Scouting Report: Robots Are in Your Contact Center’s Future
By Donna Fluss
Robotic process automation (RPA), also known as robotics, has captured the attention of executives who are looking for ways to improve productivity and quality. Robotics is a catchy term and has an unlimited number of potential uses for companies, but it’s not a new concept or technology. RPA is essentially workflow technology targeted to specific uses and actions; vendors are using “robots” to handle dedicated tasks such as cutting and pasting data from one field to another. While RPA takes an approach that is slightly different from what has been done in the past, the underlying technology has been around for more than 30 years.
RPA IS WORKFLOW
The time is right for RPA, even though the technology is not new. As companies are struggling to realize productivity improvements, they are more open to trying different approaches. In the past, companies may not have considered embedding robotic process automation into tasks that were primarily handled by employees, but today attended process automation is being adopted at an increasing pace in a variety of companies in many verticals. Sure, it would be better to fully automate activities handled by live agents, but companies are realizing that even if they can reduce employee handle time by only 10 seconds per work item, they can realize significant savings in a single workday when employees handle hundreds of work items.
THE BENEFITS OF RPA
Employees appreciate the benefits of RPA, as it frees them from performing mindless activities; it also improves work quality and customer satisfaction because robots do not make mistakes. Error rates, the need for rework, and customer complaints all decrease as a result.
The downside of RPA is that it is intended to drive productivity improvements, which translates into staff reductions, a sensitive and iffy subject, even though such reductions are highly beneficial to a company’s bottom line. The vendors that sell these solutions are struggling with their messaging, as they don’t want to come right out and say that they drive staff cuts. Therefore, the vendors are conveying a message that RPA can help a company redeploy its staff to more valuable activities. In fact, a series of well-defined robots can, as noted, eliminate the need for employees to be involved in low-value activities; this presents a great opportunity for companies to experience true productivity improvements, which is a positive step for most economies.
WHERE DOES DESKTOP ANALYTICS FIT IN?
Desktop analytics (DA) has been around for years and is struggling for general adoption. DMG initiated coverage of DA in 2009 when we issued our first report on what was an emerging IT sector at the time. DA has many potential uses and benefits for companies. It can be used to track and monitor what employees are doing at their desktops and is also highly effective at identifying the actions employees should be taking and guiding them on how to proceed, which is referred to as either next best action or real-time guidance. Additionally, DA is being used by organizations to mask personal or sensitive information.
Currently, DA is being adopted primarily in back-office operating environments to track workload and employee activities; however, digital transformation is creating new opportunities for this technology in other operating departments. As digital channels are adopted and more servicing takes place on the desktop, the need to analyze these activities is growing. Just as recording provides transparency into what was happening in the voice channel, DA is needed to deliver insights and analytics about employees’ desktop activities. And once DA identifies the trends and opportunities to enhance employee and system performance, RPA can be deployed to improve compliance, performance, accuracy, quality, and productivity.
The competitive landscape for RPA and DA is confusing. Many vendors claim to provide these capabilities, particularly robotics, but significant differences exist among the offerings. DMG Consulting has analyzed the market and has identified eight RPA and DA vendors that should be considered when making a selection:
• Automation Anywhere. It is the provider of Automation Anywhere Enterprise, a cognitive robotics process automation platform.
• Blue Prism Group. It offers RPA solutions for contact centers and back offices.
• Cicero. This vendor sells an RPA solution, Cicero Automation, and a DA solution, Cicero Insight, for contact centers and back-office functions.
• NICE. The company offers an Advanced Process Automation suite with RPA and DA capabilities for contact centers and back offices.
• OpenConnect Systems. It provides real-time DA, RPA, and operational intelligence solutions for contact centers and back offices.
• Pegasystems. This vendor sells an RPA solution, Pega Robotic Automation, and a DA solution, Pega Workforce Intelligence.
• UiPath. Its solution for contact centers and back offices supports attended and unattended RPA.
• Verint Systems. Its Automation and Desktop Process Analytics solution combines RPA and DA.
INVESTING IN ROBOTICS
Adoption of RPA is picking up rapidly as companies realize the benefits of these applications. Companies are starting slowly, testing out one or two robots to determine if they deliver quantifiable benefits and are worth the time and effort to set up. These solutions are very appealing because the companies that sell them have figured out how to deliver them with easy-to-use development environments. Once a company determines that a robotics offering is worth the investment, it gets more motivated about finding new uses for these automation tools. The trick is to find the right applications for RPA.
RPA may not be the most exciting technology to enter the market, but the simple value proposition is part of its appeal. Robots can be highly productive tools that get a job done without complaint or needing a break. They can automate many types of activities in the front and back office and throughout enterprises. DMG imagines a future where companies can purchase a robot from an app exchange for a specific activity. While it’s likely that some of the robots will need customization and integration, others may be put to work with minimal effort.
Digital transformation is affecting the entire enterprise, not just the service organization. Companies need DA to provide visibility into employee performance and the customer experience. DA and RPA are quite different but highly complementary technologies that can both make significant contributions to enterprises and their customers.
DMG predicts that the RPA market will experience rapid growth and adoption during the next three to five years. Opportunities will come from both attended and unattended use cases, which DMG expects to be combined over time. We also expect artificial intelligence to be embedded in RPA applications to enhance the level of automation. This is not to say that RPA is going to replace human cognitive thinking and processing; instead, it will be used to enhance it.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary author and speaker, Fluss drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the service industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.