Think 'Automation First' to Unlock Next-Level Performance
- January 12, 2022
Among technology-savvy executives, the concept of automation is nothing new. Most sizeable companies are quite familiar with automation's role in digital transformation. They're already using it to capture value in the form of increased operational efficiency, product quality, and cost savings. They're making progress, but that's not to say they've done all they can; far from it. The enormous potential of automation remains largely untapped.
How can this be when we've been hearing about the benefits of automation for at least a decade? The reality is that while most companies have implemented automation in some form, their approach has been less than cohesive. In most cases, automation projects have been carried out in a piecemeal fashion, achieving small victories in disparate corners of the organization.
What's lacking is connectedness — a company-wide commitment to take advantage of automation technologies at every opportunity and deliberately drive the business into the digital future. That purposeful approach is what we call an "Automation First" mindset. And I believe it's the key to unlocking profound improvements across the organization.
What is "Automation First?"
The Automation First approach is closely tied to the idea of hyperautomation. In short, hyperautomation means that anything an organization can automate, it should automate. It sounds simple on the surface, but putting it into practice isn't easy, which is why most organizations have yet to reach an advanced stage of automation maturity.
Where simple automation involves conducting finite, repetitive tasks without human intervention, hyperautomation involves connecting multiple technologies to achieve end-to-end automation of an entire function.
Consider the real-world example of one NTT DATA client, a large healthcare insurance plan. Several years ago, they started with a few robotic process automation (RPA) bots designed to handle basic claims adjudication. As claims volumes surged and industry regulations evolved, the use cases for automation multiplied. Today, the company has more than 165 automated bots working 24/7 in the claims department alone, handling 75% of all claims transactions with a 97% success rate. That's hyperautomation at work, and it saves them $1.75 million annually. What's more, this customer has also implemented bots in the upstream process of member enrollment, ensuring accuracy and efficiency on which the claims adjudication function depends.
"Automation First" takes this concept a step further, suggesting that organizations should adopt a proactive, leadership-driven approach to automating everything they can. Instead of waiting for market forces to require urgent improvements, companies can seize opportunities to get ahead of competitors. Automation First means systematically rooting out the time-consuming, tedious tasks that bore employees and bog down the enterprise. Automation should be the rule when new business processes are introduced, not the exception. And as automated processes intersect, they should not conflict but rather work in concert to enable even greater efficiencies.
A look in the mirror
To be clear, Automation First is not some nebulous ambition NTT DATA preaches to its clients. We have adopted this approach within our own business. It began in our Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) group about ten years ago, and today it represents our company-wide philosophy for how we design, develop, and deliver our services.
For example, the process of capturing user feedback and sentiment has historically happened in controlled environments, such as focus groups, which is both time-consuming and expensive. NTT DATA has simplified this process through an innovative solution called ECO (Emotion Centric Observations), which allows users to provide immediate, real-time feedback on their experience with an application as they use it. This automated approach improves the overall quality of feedback because it is particular and timely, unlike most written feedback that comes long after the experience that triggered the user's feedback.
Of course, by first becoming experts in automating our services, we've also become adept at helping clients implement automation themselves. In turn, companies can embrace the Automation First lifestyle to streamline back-office functions and create more satisfactory experiences for their customers.
Thinking longer-term, reaching the pinnacle of business efficiency will likely require solutions that go beyond even widespread first-level automation. The digital leaders of tomorrow will master the practice of automating the automated. Simply put, this means bots building and directing other bots.
The beginnings of this next-level trend are already in play. NTT DATA's AVATAR application provides one example of how it works. AVATAR can take a video screen capture of a person performing a specific task on a desktop, use the video to learn the steps in the process, and then generate an RPA bot script to perform the task automatically. When a solution like this is applied to central business processes performed by hundreds of employees across a large enterprise, the time savings in bringing automation to scale can be enormous.
Another use case involves our Cognitive AI Trainer, which develops chatbots and virtual agents for digital customer service. Typically, humans are required to "train" the chatbot by entering thousands of phrases customers might use to express their needs (e.g., there are dozens of ways to ask "When will my package arrive?"). But the Cognitive AI Trainer produces these phrases automatically, saving developers and linguists many hours of drudgework. Thus, virtual agents can be deployed more liberally, with better performance, ultimately leading to more satisfied customers.
As these examples suggest, when you start automating automation, the business benefits have a way of compounding to produce an incredibly potent competitive advantage.
Take the next step
While it may seem like companies are already automating anything and everything, we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. The potential use cases for automation are near limitless, and organizations that embrace an Automation First mindset will be poised to discover breakthrough productivity, cost savings, and business agility.