IBM Automation Insider

A bimonthly round-up of useful information to help you automate all types of work at scale

November/December 2018

5 articles

25 min

Is Robotics Quotient the next measure of organizational readiness?

By Cheryl Wilson

Are you ready to work side by side with robots and AI? Should you be? 

Early-adopters are already using automation technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and decision and process optimization software, to go beyond making individual processes better. They’re re-engineering whole business models, some with continuous learning at the center of their business operations, in order to deliver unique and exceptional services at scale. 

However, according to Forrester, most companies can’t successfully implement these automation technologies. That inability could spell the difference between winning and losing. 

Enter the Robotics Quotient (RQ). Forrester defines RQ as “the ability of individuals and organizations to learn from, adapt to, collaborate with, and generate business results from automated entities, including software like RPA, AI, physical robotics, and related systems.” This ability could be the next measure of organizational readiness. 

I was lucky to get some phone time with a special guest, J.P. Gownder of Forrester, to discuss his research report, RQ: Assess Your Readiness For Working Side By Side With Robots. I wanted to better understand why RQ matters, what success looks like and what you need to do about it now if anything. You can listen to a 17-minute excerpt of that conversation here during which we explore the following:

  • Why companies will succeed or fail based on their RQ (:00 – 1:20)
  • What success looks like (1:21 – 4:07)
  • What are the RQ competencies that measure readiness (4:08 – 9:33)
  • How clients can apply this research (9:34 – 11:36)
  • What excites and concerns him the most in the automation space (11:37 – 14:41) 
  • How you can find out your RQ (14:42 – 15:55)
  • Whether you can escape automation and if it’s automate or die (15:56 – 16:54)

Final note: After reading the research report, what stood out for me was where most companies are falling into traps on their path to automation. According to Gownder, companies get hung up when “thinking that automation represents a panacea and that mastering the technical dimensions of the problem will inevitably yield business value.” Specifically, he sees organizations struggling when they:

  • Focus on user experience, not people and organizations. Gownder writes that “user experience (UX) is, of course, extremely important, and much work remains to be done to drive great UX. But interest has waned in another key competency: training people to use software successfully.”
  • See technology as a silo, separate from business. As one director of AI at a digital innovation firm told Forrester, “My dream prospect is someone who has an understanding of the technology and the AI space but isn’t focused on what the technology can do — she focuses on a business outcome.”
  • Fail to disaggregate jobs into tasks.  One partner told Forrester that “We must move from a world where we mapped people to jobs to a world where we map skills to tasks. If you don’t reimagine the workplace, you won’t get this right.”
  • Are not ready to tackle nondeterministic systems. As one director of global IT service and support told Forrester, “We originally thought we would have to build out detailed scripts and dictate exactly how interactions would proceed, but that was overdetermined. We got the best results by feeding data into [AI solution] and letting the platform map out the process by watching the conversations take place.”

Understanding these traps plus the new RQ competencies can help set the stage for success when working side by side with robots and AI, and other automation technologies.

To learn about IBM automation technologies, click here.

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How one bank is using RPA to save millions

By Cheryl Wilson

“So far so good. The results we've seen have been pretty positive. We’re aiming, by end of the year, to record about USD 10 million in savings just by automating the processes we’ve identified so far.”  – Luis Benitez, VP, Digital Workplace Strategy, Banco Popular *

When it comes to robotic process automation (RPA), there’s hype around the promise of big, quick, easy ROI. True, there’s been localized success, especially for certain back office processes with lots of repetitive, cut-and-paste-between-systems work. However, with hype comes disappointment. Companies that rushed to install bots, often in isolation, are now rethinking and resetting their approach. They’re taking a more start to finish view of what success really looks like and rethinking what the technology needs to do based on real people doing real work with real outcomes on the line.

With approximately 8,000 employees and 880 branches in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, New York, Chicago and Florida, Banco Popular seems to have avoided the “love at first sight” RPA pitfalls. These pitfalls include seeing RPA as something more than just the tech tool it is -- a tool that needs to be part of an orchestrated and expertise-supported approach. 

So, how did they approach using this gateway-to-automation tool? First, they looked carefully at the processes they wanted to automate.  

“Something we’re promoting within the bank is that you don’t just throw new technology at the existing process,” says Benitez. “Simplify the process as much as you can first, and what you can’t simplify, you can then automate.” 

Because of this, Banco Popular didn’t just automate a complicated process. They improved and then completely automated it. “We picked one process, which is very complicated and takes a lot of people a lot of time,” says Benitez. “After the proof of concept, we showed that a process that took about 10 - 11 minutes could be reduced to 10 - 11 seconds.” 

