Defining Transformation: Where do Robotic Process Automation and AI Connect?

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PITT OHIO had been facing a common challenge in the 3PL market—that is, moving information efficiently to and from suppliers and customers. 3PL firms typically employ extensive back-office staff and customer service representatives (CSRs) to manually enter and re-key data for business activities such as quoting, scheduling and tracking shipments, securing proof of delivery, generating and collecting invoices, closing out loads, and more. Manual processing of these repetitive, yet finely-detailed transactions is a recipe for built-in data entry errors, no matter the strength of employee performance.

By deploying an RPA platform in the CSR role, PITT OHIO was able to offer the ability to request a shipment pick-up by email as a premium service. Smart software robots extract shipment details from an incoming email request for a pick-up, log in and schedule the job. The robot accesses customer and carrier portals to advise them of the schedule, and also extracts relevant information such as the bill of lading or carrier invoice. These processes take just seconds, rather than hours, and include automatic customer updates such as the location of GPS-enabled vehicles. This high-level service previously required up to one full-time equivalent (FTE) role per premium customer and is now scalable across the organization’s entire customer base. 

RPA in Action: Modernizing Finance and Accounting

In its recent Excellence in Financial Management Survey, Aberdeen Group cited an overwhelming volume of transactions as a key driver of automation in the financial industry. Processes that are slow, very manual, and error-prone, ERP systems that aren’t optimized, a number of disconnected systems in use – these factors all contribute to a situation ripe for RPA and AI. They are problems that extend well beyond accounts payable and span all financial process chains, including procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-to-report.

The financial close provides an example, and typically includes accounts reconciliation, journal entry, and financial reporting as its main components. These diverse tasks and processes are well-suited to automation as a means of improving accuracy and reducing time to completion. The creation, review, approval, and posting of journal entries are automated via standardized workflows. Journal entries are proposed by RPA’s software robots, and the workflow automation tool manages their approval. Automated checklists are built into the workflow: when a parameter for review or approval is exceeded, relevant parties are contacted in real time. Reports enabled by full automation are not only generated faster, they are 2.8 times more likely to include automation of aging reports. With RPA, average time to complete the financial close drops to just three days, in contrast to an average of eight days without automation.

RPA in Action: Improving the Customer Experience in Banking and Financial Services

Mortgage origination and processing demonstrates the close relationship between smart processes and the banking customer experience. Tapping into RPA allows loan producers to meet loan quality, compliance, and cost concerns that span both front and back office operations. By automating repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks, loan operations personnel can focus on the more important details of loan applications. Accuracy is improved, reporting metrics are better tracked, and costs and loan timelines are reduced—advantages illustrated by Union Bank’s deployment of RPA in its loan processing operations.

The organization was seeing increased demand for lending services, but operational delays meant that loan documents took as long as 15 days to convert into electronic files. This heavy load of manual work jeopardized sales, and ultimately meant slower time to revenue and company cash flow. RPA reduced turnaround time for digitizing loan documents to five days instead of 15. The firm was able to migrate 800,000 documents in days rather than months into its Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. RPA’s software robots now automatically gather all relevant loan documents, combine them into a PDF, and notify auditors when the file is ready for audit review. The post-closing process is also faster, based on streamlined auditing of loan files.

“The faster our teams can gather loan documentation, the faster they can compile the packages that we present to investors. This speeds time to revenue for our consumer lending business, improving cash flow and lowering cost per fund,” said Reginald L. Brown, Sr., VP, electronic imaging manager, Consumer Lending Imaging and File Management, at Union Bank.

Prioritize Digital Transformation

Enterprises are starting to embrace RPA with a clearer understanding of its strength: handling repetitive, structured processes that sap the productivity of individual workers. As this value is combined with advanced technologies used for understanding context, content, and sentiment, thinking/decisioning software robots can perform even more sophisticated operations. It is a trajectory that enables organizations to see long-term potential from their automation strategies, including increased ability for employees to focus on higher value work such as exceptions and decisions. At the same time, the experience around AI will begin to close the gap between marketplace messages and what is being implemented on a real-world, enterprise level. This will accelerate as organizations and CIOs experiment with AI and successfully pilot in well-understood uses.

The enterprise must continue to break down siloed relationships between systems, people and processes. Intelligent automation for tasks, processes and documents will be key to success going forward. Automation’s role is critical to the effort, and likely to be much more successful when focused on solving specific business problems.

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