Our industry tends to thrive on hype and marketing noise. I suppose that as industry analysts, we should be grateful for this state of affairs because much of our job is (or rather should be) about cutting through the smoke and mirrors. A key element in those discussions is guiding stakeholders on the shifts in technology and how these shifts impact the way organizations source and procure solutions and services. The life of a sourcing and IT services analyst used to be “easy”: We used to listen to the quarterly calls of sourcing advisors on the state of the outsourcing market, we found solid ground to tread on by collecting contract data, and the supply side was dominated by a select group of large caps that offered a good visibility because they were publicly traded companies.
Digital Is Chipping Away from the Sourcing Lifecycle
With the onset of “digital”, this comfort zone started to dissipate. The sourcing lifecycle underpinning those large deals began crumbling. As an industry, we never explained what was replacing this traditional sourcing lifecycle. Digital largely meant talking about SMAC technologies and getting hung up on customer experiences. HfS is tirelessly trying to change those discussions by talking about the Digital OneOffice – which is about changing mindsets to understand that “Digital” here is about connecting the back, middle, and front office to enable a digital experience.
Suffice it to say that this is not yet terra firma; large parts of the market are either stuck in the legacy sourcing world or are largely front-office-centric notions of Digital. Add automation to the mix and terra firma becomes a hazy daydream. The market appears stuck discussing RPA rather than the broader notion of Intelligent Automation. Unfortunately, the broader market is struggling how to scale those deployments.
Hold on! AI surely is the answer to all those unanswered questions, right? Machine learning will deal with unstructured data, chatbots will do all the necessary conversation, and you can even throw the big beasts of virtual agents, like Watson and Amelia, into the mix. Certainly, that will make sure all of the gaps and missing pieces of a process chain will be effectively dealt with!
Against this at times frightening amount of hype, it was cathartic sitting down with executives from EY to discuss the real issue: how to scale by integrating TrustPortal, a digital front-office and back-office platform with RPA. The discussions with EY were cathartic because it was all about the lessons learned on the automation journey, not about the aspirations or the hype of what innovation conceivably could do. The discussions were also intriguing as they were about the fundamental principles of the OneOffice, albeit in all but name. In contrast to many of its peers, during the early phase of the RPA market development EY shied away from positioning RPA as a silver bullet. By many it was positioned as non-intrusive, low code, intuitive for business analysts to handle, and low risk, but more than anything else it guaranteed short-term cost take out. Rather, EY was looking at how it could make RPA work with unstructured data and connect it with digital channels. EY was trying to scale RPA deployments and take a holistic view on automation by integrating a broad set of capabilities.
TrustPortal Connects RPA to the Front Office at Scale
In a nutshell, TrustPortal provides multiple methods for digital front ends to access legacy systems via RPA, which in the case of EY is through Blue Prism. The platform is completely configurable; forms can be created as objects through Blue Prism with no coding involved. TrustPortal had initially been built for projects in the public sector, so security and the ability to scale was a mandatory prerequisite.
An illustrative use case for TrustPortal is claims processing; EY suggested that clients could reduce costs by up to 90% for simple products, and irrespective of their legacy environment. To provide more color on this use case, all of the customer policy information and documents are available immediately in the portal. Customers can start the claim process online by entering only key information. A bot then starts the claim in the claim system (which could be a legacy mainframe application or a state of the art system like Guidewire). The agent can request additional evidence via the back-office use of TrustPortal, which the customer can provide by uploading files/taking photos to the online claim application. The bot then pushes the document into the insurer’s document store and updates the claim system workflow. If the customer has several products TrustPortal will notice when policy data is out of sync and ask the customer to confirm what is correct. Consequently, a bot will update all policies associated with that customer, which could start a new process (such as a re-quote). The customer will receive updates at all stages of the process and won’t have to call the service center, significantly reducing costs as 60% of all claims calls are chasing progress.
The configuration time for this approach takes about three weeks. In contrast to the significant costs for calling an agent (typically £10-£15 per call), the cost to run TrustPortal for all products and services is as low as £1 to £2 per customer, per year irrespective of the number of interactions or products. The technical details for scaling with TrustPortal’s “resilient queueing system that connects to BluePrism’s Dynamic Scheduler” are complicated and beyond the context of this article. What’s standing out as more important are the strategic approach of connecting front-office platforms directly with RPA and integrating broader cognitive capabilities at a competitive price.
TrustPortal Provides Color for How the OneOffice is Evolving
The title of this article is meant to grab your attention rather than to suggest there is a binary choice between a platform like TrustPortal and chatbots or virtual agents. On the contrary, EY is leveraging a broad set of cognitive tools such as ABBYY and Arago’s Hiro for parsing, Workfusion and Azure Machine Learning Studio for machine learning, and big beasts like Watson for a broad set of services including virtual agents and chatbots. This approach brings to life how the OneOffice is evolving: RPA is providing the digital underbelly while cognitive capabilities enhance the intelligent digital processes. As we have tried to outline in Exhibit 1, what it all boils down to is how a customer request is routed through a delivery backbone.
Exhibit 1: Routing a Digital Customer Request or Interaction
Source: HfS Research 2017
A virtual agent or chatbot can be part of that approach, but as we have suggested, TrustPortal can also be used to enhance most types of digital interaction including:
Web portal or Mobile Apps – either standalone, or embedded in existing sites
Chatbot, IVR, Virtual Agent transactions (e.g. enabling “how much is in my account” against legacy systems)
Contact-Centre Agents (enabling Blue Prism to provide agent productivity)
Back-Office Agent for work hand-off from RPA (e.g. RPA requesting approval, highlighting exceptions)
EY’s approach of leveraging TrustPortal is a compelling example for embedding RPA as part of transformational projects and not just applying RPA as a band-aid for process and media breaks in the back office. EY has yet to demonstrate to the broader market robust buyer stories and case studies to underline the validity of their strategy. We will follow up with more details once we have had the opportunity to speak to clients. It is also a reminder that the progress toward the OneOffice is all about service orchestration of disparate set of tools across the Intelligent Automation Continuum. Before the members of the RDA fraternity start moaning, it’s likely that the differentiation is the end-to-end process view along with the scale of the deployments. As always, HfS would love to hear about other examples for progressing toward the OneOffice – which explicitly includes the RDA community.