As evidenced in part one of our blog series, “Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Understanding the Ins and Outs”, workflows enabled by RPA provide many tangible benefits to organizations. These benefits range from improved accuracy, to automated detailed audit trails for compliance, to enhanced productivity, shifting the focus from mundane manual tasks to more strategic activities. In this blog, we’ll touch upon a few popular use-cases within the Telecom Expense Management (TEM) and Managed Mobility Services (MMS) workflow lifecycles and how enterprises like yours can leverage this information to further automate your operations, whether it be internally or in collaboration with your TEM provider.
RPA is most commonly used to automate well-defined workflows that experience high volumes of manual intervention. In the world of TEM/MMS, there are often two disparate systems communicating with one another – your enterprise TEM solution and the carrier’s billing and/or order processing system. RPA offers the most economical means to eliminate manual intervention and improve accuracy when it comes to obtaining and processing invoices and submitting service requests.
Why is RPA necessary? A typical enterprise network encompasses a hybrid of legacy landline, modern IP-based, mobile and cloud services which are provided across multiple suppliers that may reside across multiple countries. Also, APIs will not be available for all of the communication and leased technology services for the foreseeable future. Therefore, RPA offers a readily available solution to support the diverse spectrum of integration protocols across the enterprise’s full suite of carrier billing and ordering systems.
Gartner estimates that by 2022, automation will eliminate more than 25% of manual back-end tasks for TEM — up from 10% in 2018, enabling resources to be directed to more strategic activities1. This creates a win-win for both enterprises and TEM/MMS managed service providers as the value proposition for contracted services will continue to evolve from tactical-based services to more high-value strategic optimization efforts as manual-driven activities are automated via RPA and other modern forms of API-based system integrations.
Based on Gartner’s guidance, the two best TEM-based workflow candidates for RPA include (1) the high-volume Extraction, Transformation and Load (ETL) invoice process as well as (2) the intricate sequence of steps associated with managing the workflows associated with order processing. Both types of workflows are governed by a chronological series of detailed steps that must be completed to ensure consistent success. Calero leverages multiple RPA technologies in these areas and others to improve throughput, increase efficiency, and ensure consistent quality, enabling us to scale to meet the growing needs of our customers.
The typical process to obtain a monthly invoice involves authenticating through a carrier’s web portal and then navigating to the appropriate web page to select and download the most recent invoice reports. These reports may be available in the form of a comma field-delimited file such as CSV, or PDF, which may require some level of transcription of the invoice image into electronic format or transformation of various fields within an editable PDF file.
Across the invoice processing lifecycle, a suite of inter-dependent RPA programs is architected to complete the progression of specific tasks. The TEM system orchestrates this starting with the scheduled monthly invoice ETL process. The ETL workflow process encompasses the user authentication and web spiders (or “crawlers”) to dynamically navigate each vendor’s portal to download monthly invoices via SFTP (secure file transfer).
Once the invoice files are downloaded, subsequent RPA programs focus on manipulating, enriching, and standardizing the invoice content from each carrier’s proprietary raw invoice data records. Enriching and standardizing enables intuitive multi-dimensional analysis of invoice charges based on parameters that make sense to the enterprise stakeholder, such as location, cost center, vendor and type of service.
Subsequent RPA programs validate the integrity of invoice data, audit invoice charges against contracted rate schedules and identify services that are incorrectly invoiced. A well-architected RPA infrastructure for TEM/MMS can orchestrate a completely automated, “hands-off” workflow from invoice capture to payment approval and when applicable, review of disputed charges.
Each carrier’s ordering platform requires completing specific proprietary steps to manage the lifecycle of moves, adds, changes and disconnects (MACD) transactions. Often the root-cause of many invoice errors and incorrectly provisioned services can be traced back to mistakes made during the service request process. Leveraging RPA can ensure that a consistent and automated process is followed to govern the chronological and timely exchange of information between the enterprise’s TEM/MMS system and each carrier’s respective order processing system. A common term used to describe this process is “e-bonding” (a.k.a. electronic bonding). E-bonding is essentially an automated workflow algorithm that manages updates between the enterprise’s TEM system and the carrier’s order request transactions throughout the lifecycle of the service order transaction.
The RPA process starts with establishing and exchanging a logical link between the TEM/MMS system and the carrier’s ordering platform by assigning and sharing a unique order ID generated by each respective system with the other system. In this way, the RPA process retains a “two-sided logical link” to manage the event-triggered data updates. An RPA program is usually architected to manage each specific type of MACD transaction for each type of contracted service, (e.g. POTS, DS3, MPLS, SD-WAN, smart phone, etc.). It is often cost-prohibitive for an enterprise to justify the development and maintenance costs to enable a holistic and comprehensive RPA-based order processing program for every type of service contracted. However, TEM/MMS solution providers, such as Calero, leverage e-bonding integrations across all clients, making the difficulty of managing so many unique integrations a worthy investment.
RPA in the form of invoice web spiders/crawlers and service order automation processes should be used on high-volume repetitive tasks, where API automation isn’t available or standardized, or its level of usage doesn’t justify the deployment costs. RPA deployments are also appropriate when manual tasks will prove too cost-intensive or could generate too many errors.
In case you missed part one of our RPA series, you can read it here.
1Source: Gartner “When to Use Automation to Improve Telecom Expense Management” (June 2018)
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