Recently, Genfour conducted a survey amongst UK and US business leaders on their views about robotics and automation.
The findings revealed that half of the respondents believe AI and robotic process automation (RPA) will have a significant impact on the BPO industry, with organisations taking ownership of automation projects directly, or via specialist RPA providers.
Add this to a post-Brexit environment, whereby many UK firms are already looking to move their customer service centres back to the UK simply because they can now reduce cost and improve productivity without making a huge investment, the question is being asked: "Is the BPO market an industry in crisis?"
Relocation and Losses
With this transitioning of services back to the UK, many companies are capitalising on the momentum by implementing intelligent automation (robots, cognitive systems and AI) in order to become more productive, as well as using local talent to manage this automation. Leveraging new technologies such as RPA and AI to engage with customers as the first point of interaction, these organisations will be able to focus their people on creating value-adding tasks rather than the mundane, repetitive jobs.
For BPO providers to compete, automation has to be at the heart of the next generation of service support. Only this week, RBS announced it is finishing a long-term contract with ITO provider Infosys due to its lack of speed and agility to support the IT transformation at its new venture. The project failure has perhaps played a part in the ensuing “ramp down” of 3,000 staff at Infosys. If the BPO adoption of automation doesn’t happen quickly enough, we can expect to see more stories like this appearing in the coming months.
BPO vs RPA - By Department
At the heart of their transformation, multi-function BPOs need to figure out how they can compete effectively and build completely new solutions, which intelligently incorporate man and the machine, but are also quick to deploy. BPOs can no longer look to deploy and roll out in twelve months. Robotics can be implemented and rolled out in months, which beats this hands down. There are also specific benefits depending on business function:
- Robotics technology gives the power back to the customer’s business - RPA only needs basic set up to get it working, from this point IT can largely step away. Less work is required at the IT infrastructure level and more work being done on the RPA/user interface layer. There is no doubt that IT departments will begin to work closely with boutique tech firms to set up, enable and monitor their robots and will be less reliant on large ITO companies.
- HR departments will relish at the thought of managing and developing their companies workforce rather than managing long-winded processes – like criminal checks, employment checks, bank setup, etc. – all of which can be managed by robotic processes.
- Finance departments, similar to IT departments, will be more capable of managing and controlling their corporate finances in head office as RPA offers greater levels of compliance (basically 100% compliance), up-to-date information, instantaneous access to information and the ability to move data hubs back onshore.
- Procurement, operations, marketing - all core operations in today’s modern business - stand to benefit from automating repetitive processes, through RPA and AI, that are currently being managed by people in BPO businesses.
Essentially, automation tools are by their nature disruptive when it comes to BPO because they do not require a centre of offshore workers to manually process things like invoices, manage systems or handle repetitive tasks. There will of course be exceptions where the cost benefit of automating a process simply doesn’t exist, but if the demand or need for those processes suddenly spikes, the capacity to scale up a purely-human centre is very limited (time and cost to recruit, train and manage people). RPA, on the other hand, enables businesses to simply ‘switch on/off’ robots to manage the peaks and troughs in demand.
The project charter and process of setting up RPA is largely the same as hiring a BPO firm: the customer maps out their systems, tools, processes, etc. and then the BPO organisation builds the operating model around the brief. The BPO firm has designed its resourcing model, its toolkits and its technology around the traditional view of BPO and over the past 5-7 years has invested heavily into technologies that better enable this human-led model to run more smoothly. However, these technology investments have not considered RPA or automation – let alone cognitive computing or AI (outside of workflow tools that schedule and push work to people). Hence, a large portion of profoundly expensive technology simply will not be relevant for the autonomous enterprise of tomorrow.
The Brave New BPO
What does this mean for the future of BPO? The trajectory towards building agile, lean digital businesses means a new type of ‘BPO’ firm will have to emerge as its own entity (not a subset or partner of the traditional BPO offering). This new BPO will align with specialist tech providers, process engineers and business architects to help business leaders fundamentally reimagine their business with automation at the core. This new BPO is not interested in running a 100,000-FTE centre, rather it will enable a 100,000-person business (its customer) to run fluidly, seamlessly – shaking off the shackles of the past ways of working and liberating its people to add value – both to the business and the communities that surround the business. Offshore may become onshore, the workforce may be robotic, but either way the future will be simpler, more intuitive, cost efficient and agile.