Empowering users to do more is the fundamental goal of all automation. Automating repetitive or consistent tasks frees people to do more strategic, meaningful and valuable work.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a great example of how automation can be leveraged within the TEM framework. Rather than have people manually enter invoice data from various carriers into a company’s billing system, RPA can be leveraged to collect, extract and digitize the information making it available to processing systems. These systems then evaluate, confirm, and pay invoices. Most providers of Technology Expense Management (TEM) have introduced RPA capabilities to streamline processes.
Challenges Emerge in Maintaining and Improving RPA
The key to improving any system is the removal of latency, or delay. RPA removes a tremendous amount of this by simply absorbing and processing invoices faster than people could. This is the benefit most TEM providers offer today.
However, this doesn't supplement any provision for the constantly changing invoicing rules, processes and procedures that constantly emerge from various carriers. When rules change, so must the system - therefore, the automation driving RPA has to still be adjusted.
Making a change in RPA processes is not a trivial matter. Expert software engineers are required to modify and alter these bots so they will accommodate new rules or processes. Rule exceptions are also common and require engineer intervention. Most software development teams are already overutilized and requests for changes may take time to address. Often these changes go onto their “stack” of open requests where they may sit for unspecified amounts of time before an engineer is even assigned to them.
When this happens, the only alternative is for the operational teams of TEM providers to return to their manual processes - manually entering invoices, extracting the data, and building Excel spreadsheets to manage the process. These efforts are exceedingly cumbersome and reintroduces delay caused by human operations.
The Next Generation of RPA: Automating the Automation
Calero has taken the next step in the development of RPA by developing what we call "Smart Automation" - further automating the RPA tools we have available to us and creating something entirely new.
We asked ourselves, what if making changes to RPA operations no longer required a software engineer? What if they could be performed by the users themselves? How would that impact the operations team and our customers?
It immediately became apparent that the person most familiar with a given problem was the user who first encountered it. If we could make the change process simple enough, using a plain-language interface, then that user would no longer need to wait for a software engineer to become available. The only delay would be the few minutes it takes for the user to make the necessary changes to accommodate the new rule or solve the uncovered problem once, which will then automatically be applied every month until something changes.
Exception handling is vastly improved as well. Should a customer want to reclassify, for example, a one-time charge as a monthly recurring charge (MRC) for whatever reason, the Calero operator can enable that exception themselves quickly and smoothly.
Now users can create, modify and improve automation on demand to acquire and load new documents, extract their data, transform for input and speed the payment process to completion.
Visualizing the Data into the System the Way the Customer Needs It
By building an intuitive user interface that enables our own invoice specialists and data analysts to create their own unique RPA process, we’ve also enabled them to visualize the data and provide it to customers exactly as they want to see it. Confirmations, reports, and analyses have been completely redefined and augmented by further automating the processes that generate them.
This has the potential to completely redefine the service level agreements (SLA) by which our customers evaluate our services. Data is delivered exactly as each customer wants it, invoices are ingested and processed in record time, and all the bills are paid on time.
Now the ability for customers to understand and manage their technology budget has never been so well supported.
Constant Process Visibility
Not only is the data visualized per customer requirement, visibility into the progress of the entire system is also clear and up to date. As each invoice moves through each step, the system reports that progress to a portal that customers can consult at any time to see that their bills will be paid in a timely fashion. Rather than needing to call their customer service manager to check, the customer has total and constant view into all operations accommodating them.
With visibility into rule exceptions, as well, they are far easier to correct quickly. For example, the system will identify when an invoice that ordinarily comes in at a particular time of the month fails to arrive and will then speed up the process of determining where it is. Lost or missing invoices are quickly flagged and retrieved with minimal user intervention. Customers can accurately allocate costs and request needed reports while the underlying operations remain completely transparent.
Employee Satisfaction Improves Strategic Performance and Increases Profitability
Our specialists are no longer data entry clerks and can focus on more strategic issues that further enhance the service they render to our customers. Rather than having to robotically copy data from one system or one document to another, they are managing and improving the performance of automation to handle that so they can be far more strategic and valuable to the customers they serve.