Realising the real potential of robotics
Robotics has evolved beyond simply mimicking human actions. There has been an enterprise process robotics revolution, enabling the full integration of robotics across existing systems and entire business processes, talking directly to applications with a built-in understanding of the process best practice itself, whether that is a finance, supply chain or even an HR process. Yet too many in the industry are still unaware of this: 97% of those in shared services are confident that robots can automate manual data entry tasks, but only 52% agree they can “understand basic finance processes”, according to recent Redwood Software research conducted with Shared Services Link. Only 51% believe that they can replace human activity from end-to-end, and less than a third of those surveyed, who have the correct resources, think it is possible to automate more than 80% of the finance processes in their companies.
These statistics are a clear representation of the education gap that remains between the greater efficiencies that enterprise process robotics can deliver in the shared services and finance functions particularly, and what industry professionals think they can currently achieve.
What is robotics?
There still appears to be many differing opinions of what the robotics story involves. Everyone thinks they know, but nobody is looking at the wider picture.
Enterprise process robotics is defined by the Institute for Robotic Process Automation as the application of technology that enables employees to configure computer software, a ‘robot’, to catch and analyse existing applications for manipulating data, processing a transaction or triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.
However, that is not the limit of robotics’ capacity. Enterprise process robotics enables us to totally reimagine processes. Now, organisations can envisage how robotics can transform processes through the eyes of robotic technology, as well as their own. For example, the next generation of software robots will communicate directly with applications at the server level and communicate directly with core ERP and other business systems yet without the need or fear that this has to be a long drawn out IT project. This is a more scalable and reliable method of communicating with applications than through the user interface, which is really only applicable in instances where there are no published interfaces such as with home grown or legacy applications. The new age of software robots are currently designed to understand how to handle each process step, having complete knowledge of finance, supply chain and HR processes from the very start.
With this in mind, organisations need to asks themselves how to best deploy robotics to ensure significant process improvement, eliminating the ‘but we have always done it this way’ mentality.
The main concern for most is that the removal of humans may result in a complete loss of process control, let alone job losses. In reality they need not worry since in fact, the automation of processes end-to-end actually enhances overall control, resulting in improved granular visibility.
Why enterprise software robotics isn’t ‘too good to be true’
We’ve taken some time to define what robotics means for business today, now it’s time to drill down into the clear benefits.
For the financial industry, enterprise process robotics enable the ability to improve financial processes or efficiencies, and most importantly the ability to standardise these processes in their entirety and end to end. For example a by-product of end-to-end process robotics means that you can capture all human, robotic and system activity and achieve comprehensive audit trail and documentation. Furthermore, built in business rules remove the need to micro-manage and robotised processes are self-managed but allow users to monitor progress and review and trigger actions whenever necessary.
It has recently been highlighted by Redwood research on the rise of ‘RoboFinance®’ that robotics investment cannot just meet, but exceed an organisation’s expectations. It was recently reported by Royal DSM, global science, health and nutrition company, that the organisation experienced automation levels of 89% as a result of the implementation of enterprise process robotics. This is notably higher than the estimated 80% automation rate and significantly higher than the typical 10-30% automation levels reported by software robotics that is applied to smaller sections of wider processes.
Why isn’t everyone jumping at the opportunity now?
No one can deny the advantages of enterprise process robotics, and we must ask ourselves why are more companies not jumping at the opportunity? The explanation is simply that people still do not fully appreciate the full capabilities of robotics today and where to start.
While it is true that old jobs could be lost, new jobs will undoubtedly be created, and what would occur would simply be transferring of skill sets to other parts of a business. This will only add great value to the business, increasing the bottom line if carried out correctly.
Another myth that is in need of debunking is the loss of control of processes, as it has been proven that enterprise process robotic solutions give both the visibility and clarity to make decisions and take action at any phase of the business process that the robots are streamlining.
More professionals in the shared services function particularly, need to seize the opportunity and invest in enterprise process robotics in order to enhance efficiency and margins, which can be kept or shared with customers. The solution also facilitates end-to-end process visibility, meeting SLAs reaching great standardisation of processes.
There is no doubt that the change will occur, particularly as shared services professionals realise how much more they can achieve, with less resources, minimal hassle, and lower costs.
A new dawn for robotics
Long gone are the days of manual time-consuming labour to ensure efficient core business processes are carried out. Enterprise process robotics provides accuracy, speed and consistency that businesses need in the competitive global marketplace of today, without unnecessary manual intervention. The organisations that will remain competitive in the fourth industrial revolution will be those who welcome the robotic revolution with open arms.
Neil Kinson, chief of staff, Redwood Software emphasises that for the industry to reach its full potential, we need to quash the perception that robots simply replace human beings.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”