Most No Jitter readers have some responsibility for the efficiency, effectiveness, value, and cost of communications within the enterprise.
Viewed simply, this responsibility requires focusing on the devices, software, and networks that enable communications and on the staff operating and maintaining those systems for users. The metrics are usually straightforward: reliability and cost. Operating with this focus is fine, but seems suboptimal in today’s world of powerful cloud-based software.
However, the much larger value of enterprise communications lies in payroll, elapsed time, and quality of the workflows — all of which have an impact on top-line revenue as well as bottom-line profits or margins. This means we have the opportunity to think differently about the job, with responsibilities such as increasing the efficiency of online meetings and ensuring delivery of top-quality audio, video, and sharing experiences. We could think about streamlining workflows and business processes, especially those dependent on voice, video, or text communications between two or more people for successful completion. We could think about minimizing errors in communications that cause massive amounts of rework and impact customer satisfaction negatively.
While this thinking may seem to take us outside of our enterprise communications charter, it is important and perhaps even obvious to realize that communicating one on one or in groups during meetings is often a step in a process. If we can recommend better ways to transmit, share, or retrieve information, we should be able to improve enterprise efficiency and service levels — even if this results in fewer calls or meetings.
Some of us have experience with this in the design of efficient contact center processes. Of course, this experience can be extended into other parts of the organization. Yet all of us have opportunities to apply this type of critical thinking and innovation to any communication-centric activity for the people and functions within our organizations.
One way to deliver this value is by applying process automation to the communications steps. Again, we have done this in contact centers and with IVR systems. Now we can extend our skills in communication efficiency throughout the organization.
A key tool for this is robotic process automation (RPA), which makes it possible to streamline business processes. RPA helps find where in business processes time is being spent to perform repetitive tasks, pass information from one application system to another, or seek out expertise or information necessary for particular tasks or creative activities via communications tools.
Each of these three examples, and perhaps many more in the organization, has the attributes of being predictably repetitive, time-intensive, and possibly error-prone. RPA tools can produce significant improvements in each. By organizing particular workflows, process steps, or information access into programmatic steps, all an employee needs to do is activate the automated process and validate the results. In other words, the employee is now able to manage the robot, rather than being the robot.
You can usually find opportunities for automation in between existing automated systems. For example, a salesperson may need to make an adjustment to pricing or delivery within the CRM because the system doesn’t support their customer’s requirements. Satisfying the customer may trigger a series of error-prone and time-consuming communications steps. Or, a product marketing manager may need to update product descriptions or web URLs across hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. Entering the information into the appropriate operational systems and communicating the changes throughout the supply chain and to the sales and service departments is a time-consuming manual process that is likely to be rife with errors.
In other words, one place to look for automation opportunities is in the spaces between systems rather than in the major systems that have been designed for specific functional areas. Three attributes make RPA ideal for these types of improvements:
- No-code/low-code — While you must understand the logic of a workflow, just as is necessary for call center or IVR flows, you do not need to learn a programming language. The RPA tools that I have used essentially provide Lego-like building blocks of functionality that you assemble to perform repetitive tasks with 100% accuracy.
- No access to APIs or backend systems required — Most RPA processes work at the user interface, whether that is a webpage or a desktop screen. And RPA can use data, such as an Excel worksheet, on or accessible to the user’s computing device. Therefore, RPA can integrate with almost any enterprise software system, whether the newest website or the most mature mainframe environment. Once an RPA process is created, the user need only invoke it, point to the appropriate data, and provide login passwords as needed.
- Captures best practices and incorporates important enterprise knowledge — Using RPA to automate a communication-centric process reduces training time for employees who are new to a functional area or team and diminishes or even eliminates the risks of learning-curve errors. In this time of significant shifts in the enterprise workforces around the world due to pandemic protections and remote working, this potential for improved quality among a dynamic workforce seems crucial.
If you decide to engage RPA to improve communications flows in your enterprise, you are likely to find a tool that meets your need. For examples, see the vendors Gartner reported on in its RPA Magic Quadrant, published in July. Some of the names, like Pegasystems and NICE, will be familiar from the contact center arena. Others, such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and WorkFusion — all in the Leaders quadrant — have not been as visible in enterprise communications, but you may find their capabilities useful if you engage in communication process improvement.
Microsoft recently acquired my favorite RPA tool, WinAutomation, and has done a quick and thorough job of integrating that software into the Power Automate suite. Now I can obtain an economical monthly license as part of Microsoft 365 rather than funding a significant upfront purchase. Also, while WinAutomation provided excellent customer service, Microsoft seems to have kicked it up a notch with a monthly newsletter, online education, and a 30-day trial period.
In summary, the communications-centric functions of any enterprise represent significant costs and risks in terms of labor, time, errors, and customer satisfaction. We now have a new set of tools in the form of RPA with the potential of significant improvements in these communication-centric functions. RPA seems worth a serious review for any enterprise communications leader.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.