Are Shared Services a Prerequisite for Intelligent Automation?

The questions everyone is asking themselves

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RPA, AI and Robotics – is Shared Services the path to success?

The topic of the year is RPA, AI, and Robotics.  Every day there are articles regarding robots taking jobs, causing new challenges for leaders and re-defining how work gets done.  It seems if you are not investing in Intelligent Automation (the umbrella term for Robotics, AI, RPA and others) then you are “not keeping up with the Joneses”.  While there are a lot of articles and there a return on investment from Intelligent Automation? And if yes, how do you maximise your company’s potential to meet or exceed the anticipated reward?

As with all investments, there are only so many ways to see a return:-

  • Cost reduction – people, overheads
  • Quality improvement – less re-word, complaints, refunds, missed SLA’s
  • Cost Avoidance – although CFO’s typically don’t like to see this type of return in a business case as it about futures - if we don’t invest now, we will have to spend more later.
  • Risk, Compliance and Security – the cost associated with fines or penalties that could be avoided if an investment is made

And the cost elements associated with implementing Intelligent Automation are the same as any other project: - 

  • The software including maintenance, hosting
  • Process changes, change management, training
  • Short term loss of productivity while the change is made
  • Potentially redundancy or other costs associated with staff reduction
  • Programme management

If we take a simple example of AI chatbots and look at what the potential areas of costs and savings might look like: -

Project: Implementing chatbots to triage first contacts from customers


  1. Project Costs: software, set-up, support, training, piloting, scale-up, programme management, change management. I am not an expert on this subject but let’s say that all up for a reasonability sophisticated customer-facing service centre would be in the range of $200k to $250k (internal and external costs)
  2. Staff Costs: the costs associated with either exiting employees from your workforce or re-training them to do a new role.
  3. On-going maintenance: the costs associated with changing the “script” that a chatbot might be using because your products or processes changed.

Total estimates: for this paper let’s assume $300k to $350k one-time costs (points one and two above) and then 10% of the build costs for maintenance over three years, therefore, a high-level estimate over three years of $330k to $395k.

Savings: -

  1.  Labour: the elimination of service centre agents who no longer need to answer phone, mail or chats.
  2. There might be other minor savings such as shutting down older technologies that are no longer needed.
  3. And there would be some soft savings that most likely your CFO will not allow you to include in the business case – for example, consistency of answer which could be considered an improvement in the quality of service.

The level of savings will be tied to the overall design and efficiency of your shared service centre; it will also be related to how many locations the business is performing these processes. The previous efforts and investments made around shared services will have a direct impact on the ROI for your Intelligent Automation project.

Using extremes to prove the point: Let’s assume that you had no services centre and when there were enquiries from your customers they were routed FIFO (first in first out) to the account management team for answering. The business wants to move to chatbots but before you can do this a significant amount of pre-work will be required to standardise processes, data, responses and method of responding to a customer query. The cost of your project has now expanded, and your ability to reduce costs will be hard to justify because there is no dedicated staff taking customer queries.

On the other extreme: Let’s assume you have an efficient and effective services centre with standardisation, knowledge management databases, infrastructure for the call and case handling. This historic investment in shared services will make the implementation of chatbots significantly easier, less costly and therefore a better return. 

The number of shared services centres will also have an impact on the ROI. If you have five different shared services locations, then there will need to be five implementations of the change. The more centres where the chatbot project needs to implemented the higher the cost of the overall programme and the lower the ROI.

The above example is, most likely, the simplest form of Intelligent Automation, but allows an easy example of the value of a shared service operation on the ROI. Having a strong foundation of shared services, whether in HR, Finance, a call centre or other process, will put your organisation in an excellent starting point to have a great business case for Intelligent Automation that generates the right return.

For more reading on Intelligent Automation and Business Case

Deloitte Insights – Intelligent Automation

How much does it cost to build a Chatbot?

Calculating the ROI of a Chatbot