In all my years attending SIG and similar sourcing conferences (often from the outside looking in), I have never observed this degree of nervousness around a new innovation as that surrounding Robotics Process Automation (RPA). Speakers struggle with how much development background they should share before launching into the topic. Conference attendees eagerly lap up nuggets of information that can add to their meager understanding of the topic. And the few who "get it" seem to be oblivious to the general discomfort of mainstream sourcing professionals whenever robotics is mentioned.
Recently, during a trip to visit suppliers in India, I similarly noticed a strange awkwardness surrounding the marketing of both RPA and analytics. When developer/programmers are asked to explain product offerings, they trip over themselves a bit cautious that buyers may not be able to grasp the computer science, statistics or mathematics of the product offering, and consequently resort to demonstrating actual end-user applications without ever really saying, "We have a miracle here, and we want to share it with you! And there is so much more we can do each week!"
The marketing department essentially has the opposite problem—escorting visitors through exciting Disney World like "innovation centers" offering very little practical application examples, shying away from the technical side of things. Is there a happy medium somewhere in there? Presenters dig deep to find the right example to introduce RPA into the presentation and the inevitable occurs: the slide show switches to a customer service product graphic, the favored example of an implementation of robotics and analytics. On an aside here—from a marketing angle—customer service is the worst possible use of RPA to mention. Understandably, providers choose customer service as their main example to demonstrate the wonders of RPA because anyone who has ever made an online purchase has interacted with software automation. Unfortunately though, robotic customer service is also the butt of jokes by most late night comedians. Who hasn't been exposed to the frustration of resolving a service issue with automated phone chats? It won't be long before "chat popups" become the next in the line of comedic fire, i.e., "I just wanted to cancel my insurance, and the dreaded chat window named 'Tony' tried to pretend he was real."
RPA is an innovative business changing movement, a game changing approach to business process management. As such, the marketing of automation products should be as easy as selling lemonade at the beach on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, BPO providers and advisors tend to avoid defining RPA, and instead awkwardly refer to the unspecific "end to end automation" of a random business process without explaining the benefits, the transition process or the actual results that will be attained. There is an assumption that everyone understands that Virtual Machines (VMs) will eventually be controlling most application software in place of humans and, when executed correctly, these VMs may even perform significantly better with the human element completely removed. What is holding presenters back from enthusiastically pointing out that a VM never gets tired, never makes mistakes at the end of a long shift, and that as a cloud-based resource, RPA can be formulated to rise to the occasion whenever demand spikes?
Back at the SIG Summit, the comfort level around RPA had increased by the halfway point of the event, but when Analytics started popping into the conversation, the awkwardness in the room again returned. Providers, advisors and buyers know what they have, but they often just gloss over explaining the the natural synergies that have and will evolve from RPA. "Iterations" is a great word: Software learns, digs back in, applies what it has learned, re-programs itself, collects more data, spits out anomalies and trends and learns again. It's amazing. It's exciting. So for now, go ahead and define robotics and RPA analytics in every presentation. A little—no, a lot—of excitement could be laced into slides that feature those less sexy but super successful applications of RPA. Data entry, customer order analysis, purchasing pattern analysis and response, fraud detection, governance, QA or insurance policy change examples will resonate with fellow Summit attendees and satisfy their need to understand that robotics and analytics can be a key component of any organization's future value creation. We are at the forefront of the emergence of something incredible and the possibilities are endless. It really is OK to enthusiastically share RPA's innovation wealth.
Lynn Ayling Huber is a successful marketing and sales professional. She specializes in personal branding of executives and market-facing managers. She also coaches small to midsize business leaders to help them achieve their dreams by developing a social media presence, a professional demeanor and a community/industry presence.