Transactions and Services
It’s amazing that organizations make huge efforts to conduct many basic transactions – Purchasing, Order Management, HR, Payroll and Financials. On the other hand, it is the nuances in these very transactions that differentiate the organization.
These are the CORE transactions- critical to the success of the business and priceless as a knowledge body. They are pure Gold. They are not just transactions – they are services offered to stakeholders.
Even after realising the value of transactions, the newfound wisdom just stayed in my head – except for the occasional coffee time gloating over the importance of transactions. But it stayed in a more profound way these services are a potential differentiator – though I could not put my finger on how to go about that differentiation. Partly because of the obvious challenges that come with targeted differentiation. Differentiation, if ‘slow’, does not create the intended impact. Many of these core services have been customized to suit business company business processes. There are many steps of the workflows, steps that wait on people to complete them. This creates bottlenecks and slows down the process.
Cut to -A few years ago, we at CMS IT took a conscious decision to make automation our key services differentiator in helping our customers achieve their digital transformation goals. Service differentiation is not just about managing the process but about adding value through it. Improved processes, while they do have the obvious and quick gains in terms of CSAT and improved sales- it also has a transformational impact concerning overall stakeholder confidence and building a culture of excellence. Our approach is to look at each of the processes as an SLA driven service and then go about streamlining the process, monitoring the SLA and putting in place a continuous improvement framework. These CORE processes of the organization have to be a part of any meaningful attempt at digital transformation. After all, in the hunt for Gold, we were not willing to settle for silver or bronze on behalf of our customers. How do we achieve these superior efficiencies? It’s important to identify superior technology and deliver it with domain-specific interventions. A good solution should be delivered by experts in the domain who can think through the current day challenges and future possibilities. Domain expertise is key – Gold is better off in the hands of a Goldsmith.
Questioning what we thought we knew
In a typical ERP implementation, during the solution design phase, transactions are evaluated in detail. The upstream process, the downstream process and the multiple ways in which these processes can be executed. But it often leaves out one very critical aspect that is often the difference between a successful and unsuccessful implementation- the design of the workforce. To be fair, successful project managers spend a lot of time in training the workforce. Enter Robotic Process Automation (RPA). With RPA we can now target to transform the workforce along with the process. Here is a tool that can streamline like never before.
More importantly – the question is whether the core processes can take a quantum leap. Is the workforce designed to execute the process with zero errors? Is the workforce designed to generate data for streamlining of the process? And are we generating analytics on the efficacy of the processes and indeed the bottlenecks?
The new-age transaction framework must include RPA for all these reasons and more.
Building in Durability
Our core transactions no matter how well designed they are- are learning processes. In a pure people dependent process, the learning resides with individuals. Should we not move towards making the learnings off transactions available to all those who transact in the future?
Take the simple aspect of duplication in the supplier or customer lists. While traditional ERP’s offer tools to merge genuine duplications – it’s a known fact that these lists in several organizations are struggling with duplicate entries. Is there an opportunity to streamline the list of supply chain partners? Can we entrust the task of maintaining this list to an automated digital employee who is constantly on the lookout for any slip in the quality of data?
Looking at the future
The future is a step away from the past and yet everyone I speak to in the industry is aspiring for that quantum leap. They want the knowledge of past transactions and yet they want to do everything radically differently in the future. There is also the aspect of scalability. How do we make the transaction processing capability of the organization scalable and de-scalable? These are not questions that we ask of ourselves in a traditional ERP or enterprise solutions implementation. So why ask them now?
RPA Bots and Intelligent Bots
We all love our colleagues (well at least some of them 😊) and for someone like me who tends to play long innings in organizations – they are a part of everyday life. Many of them become friends and almost all of them leave a mark in life. The future of work involves some of those colleagues along with others who can do none of the water cooler conversations and lunchtime bickering that is expected of them. They are the RPA bots and intelligent bots.
In the future – especially in the core transactions will have both kinds of colleagues. They will also have human employees. The colleagues who have coffee with us are the ones who will make the decisions that require intelligence and judgement. While the other set cannot bicker at the coffee table (bots cannot feel emotions – at least not yet) – they are here to empower our human colleagues. Our digital colleagues make a mark by empowering the intellect of our human colleagues. Our digital friends will make work even more exciting by removing mundane repetitive tasks from our plate. What’s more, they deliver at stunning accuracy rates, give consistent deliverables, and provide scalability to the business by being able to work round the clock.
So what might a future digital workforce look like?
It is important to know what thought leaders are saying – the World Economic Forum paper on the future of jobs ( 2018) came up with these interesting predictions – its obvious to them as its obvious to us that the digital workforce while initially creating some redundancies ends up creating significant new types of roles over the medium term.In terms of numbers – we have been getting some very good insights out of our engagements. In the core transactions area – the 100% manual workforce could shift to 50% digital workforce. What’s more the overall effort in doing mundane repetitive tasks will also change.
Thumb rule – a 10 member PO data entry team will be 3 human workers and 3 bots. So what will happen to the human-workers? My advice is that if you are one of the 10 human workers – your aspiration should be – not to remain as a part of the 3 remaining in that team, but to move to value-added allied functions which are enabled by the onset of digital. The PO entry staff should aspire for supply chain analyst or supplier development roles. Many of them could become champions of the digital approach. And how about building skills to manage a workforce of humans and bots working together?
The new digital approach is more about domain expertise than about technology. I’m walking the talk on this- our core RPA team at CMS IT is a techno-functional team whose primary skills are Finance, SCM, HR and payroll.
Our core transactions – when delivered consistently and accurately make our organization predictable. They are in most cases the first point of interaction with our suppliers, customers and employees. Can we use a digital workforce to ring-fence transactions by gradually eliminating bottlenecks and urgently eliminating mistakes? Can we make our response and resolution time consistent and scalable thus improving our organization’s core? Transactional strength results in strong brand messages to all our stakeholders and separates the women from the girls. If you want to mine gold within your organization, I strongly recommend that the core processes are one of the key places to look for.