The initial results created legitimate interest from other groups in the bank. And Banco Popular plans to expand the solution in the future. “Now can we take the next step and leverage IBM Watson, for example, and some of the cognitive decision-making capabilities it has so we can have a process that’s completely independent and autonomous …,” says Benitez. 

For a future issue, we’ll check back with Banco Popular to see if expectations continue to be met beyond the proof of concept. 

To see more results and implementation details, read the full case study.

*Source: IT Central Station Peer Reviews

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Three things bad processes have in common (and three tips for avoiding them)

By Bob Spory

Most business leaders will admit they have at least one critical front- or back-office business process that’s unoptimized or outdated. These ineffective or bad processes typically have three things in common: 

  1. They’re not documented well.
  2. They’re difficult to understand.
  3. They’re inconsistent and sometimes just altogether incorrect.

To avoid second-rate processes, process mapping is something most companies should master and regularly evaluate. If you want to do things like deliver better customer or employee service, or increase operational efficiency, good process mapping (or modeling) will allow you to discover and document your critical processes to ensure they support business outcomes you want. 

But before jumping in, here are three tips to consider whether you’re just beginning to map your processes or trying to build on what’s been done before.

1. Use the right tool for the job. Know the difference between a drawing tool and a dedicated process modeling tool – because they’re different. Process modeling is more than a drawing exercise. Make sure whatever tool you choose is a tool where business analysts and subject matter experts can work together in an intuitive environment. An environment where they can capture "real-world" workflows (including exception paths), document process details, collaborate on improvements, view changes in real time and find the current version of any process in one place.

2. Ask your business people how they get work done, and listen to them.  The only way process modeling can truly be scalable and effective is if the business people who have deep knowledge of each process are directly involved in the documentation. This requirement will ensure that each process is as complete and accurate as possible. IT departments typically aren't sufficiently immersed in the day-to-day running of the business to understand processes in the same way as people who actually do the work and experience the consequences.

Dedicated process mapping tools can help here by allowing users to:

  • See all changes made to process models in real-time
  • “Follow" processes they’re interested in (just like on a social media site) 
  • Get notifications when any changes are made
  • Post questions, share ideas, and follow up using the built-in chat feature 

3. Get all your processes in one place and up to date. Some process modeling solutions only save models as point-in-time files rather than storing them in a central repository. Storing process models as files almost always results in version control and consistency issues. Have a central repository where people can put all their processes, including their desktop procedures, in one place. This feature ensures everyone is working from the same version.

Finally, this note isn’t really a tip but more a given: It’s a good idea to have a leader within the organization champion process mapping to help drive success. This advocacy can be done through periodic training sessions and workshops to keep process modeling a top priority.

To dig a little deeper into specific solutions, visit the Blueworks Live webpage.

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"Where should I start?"

By Katie Sotheran

We hear this question often from clients because planning the first step in an automation journey can be hard. The range of available technologies presents a lot of capabilities that can be applied across many and varied functional areas.

This question typically comes after clients determine automation is a strategic imperative, have some idea of its business impact and have already automated something (e.g., an isolated pocket of back office activity). And now they want to scale.

So, where do you start?

As the adage goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” If you want to invest in automation technology, you need a pilot that can deliver rapid results, with minimal implementation risks to make a strong case for scaling up.

In practice, when we work with clients to answer this question, we conduct a detailed assessment of their enterprise to determine the best areas to automate. We evaluate this by:

  • using component business models with an automation overlay to show the functional areas where other clients have had automation success
  • applying an Automation Quotient to assess technical feasibility and organizational change readiness

Without sounding wishy-washy, where you should start depends on the dynamics in your enterprise. But the outcome of those assessments often points to the same place. 

For many clients, the best place to start is with a back-office support process that can be delivered with straight-through processing. Common examples include invoice processing, payment reconciliation, payroll management, system monitoring and report creation.

Here’s why.

