Three major trends are reshaping the industry: a major rethinking of outsourcing vs. moving in-house, advanced handwriting recognition becoming mainstream and the increased need and reliance upon data science. This article explores these trends, as well as what they mean to enterprises and their service providers.
Rethinking the Benefits of Outsourcing
Just recently, HFS research published an article on the acceleration of insourcing operations that service providers currently provide. Why is this? One of the primary reasons is the renewed interest in automation. Also, it is the perspective that with automation, reliance upon manual labor is reduced, the outsourced version of which is still the primary business model of many service providers both large and small.
Historically, if an organization wanted to rid itself of low-value, but necessary tasks or processes, the best option was always to outsource these functions to a service provider that could provide the same capability at less cost through economies of scale. With automation, there is the promise of handing over the work to “bots” that can be deployed anywhere and whose costs are not sensitive to typical wage arbitration. A bot costs the same whether it is deployed onshore or in low-cost regions. HFS calls this “going straight to digital.”
Greg Council, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management
Excitement continues to grow around the capabilities of applying automation to various business processes, particularly using robotic process automation (RPA). The enthusiasm is appropriate because early initiatives to automate rote, low-level tasks have seen very positive results with high levels of automation achieved, which frees up staff to spend time on higher-value, more complex tasks.
Low variance, rote and simple tasks have been the primary focus for the majority of RPA projects because they are easy to define and the complexity related to handling different types of exceptions can be avoided. According to AIIM’s 2018 report titled, “Enhancing Your RPA Implementation with Intelligent Information,” the top processes across different functional areas include well-defined processes that operate on structured data. The report highlights processes such as inventory management, payroll, order management and records processing, all of which benefit from standardized data and straightforward tasks. The result is close to 100% automation.
Automating Key Activities
As most organizations become more adept at process automation using these tools, attention starts to turn to processes that involve key activities within an organization. Processes involving customers need to be sped-up and more convenient. Processes involving the delivery of products and services need to be better controlled and accelerated. It is not just about automating tasks to lower costs. In the same AIIM report, it found that organizations see RPA technologies as a way to deal with reducing errors within processes while at the same time, improving data quality and customer service.
Greg Council, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management
As more enterprises and service providers adopt cognitive automation to improve their manual processes, reading the tea leaves or better yet, examining case studies suggests a new job landscape with some fairly drastic improvements in efficiency.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) provides a useful summary article explaining how to deconstruct work into tasks that can be automated. Here three characteristics are used to assess our work:
Repetitive vs. variable work;
Dependent vs. interdependent work; and
Physical work vs. mental work.
Any automation assessment model should also take into consideration the nature and complexity of both the inputs and outputs onto which we can overlay these three characteristics to assess the impact of automation based upon the nature of work itself.
Basic automation has arguably had the highest level of impact so far. It is applied to rote, highly repeatable and low variance tasks. For example, basic automation supports the IT back office such as regular back-ups of data or automated provisioning of software resources (such as email accounts and CRM access).
These activities can be highly automated due to the nature of the work and low probability of exceptions to workflows. The inputs can be highly structured with very little variability while outputs are often binary. The result is either a successful completion or an exception. These tasks are very independent with interactions typically only with application interfaces. There is very little mental effort required.
Greg Council, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management
Negotiation is a fundamentally human act between two or more people. When it comes to vendor negotiations, this is driven by the prior (and future) relationship between human counterparties. While digital processes can support this mission, if a key decision maker involved in a vendor negotiation goes on vacation, changes jobs or gets hit by a bus, the negotiation will stall or scramble to reach a conclusion. It’s a good reminder that no matter what role artificial intelligence (AI) plays in a negotiation, the negotiation process and award decision are driven by humans.
For those participating in the vendor negotiations, it is likely that their companies book travel through a digital app that aggregates and discounts airline tickets. It is also likely that the hotel and ride to the meeting are also booked via digital apps. Thus, the technology stack that supports this “in-person meeting” is being mediated by a variety of digital apps (many of which already leverage AI), apps that support (rather than displace) the crucial in-person business negotiation by reducing the number of low-value transactional tasks and phone calls.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is creating the next largest divide not only between people, but also between organizations. Taking full advantage of AI requires a two-pronged approach by any enterprise. First is to identify the business processes that can gain most from the introduction of AI. Second is to treat AI as a key component in any reengineering effort with quality data as one of the highest priorities.
Since one key beneficial attribute of AI is that it can replace tedious, low-value human tasks, it is important to target processes that enable staff to focus on other higher-value areas. The perspective of pragmatically tackling routine processes first is echoed in research presented by Harvard Business Review, which provides a useful construct by defining three types of AI: one applied for automation, another for delivering insight, and a third for customer engagement.
