were hard to imagine before automation came along may become possible. And business units can become more agile when operations staff members are empowered to automate manual tasks and apply their brainpower to critical thinking. Thus, simpler and smarter automation translates into simpler and smarter businesses.

If you think about customer experience as a part of every process, then operating models that were hard to imagine before automation came along may become possible.

Key takeaways

Look at more than the bottom line

Companies will achieve business returns by looking at measures beyond cost reduction or other financial metrics, such as employee job satisfaction, ability to scale the business without additional people, or enhanced customer service.

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Consider cost reductions across the organization

Costs may shift from one spend category to another when processes are automated. Any total reduction must be planned and considered as part of a reallocation of resources.

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Make data work harder

The common thread running through automation projects? Data. The better you’re able to work with it, the more effectively you’ll improve a process—and benefit the business. From extracting and manipulating structured ERP data to “reading” and understanding unstructured data in emails or legal contracts, consider new opportunities to draw value from data.

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Contact us

Andy Ruggles

US Tax Reporting and Strategy Leader, PwC US

Michael Baccala

US Assurance Innovation Leader, PwC US

Michael Engel

PwC's Intelligent Process Automation Leader, PwC US

Chris Curran

Chief Technologist, New Ventures, PwC US

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