  1. Automation in this space is tried and tested. Back-office processes are great candidates for robotic process automation as well as solutions for workflow management, business rules, data capture and content management. The most mature and most frequently deployed use cases are found here. This path means a low-risk deployment and a higher likelihood that your developer can reuse existing bot code.
  2. You’ll have an immediate and measurable impact on productivity. These processes are typically well measured already with KPIs the business is already interested in – quality, yield or throughput, and lead time. You can expect those measures to be immediately improved, allowing for a clear case for expansion of automation.
  3. The impact on your people will be limited and positive. The kinds of processes we outlined previously are often already heavily system-generated, and rarely someone’s full-time job. Productivity gains may be hard to monetize at first, but the upside is that you can prove the technology before getting into how wholesale automation adoption impacts the organization. To be truly effective, workflows should be entirely redesigned to use automation. The impact on the workforce can and should be transformative -- but we don’t suggest that as a starting point. First, prove the technology, and then address the wider implications of a digital workforce. 
  4. Your customers won’t be affected. Automation can have significant benefits for customers and allow enterprises to service customer needs in new responsive ways. Often this transformation will involve more advanced automation technology, using artificial intelligence (AI) and usually more complex solutions that require integration across a greater number of systems. Rather like the workforce implications, the impact on customer experience is something any enterprise looking to scale automation must consider. Again, we don’t suggest starting there. First, prove the basic technology. Then, think about the possible applications of more advanced automation technologies can have.
  5. You can scale up rapidly. Lots of back-office processes like those outlined previously support critical business operations and can be automated with tried and tested use cases. A successful pilot in one use case will be a great jumping off point for rapidly scaling across the back office. You can build a business case, win supporters and generate savings to invest in a full-fledged enterprise-wide intelligent automation program. 

While starting in the right place is important, don’t lose time overthinking it. Ultimately, the most important thing is to make a start and show value.

If you have more questions,  schedule a 30-minute consultation with one of our experts. It’s complimentary and designed to help you jump-start your automation plans or projects.    

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Automating work at scale just got smarter and simpler

By Jordan Carlson

We’ve been busy building on the IBM Automation Platform for Digital Business this year to make automating work smarter and simpler. 

Smarter, how?  

We’ve added more applied intelligence to the platform with the new IBM Business Automation Insights (BAI) capability. BAI collects and continuously feeds your business data from one or more our platform components (e.g., workflow) into a data lake. Each component is pre-configured to understand the data flowing through the platform. This feature provides you with a 360-degree view of your operations and enables you to improve your automation projects.

If you’re on a path to evolve from basic to more intelligent automation, one of the first things you need to do is collect and analyze data from across your business to have full, real-time visibility into your operations. Then, you can apply machine learning algorithms to that data to make recommendations or automatic adjustments to workflows and decisions. 

In sum, BAI does these four things:

  • Collects: Captures business data from start to finish from our different platform components into a data lake.
  • Visualizes: Provides real-time visibility to business managers through pre-defined or user-configured dashboards. 
  • Measures: Correlates and measures the data based on user-defined business and operational metrics.
  • Learns and guides: Enables data scientists to apply machine learning to the operational data lake to make recommendations to knowledge workers on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes and decisions.

Based on popular open source technologies like Kafka and Elastic search for fast adoption, BAI is part of the fabric of our automation platform. It’s not a bolt-on or addition. 

Simpler, how? 

We’ve made our platform capabilities simpler to adopt, use and manage over time (e.g., making it easier to install and configure on the cloud).

We’ve simplified the experience in three ways:

  1. Made our automation platform available in virtualized containers. This improvement allows you to design, develop, deploy and manage model-driven applications on your own cloud. It’s easier to deploy digital business automation applications and provides innovative capabilities like BAI.   
  2. Eliminated the need to choose between Business Process Management or Case Management on the Cloud. Earlier this year, we announced the IBM Business Automation Workflow (BAW) offering, which combines our market-leading IBM Business Process Manager and IBM Case Manager solutions. The combination unites information, process and users to provide a 360-degree view of work, with advanced analytics, business rules and collaboration to help you drive better outcomes. Additionally, all of the BAW capabilities come in a ready-to-use, cloud-based environment hosted in IBM Cloud data centers and managed by IBM.  You no longer have to choose between these two leading process automation technologies. The only choice you need to make is between the Express or Enterprise editions.  
  3. Made it quicker and more affordable to manage your content across the enterprise. Deploying an enterprise content management solution used to require a large upfront capital investment, dedicated infrastructure, resources and lots of time. Today, all you need is a workstation with a browser and an internet connection. 

If you missed the announcement a few months ago, IBM Business Automation Content Services on Cloud (BACSoC) provides the broadest and deepest market-leading content management capabilities. 

  • Need to quickly deploy a new content-based application, or extend an existing environment?  BACSoC Express provides everything you need to get started, for a low, flexible monthly subscription. User access is conveniently and quickly available from the public cloud and is encrypted to the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140 - 2 in transit and at rest. VPN access is available as an option as well.  
  • Ready to expand?  BACSoC Enterprise provides you with separate development, test and production environments that can quickly scale to meet dynamic business needs. All features are accessible from your IBM Digital Business Automation portal.  Best of all, you can change from the Express environment without the need to migrate.  

As we continue to build the best automation platform for our clients, we’ll continue to share noteworthy product updates that can help you make more informed solution decisions. 

If you’d like to connect with one of our automation experts, schedule a 30-minute consultation or contact your IBM representative directly.  

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What automation opportunities are out there? How do you get results?
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