Notes on Automation and Shared Services: Key Takeaways from SSOW 2019
I have just returned from a most enjoyable and successful conference at SSOW in Prague which is a wonderful city. As always, organisations have very different strategies and are at different stages in their maturity of Shared Services or GBS. It is good to remember that not one size fits all and what matters is the vision of the business and the outcomes they are trying achieve. Therefore, the challenge for Shared Service professionals is to find the best way to support the business they serve. SSOW hosted some excellent presentations on the main stage and also some good discussion sessions which were enlightening and provide some thinking of my own – here are the 4 key points I took away:
One of the strongest points that I came across was that the shared service function was now very much about adding value and that the customer experience should be the focus for all parts of the business, including SSC. The responsibility to change perceptions is not down to what we do, but how we perform our roles and the outcomes we drive that impact the strategic goals.
I personally found it interesting that a number of presenters talked about partnering. For me and based on my own past experience in SSC this is vital so that both the ‘business’ and SSC work together to create the win-win scenario for themselves and how they both achieve their goals but also, and I suggest more importantly, how the customer wins. Whether you are in Credit, HR, Finance, Sales or any other department, organisations succeed by excellent customer engagement which leads to greater satisfaction and as a consequence increased sales.
There were many discussions regarding the role of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) specifically and Artificial Intelligence (AI). What was striking was the very different views regarding RPA or, as someone suggested it should be called, Robotic Task Automation. Some had deployed robots with great success – however, the striking correlation on these success stories was that they were internal processes which meant they were controlled and, significantly, were mostly data entry and data capture success stories which was good to hear about. On the other hand, others shared that RPA had not resulted in the expected returns and this seemed to be because if something changes the ‘robot’ does not have the capability or the intelligence to understand what has changed or how to overcome the change.
What was most surprising was the lack of use and the lack of appetite for the use of AI. AI for many was a buzzword that didn’t have real clarity and therefore created a lack of understanding of how this could add value. This is why conferences like SSOW are so needed and so powerful for Finance and Shared Services professionals to attend where demonstrations like that of Rahul Malhotra from Avis Budget Rental can share success stories of how he used Rimilia AI powered solutions to deliver significant business benefits in a process with far less control as it was dependent on customers sending, or not in many instances, the document required.
No Silver Bullet
It was good to hear a favourite old phrase not heard for a few years which is Continuous Improvement. RPA is not the silver bullet – one of the few points of discussion that everyone agreed with. If we think about it, RPA was to reduce the time and improve the accuracy of in the main repetitive tasks. Consider AI as improving the capacity and capability of how humans can be more intelligent in how they go about their business.
To be successful in achieving ‘world class’ type standards we need to use technology to upskill our people so they have better insight in what to do and when to do it and improve our processes by not only automating repetitive tasks but, with the use of Machine Learning, removing unnecessary tasks – surely the best automation is elimination of unneeded tasks. This changes the question of standardisation to a different approach! AI provides the perfect partner for organisations looking to continuously improve.
To Be or Not to Be of Service, That is the Question
Whilst in a technology context there was much excited debate about RPA as a technology and the varying degrees of success or not, it was apparent that with equally varying degrees of maturity in the SSC/GBS model, the nirvana is to future-proof the many years of investment in people and current technology, whilst evolving the model from a transactional oriented one-size fits all approach. Transforming to that of being able to accommodate a wholly service driven approach based on customer relationship, revenue, profitability, region, customer-to-service cost, credit risk and other critical KPIs. RPA is inherently focused on automation of unwanted, low level, repeatable non-valued manual tasks carried out by the employee, assuming the process and data, is standardised. Junk in – junk out. Whereas applying statistical mathematical models (AI) in conjunction with RPA, to predict and inform about future behaviours related to Late Payments, Invoicing, Aging Debt, and Credit Terms Default is practically where AI can be applied today. This is in a cognitive context, to predict and inform Cash Allocators, Credit Management and Sales that they have a pattern of human and organisational behaviours which will ultimately impact the financial health of the organisation if not addressed in the near term i.e. Cashflow, Liquidity, Free Cash, DSO and Bad Debt Provision all of which impact the CFO’s Balance Sheet and Shareholder Value (EPS growth).Why would an organisation work so hard on product development, marketing and sales to drive revenue growth and innovation, only to find that top line revenue growth is undermined due to poor customer profitability and the cost to service is too high per customer, because it cannot be predicted. RPA and AI are two sides of the same valued coin. And in case you’re wondering…. yes, Rimilia does apply both RPA and AI techniques to its world class leading Cloud Cash & Credit Management software platform.
The outcomes can be summarised in three key statements:
- Effectiveness: using the intelligence within our solutions, we create innovative ways of performing old tasks, delivering a significant improvement in results specifically around releasing more cash into working capital
- Efficiency: as well as reducing processing costs and time we also allow people to focus on adding value rather than boring repetitive tasks
- Experience: as well as ensuring your customers are treated the right way in obtaining payment your users will enjoy Rimilia’s solutions to fulfil the tasks and processes of their roles