Chief financial officers (CFOs) and financial heads understand the value of automation. Maximizing the value of their human capital by ensuring they focus on value-added tasks and automating time-consuming, repetitive processes makes business sense.
Robotic process automation (RPA) takes a step further. By using software bots to mimic the actions of their human counterparts across business processes, it frees the workforce to focus on areas where only human decisions or interventions matter. There is also the opportunity for humans to climb up the value chain. For companies, they benefit from faster business velocity and agility to compete in a challenging environment.
COVID-19 changed RPA’s value proposition. After it became a pandemic and saw the global human workforce remote working under lockdown, RPA allowed companies to remain operational. This shift in value has propelled RPA as a business imperative — not just a technological option.
At a recent virtual roundtable by FutureCFO, titled “Driving value and competitive advantage during COVID-19”, Indonesian finance, strategy and operational leaders discussed the value of RPA in addressing the new health-related regulations and preparing them for post-COVID recovery.
Sizing up the COVID-19 impact
COVID-19 has made companies defensive. Although Paul Setio Kartono, chief strategy officer at PT Prudential Life Assurance noted insurance is one industry that did not suffer a major impact, customer protection allowed insurers to “see things differently.”
“How to protect our customer and our employees — that is the most important thing now. We are caring for our employees and customers more than before,” said Kartono.
Yustine Yovita Mulyono, head of corporate finance & ALM support at Maybank noted that measures like social distancing are altering business practices and customer behaviours. As a result, the bank is looking at digital initiatives closely.
“What we are seeing is the need to execute operational tasks remotely,” said Amit Sawarkar, strategic partners lead at Automation Anywhere. “The ability to work from home, access applications and processes, and execute tasks remotely is the key priority that companies are preparing for the new normal post-pandemic scenario.”
Sawarkar added that it is where his company’s Digital Workforce platform comes in. “So that workload on people is minimized. The routine tasks are taken care of and can even be triggered by mobile phones.”
Shifting the processing workload
One of the key challenges that companies face during COVID-19 is the extreme shift in workload pressures on certain processes — such as accounts receivables — and the delays caused by remote working.
For example, Zaitun Haddad, head of finance & accounting at PT Sompo Insurance noted that “currently we are trying to have process improvement for all premiums collected and also improve our IT development and service to all clients.”
For Martwita Hardi, general manager for finance at PT MNC Guna Usaha Indonesia and Dwi Susiyanto, senior vice president for risk analytics at PT Bank Danamon Indonesia Tbk agree that “cash collection” or accounts receivable have become even more important during these periods of uncertainty.
Rio Winardi, president director and chief executive officer at BCA Life explained that cash collection issues during a crisis are not unexpected. “At such times, cash is king.” But what made it worse is the fact that the human workforce was at home or working remotely.
It comes down to business agility, said Greg Tan, executive vice president for finance at PT Gajah Tunggal Tbk, who gave a manufacturing perspective.
“Cash is king is correct in this instance. Whoever protects cash at this time can survive for a long time,” he explained, adding that manufacturers are grappling with inventory turnover and monitoring their reserve cash.
However, Tan felt it is also not a time to stop CAPEX. Rather, he felt it is time for careful and timely investments. “Selectively invest with the most appropriate CAPEX. So, when there is a turnaround, whoever has the right investment can rebound the fastest,” he opined.
Evaluating the RPA potential
One investment is RPA, which allows companies to overcome the burden of manual processes, shift their workforce to more value-added tasks, and be ready to rebound fast.
“All these rule-based activities can be ideally moved to your Digital Workforce platform. Like for example people requesting deferment of loan instalments — these can now be handled by bots,” said Sawarkar.
Sompo Insurance Indonesia is also implementing RPA in key operational areas. The company’s chief operating officer Ismiyatun Kartiwinoto observed that RPA is already creating “efficiencies in the areas of how we do settlement and how we do costing.”
Sawarkar explained that RPA allows companies to adapt to the new regulations and legislation resulting from the pandemic.
“With our Digital Workforce platforms, you can make these changes in flight. It is essentially a cluster of many bots working together. If you need to make changes to one particular bot the other bots will keep working,” he said.
“Agility is one of the biggest factors people are taking into consideration. And that is why we are gaining a lot of traction during the pandemic,” he added.
Choosing the right processes
The biggest challenge for RPA success lies in identifying the right processes. Not all processes are ready for RPA. Those that are repetitive and rule-based are the best targets.
Here, interaction with the users will be crucial, said Kristianus Setyawan, head of division IT technical & services at BCA Life. It means we should see RPA less of an IT project and more of a business initiative.
Equally important is getting the right requirements about the process from the users, added Kartiwinoto. “How users define their detailed process to be implemented in the RPA is important. Sometimes when we create the RPA module, it does not work. The reason is that some steps are missing.”
“This is a valid point,” noted Sawarkar. “Typically, the process map that customers share is the so-called ‘happy path.’ Which is the easiest path for the transaction to flow through.”
He argued that what is missing in the “happy path” are the exceptions. “What happens when the processes do not go as planned.”
Automation Anywhere employs a discovery bot to address this issue. It does both process mapping and process mining. Using this information, the company creates a more comprehensive view of the process that needs to be automated.
“We do have a rigorous process with our partners to select the right processes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Regina Koilam, senior vice president, Svadaia, a local partner for Automation Anywhere, advised companies to start small and gain the experience in building successful RPA project. “So, they can then see that they have the flexibility to make all the processes agile. From there they can move to something bigger.”
Calculating the ROI
In a crisis where the business environment remains uncertain and companies are looking to conserve cash, return on investment (ROI) is vital.
Several delegates to the roundtable enquired how fast RPA projects can reach its expected ROI.
The good news is that RPA is designed for answering such questions. “If the processes have been identified correctly and show a high potential of RPA using the criteria we worked through with our customers, ROI is seen within weeks,” said Sawarkar. The productivity gain is around “1:5” when compared to the time and resources spent before using RPA.
Overall, he noted that Automation Anywhere designed its solution to be “extremely scalable and modular.” “So, the size and scale of the automation journey can go wider.” More importantly, it allows companies to maximize their agility and upskill their human workforce for more value-added tasks. When the rebound comes, they can be ready to reap the dividends.