Data Science: the Key to Successful AI
Greg Council, Vice President of Product Management, Parascript
It was the very best one-day event I have attended in my life! The Midwestern Regional SIGnature Event, held on March 6 at the Minneapolis Central Library, was attended by 66 extraordinary third-party risk management and sourcing professionals. Not only was the agenda amazing, but every speaker delivered insightful content and engaged the audience. At the Executive Roundtable, we had thoughtful conversations about many issues. Tom Lutz from U.S. Bank led a “day in the life” discussion that lasted almost 45 minutes because so many people wanted to discuss what he was doing, and it prompted other conversations as well.
In our opening session, Linda Tuck Chapman, a Sourcing Supernova Hall of Fame inductee, knocked it out of the park by delivering an interactive workshop on third-party risk management. People said that their two hours of training FLEW BY. When the group joined back together, we had an incredible presentation by Rohan Ranadive from BB&T about building an AI-powered digital workforce which prompted so many questions, I had to stop them to stay on agenda! Then we had an absolutely inspiring one-hour talk by Nancy Brooks, the CPO of Best Buy. Nancy shared that she had declined previous invitations to speak, because she doesn’t care for speaking engagements, but she agreed to speak at SIG’s event because she had a story that needed to be shared about her team. We are thrilled that she joined us. She engaged everyone with Best Buy’s story the entire time and Nancy’s team was so proud to be there.
Bruce is a distinguished thought leader and global innovator, with over three decades’ experience within the human capital and workforce management industry. In his current role, Bruce is involved in new services and product idea generation, sales presentations, internal and external evangelism, digital and social media strategies, and lead generation. He gives us an inside look into his role, how he acts as a key partner to the business and his outlook on the future of work.
Your CPO keynote presentation at the Denver CPO Meet and Eat is about leveraging spend management within services categories--why is this an important topic?
There is a lot of talk about spend analytics, data and how that is the future of success. Our position is that spend analytics is a wonderful tool and capability but we’ve yet to see the capability evolve beyond goods-level detail. As procurement teams are continuing to try to find ways to better address services spend and deliver value to their organizations, we feel that there is tremendous opportunity by thinking differently about this space.
Alexander Beck, PhD, is a data scientist with a demonstrated history of utilizing machine learning and data science in the financial sector, especially asset management. Alexander has a 10-year track record in business applicable artificial intelligence research, including in the fields of financial markets and customer analytics.
Data scientists analyze and interpret mountains of complex digital data to inform decision-making and strategic processes. When it comes to digital procurement and supply chains, data scientists can automate workflows and employ predictive analytics to more accurately forecast demand or disruption.
IBM predicts that demand for data scientists will increase by 28 percent by 2020, with Finance and Insurance, Professional Services and IT generating the most demand. This role often requires an advanced degree, such as a master’s or PhD. For those who are looking to add data scientists to their teams or want to learn how to best work with data scientists, Alexander shares insight into his function, how he assists the business to make informed decisions and automate workflows, and highlights some common misconceptions about data scientists.
In my last blog, I spoke about ethical sourcing and the many benefits it can have for your company. Seems like a no-brainer, right? When attempting to put in a plan to obliterate unethical practices in your supply chain, it starts to be risky business. The best way to mitigate risk is to set up a solid plan and be diligent about following through with it.
In my research to find a clear plan to mitigate unethical practices, I found a slew of proposed methods. Unfortunately, I felt that many of them seemed too simple—basically, too easy and too good to be true. I finally came across a solid and thorough plan proposed by Declan Kearney, the founder of 360° Supplier View, who shares tips with companies to ensure ethical sourcing practices in their supply chain.
Do Your Research
Make sure you do your research on your suppliers…and their suppliers. With myriad complex regulations now put in place, go out and learn from case studies and the resources that will act as a survival guide as you attempt to research your vendors and suppliers.
Stay Away from the Fat Cat
Assess whether the higher-ups in your supplier organization are well known or politically aligned. These individuals are more susceptible to bribery or corruption.
Hailey Corr, Junior Editor and Marketing Associate, Outsource and SIG
Early days were characterized by excitement over the dramatic productivity and cost-saving benefits enabled by RPA. Over time, however, the limitations of rules-based bots have emerged. For one thing, basic RPA tools can’t adjust to new conditions or changes in their environment. Even the slightest deviation from the process they’re trained to follow triggers an exception that requires a human to step in, thereby sapping the solution’s productivity.
Another issue is the complexity surrounding deployment of RPA bots. While instructing a bot to perform a task is relatively easy, it does involve a level of programming expertise. Most end users of RPA are on the business side and lack the requisite technical knowledge. That means that setting up a bot requires an RPA programmer. Demand for RPA skills, meanwhile, is through the roof. (Witness the volume of urgent “we’re hiring” notices on LinkedIn pleading for people with Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath certifications.) As a result, because the intervention of scarce technical resources is required, bottlenecks often occur when deploying a bot for a business user.
Alex Kozlov, Director of Content for Softtek US & Canada