How adding digital workers could reveal untapped intelligence in your enterprise

Seth Adler

…Or, six things you can do with intelligent automation that cost cutting FTE doesn’t accomplish

"Our processes were a mess but we went headlong into an RPA POC anyway. Everything went fine so we deployed 25 bots covering 15 processes and everything fell apart."

There are two kinds of people in intelligent automation—the kind of people that have said that…and the kind of people that have heard other people say that.

However, we’re all getting on the same page with what went wrong:

  • First things first: “You know what” in gets you, “you know what” out!
  • Engaging in zero change management ensures zero will change, no matter what you automate
  • Engaging in a one-off small-scale isolated process alone does not help you intelligently automate end-to-end, let alone customer-oriented processes.

…And the list goes on and on.

What are the basic intelligent automation principles that work helping to create a step change at your organization?

True return on investment vs. simple cost cutting FTE

In episode 25 of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network podcast, Western Union’s Vytis Ciemnolonskis showcased a three-point plan on how to drive curiosity through the organization when you’re rolling out the concept of intelligent automation. He and his team did engage in the aforementioned one-off small-scale isolated process. However, the reasoning for the POC was to drive discussion around ROI. When discussing the possibility of IA with the business, there was competition for that ROI— so much so, the function that rolled out the pilot was willing to contribute from their budget.

“We did a quick proof of concept, really quick. We took one vendor. We took a couple of days. We involved an SME, a developer, and we got a result. This proved the process can be automated, the robot can do a sequence of activities, and we can have a tangible result.

“The next step was to do a pilot, which would do real work with tangible benefits. We then started a selection process. We wanted also to have pretty durable process so we could proof in a quick way—four to eight weeks. But at the same time pretty impactful. When we talk about the funding, when we talk about ROI, then we can have a really nice business case. 

“It created a lot of engagement from the teams that we have been automating process. People were not really happy with the work that they had to do and were really excited that robots will do it. We found a function, and this was a compliance function, which was interested and willing to contribute from their budget so we could get started.”

[Listen to the AIIA Podcast with Vytis Ciemnolonskis]

Vytis and his team focused on return vs. cost from the jump. This ensured that internal business leaders and their teams were excited to not only participate but lead intelligent automation.

Transformation vs. cost cutting FTE

In episode 16 of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network podcast, tech industry veteran Mattias Fras shared his aversion to delegating intelligent automation to a solution provider.

“I want to build skills in our own people in new technology. Right from the start, I said ‘this is only the beginning’ and we are only in the beginning of the beginning. It's so important for us to be able to compete with the new competition [FinTech]. If we can start thinking in the same way they are thinking—and by actually applying RPA—we're actually starting this big re-skilling that we need as a large bank. It is very much about building the capability internally, rather than getting the cost-saving quickly.”

Mattias notes that the driving force for intelligent automation is to build internal capability to thwart new competition, hence transforming his business into an innovative player who can aggressively gain market share as opposed to simply automating what he does today.

He’s using intelligent automation for the tool that it is to accomplish a long-term goal.

[Listen to the AIIA Podcast with Mattias Fras]

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article in advance of Intelligent Automation Chicago entitled, Understanding what you’re building & measuring: 2 quotes & recruiting & retaining top IA talent.

The first part of the piece discovers that an intelligent workforce is actually already installed: 

Building capacity vs. cost cutting FTE

Intelligent Automation talent is not mutually exclusive from your traditional talent. Conversely, IA talent is your traditional talent. A composite of project managers, executives from leadership, governance directors, subject matter experts, developers and six sigma black belts all come together to create your intelligent automation effort. This group of people, who you already have, is your intelligent automation talent.

Nick Burgess shared how the team unifies around the purpose in episode 28 of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network podcast: “Good project management skills and good leadership and governance around the robotics program are absolutely vital and so is finding the right people from the business. If you have a sense of excellence to deliver solutions, they're very unlikely to be subject matter experts. They may be pure developers they may have a business background or continuous improvement background. You need absolute top quality subject matter experts and decision makers from the business to help define the requirements to make sure that you're building solutions that are fit for purpose, first time. That's really important.”

However, none of that matters if you’re not measuring what your intelligent or human workforce are doing effectively. If you’re just focused on cost cutting, you’re not measuring the entirety.

Measuring productivity of humans + bots vs. cost cutting FTE

In episode 29 of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network, Charles Mulinder, Head of IA & Change, Fidelity explains, “I think the cold hard reality of working within an organization is you have to take out cost in the current climate. FTE becomes a very important score. Interesting enough, if you look across some of the banks, they are starting to talk about the number of robots they have. They talk about the number of FTEs they have. They talk about their financials. You could make an argument and say that the reason they talk about both is because they may not trust their financials, so they'd like to see the corresponding reduction or adjustment in the head count. They don't talk about productivity and they don't measure it, which is actually the real thing that you should be measuring whether you're evaluating what a robot does or an FTE does. It's just too difficult.”

[Listen to the AIIA Podcast with Charles Mulinder]

This all comes back to what it always is and what it has always been—the workforce or intelligent workforce cannot be utilized most effectively without productivity being understood and measured.

Recruit your intelligent automation workforce from key members of your current workforce. Retain them by measuring the added productivity of your entire intelligent automation enterprise.

Unpacking knowledge to increase yield vs. cost cutting FTE

Not all repetition is bad. Sometimes repetition works.. In episode 39 of the AI & Intelligent Automation Network podcast, Deutche Bank’s Roberto Mancone explains that a talented executive who has the same conversation with 100 clients can be even more valuable to the organization if she can somehow impart her wisdom ten-fold…or more. If they are able to guide artificial intelligence to expedite their repetitive activities, they can use intellectual property to affect change with additional clients:

“You need to maintain the expectation of employees. It is too easy to speculate and to say that AI will replace human beings. I am absolutely in denial of that. It means it will change the role human beings will play, being employees and being customers. Today they do repetitive activities, but repetitive doesn't mean mundane or boring. Even talking to a client, or 10 clients, or 100 clients in the same day is a repetitive act. Are you becoming an expert by repeating 100 times the same product or service to 100 clients? Or do you become an expert if you train on artificial intelligence and you become the curator of that content?

“I can always compare the curator of the library. You need to have a lot of knowledge to be a proper curator of an art museum or such case. If you're a curator, then you train artificial intelligence, and then you can really enhance your accountability with value-added services. You increase the value of the assets and you increase the value of the services to the clients. It doesn't mean you could be the fronting person necessarily acting and talking to the clients in a chat because you will no longer be there, but you are the behind-the-scenes, making sure that conversation happens in the right manner at the right time and that the client has full satisfaction.”

If you looked at that repetitive task and simply said automate it so we can save the FTE, you lose the intellectual property and the human connection with the client. So yes, you save money this year. Shareholders reward you. You “optimize” your business today…and you’re out of business tomorrow because there’s nothing there.

If you can’t change the people, change the people. There’s no doubt about it. But time and time again, we’re learning that cost cutting FTE, as a goal is fraught with danger. Beyond that, it’s myopic and will kill you. In Roberto’s example:

He’s unpacking the inherent and unused intelligence within his enterprise by deploying AI.

He’s not deploying AI to replace his business’ value proposition.

1. True ROI
2. Transformation
3. Build capacity
4. Increase productivity
5. Unpacking knowledge
6. Increase yield