If you are like many utility customer service leaders, you are responsible for a lot of back office processes and procedures that are manually intensive. Some of these, such as sales tax exemptions, are annual exercises that create a high volume of work for a brief period. Others, such as customer skip-tracing, are daily efforts. But all of these are candidates for application of robotic process automation, or RPA.
With so many manual processes, a challenge for utility leaders is how to assess which processes to apply RPA to first. This article explores an RPA assessment framework that evaluates bots on both qualitative and quantitative aspects. Before evaluating can begin though, there is a need for utility leaders to thoroughly understand the total opportunity, or inventory, of processes that are candidates for robotic process automation.
Inventory the Processes
Inventorying processes that are manually completed today within the meter to cash cycle are a vital first step and are an excellent opportunity to incorporate and build employee engagement. Your front-line employees are the most knowledgeable of which processes, or steps within processes, are candidates for RPA. In addition to front-line employees, you will want to also gather feedback from customer service leaders and subject matter experts on the manual processes that are in place today. It is important to gather a wide range of perspectives to ensure an accurate overall assessment. This proactive outreach to a wide variety of stakeholders starts the important change management process that will be needed for implementation.
As you set about inventorying the various manual processes, consider using a variety of input techniques, such as surveys, focus groups, or in-depth interviews. It will be important to document in the inventory some basic information about each process, including defining what the process is and why it is important. As you engage various stakeholders, you can also determine which of these processes are most frustrating and what is behind that frustration. Is the process prone to error? Is it a workaround because a system is broken? Is the process obsolete? In thinking ahead to successful implementation, finding and resolving a process that is error-prone and causes widespread frustration among all stakeholders is a win-win, and will help propel the entire RPA initiative forward.
Assessing the inventory
With a thorough process inventory complete, the next step is understanding the attributes of the inventory. This involves gathering data on the process that is inclusive of both quantitative data, such as volume and frequency, and qualitative data, such as the customer impact of the process.
It is important to understand the numbers behind each of the processes. Some quantitative stats to gather include:
· Volume — Define the total number of transactions involved in this process.
· Frequency — How often is the task completed? Is it a daily, a weekly, or an annual task?
· Processing time — How long does the process take overall? Additionally, are there time-consuming steps within the process?
· Exceptions — Is this a process prone to exceptions? How many exceptions? What is involved when an exception occurs?
But in determining the best processes to apply RPA to first, it is also necessary to understand the qualitative aspects of each one. Here are some to consider:
· Criticality — How does this process interact with other business processes? Are other departments or business processes dependent on this process?
· Time Sensitivity — Is this a process that is time constrained? Are there service quality standards that the process must meet?
· Compliance Assessment — Is this a process that has regulatory, financial or accounting compliance requirements?
· Customer impact — Is this a process that has customer-facing implications? Are customers complaining about the amount of time it takes to complete the transaction?
· Employee impact– Is this a process that employees find burdensome or repetitive? Does the process require overtime?
· Complexity — From an information technology perspective, is this a process that involves several databases and interfaces, or is it contained in a single system?
With the process inventory thoroughly complete and data collected on the qualities and quantitative aspects of the process, the next step is to identify the best candidates for automation. The processes that rank high in both the quantitative and qualitative aspects are your best candidates. These are processes that have high volume, are causing frustration, and offer a win-win opportunity by applying RPA from an operational efficiency perspective and, more importantly, from an employee engagement aspect.
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About the author: Penni McLean-Conner is chief customer officer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. She serves on several boards, including the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.