Digital Process Automation: Harmonizing the ‘Digital Inside’ with the ‘Digital Outside’

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Despite its many benefits, robotic process automation (RPA) isn’t a complete digital transformation solution on its own—not when your directive is to put the customer at the center of your intelligent automation.

At first glance, RPA can work miracles for automating repeatable tasks in a way that wasn’t possible in the past, particularly in outdated enterprise IT systems. Companies using it can create bots to process transactions, fetch and manipulate data, and communicate with other systems, even those that lack modern APIs. Mimicking the way human workers perform their tasks, the technology frees up employees’ time to work on higher-level tasks. The mundane and repeatable tasks are then handled by RPA, all day and night.

But RPA by itself addresses only the symptoms of your broken processes. It doesn’t cure the underlying disease. By adding digital process automation (DPA), also known as intelligent automation (IA), to the mix, you can design and deliver processes built for the digital world for both large and small projects.

DPA allows businesses to address the broader range of work automation opportunities because—unlike an RPA only approach—a DPA approach doesn’t focus only on individual tasks. No matter how small the task, DPA aims to provide the appropriate level of automation and guided support from end to end, connecting processes together with an underlying digital connection, rather than pure RPA glue, that makes everything more effective, efficient, and seamless. Central to DPA is the concept of a “case”—the piece of work that needs to get done to deliver a meaningful outcome to a customer, like opening a new account or resolving a service request. By starting with the case, businesspeople and developers alike can optimize their processes and outcomes to place the customer—and the outcomes they desire—at the center of every journey.

While RPA and DPA are fundamentally different approaches to optimization, in combination they create a powerful digital transformation strategy. But transformation isn’t plug and play. It takes a new way of thinking to re-center an established business around the customer. That means thinking about the process holistically; after all, the quality of customer experiences is impacted not just by how efficient you are in the contact center, but also in the back office.

Not Just Efficient—Also Customer-Centered

Customer interactions go far beyond the customer service team. They happen online, in conversations with salespeople, in the back office, and with the product itself. Your company is judged at every customer touchpoint, including the billing process. Most processes in business exist to deliver value to your customers, yet most of them weren’t designed with the customer at the center.

Your customers don’t care about business flows, organizational structures, and internal politics; they want an easy path to get what they need, and they’ll get it either from you or from a competitor. To deliver on the promise of putting your customer first, your “digital inside”—your internal processes—must be in sync with the outer layer of your company, your “digital outside.” Processes in the back end must be streamlined to enable self-service. Your business must seamlessly carry out and coordinate work across teams. You can’t let your customer fall into your organizational silos.

To get there, you’ll need automation throughout the entire organization. In the background, you’ll have to wrap legacy systems and procedural challenges in areas such as accounting and finance, billing, customer operations, HR, procurement, and sales operations. Employees, especially those in customer-facing functions, need streamlined processes so they focus their attention on creating value for customers.

RPA, either working side-by-side with each user or in the background carrying out often-repeated clerical tasks, can add efficiency to your existing processes. But efficiency on its own doesn’t necessarily make your company customer-centered. RPA can only take your digital transformation so far. Deploying an army of individual bots means you need a way to manage and monitor them all. Over time as systems evolve, bot connects will break, adding another layer of IT maintenance to consider. RPA is a perfect solution for enterprises saddled with legacy systems to extend the life of those systems while kick-starting a digital transformation strategy—but RPA is not the endgame, it’s just a beginning. Smart organizations are using some of the savings they get from RPA to fund more transformational projects to redesign processes from end to end.

From the outset, this end-to-end approach means you must augment your RPA implementation with IA. This will address the broadest range of automation opportunities, to the greatest extent possible. In fact, when done correctly, IA can eventually eliminate the need for robotic automations, which are basically analog band-aids that patch over poor existing processes. An underlying IA foundation doesn’t just patch the symptoms; it permanently fixes them at the core of the enterprise by creating a modular framework for continuous evolution.

DPA strategies don’t focus just on automating the individual tasks. They provide the appropriate level of guided support and automation for all work across the company, both in the front and back of the house. DPA platforms and tools enable teams to collaborate and work iteratively in sync with diverse communities of stakeholders to design and deploy solutions. Your efficiencies are not just deepened but broadened.

Because you can use IA to collaborate across departments and teams, you can deliver a much better outcome, more quickly. You can get feedback on your automations and then use this feedback to keep your operations current and at their best level. Insights you achieve from your deployment can be used not just for increasing efficiencies, but also improving processes—and the customer experiences they deliver.

Bettering the Customer Experience

Simplifying processes on the back end is essential to improving customer satisfaction on the front end. It makes it less likely the customer will stumble upon hidden hiccups in the process on their journey. Businesses can have the confidence to allow self-service customers to forge their own journeys on their terms, and the process will be quick, smooth, and seamless.

With technology in place to help sort out administrative tasks, your staff can focus on nuanced, high-value work—the kind that is difficult to automate. Everyone can focus on meeting real goals, rather than bureaucratic drudgeries. DPA (in concert with RPA) can also lead businesses to shift their focus away from the legacy swamp, tired procedures, and various outdated processes. Instead, they can place every customer at the center of the process, making customer interactions, even behind the scenes, personal and precise.

Don Schuerman is chief technology officer and vice president of product marketing at Pegasystems. He specializes in digital process automation, low-code, CRM, and more and is well-versed in the worlds of AI and robotics.

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