Building a team of digital employees successfully is more complex than putting one or two software robots in place. More and more organisations aspire to scale up, but run into challenges when attempting to do so and do not know how to tackle them. Ciphix has created the Digital Workforce Journey Framework for that very reason. Rocking Robots discussed this matter with managing director Marijn van de Poel.
“In general, organisations manage well when starting with RPA and AI,” says Marijn van de Poel, managing director at Ciphix. “It’s usually not a problem to deploy the first robots. But once the low-hanging fruit is gone, the more fundamental process improvements come into the picture. And fully automating a sales process or a purchasing process, for example, turns out to be more difficult than the initial modest processes that were tackled.”
At the same time, Mr Van de Poel sees that there are questions about setting up a team around those first robots. “That is partly a question of technology, but it is at least as important to keep in touch with the business. Because when RPA starts from IT, it is essential to have ambassadors within the various departments to ensure that both money and time remain available.”
Coordination is vital
Even when digital employees are brought in from the business, constant coordination between business and IT remains important. “We see that the business is usually very good at picking up a large number of cases in the first year. When they then go to IT with these cases, however, they seem to encounter resistance, for example because extra developers are needed for whom no budget has been made available beforehand.”
“This actually touches on the question of what kind of organisation you are when it comes to innovation: progressive or conservative? Do you want to get your IT up and running first, and then create awareness and garner RPA potential? Or do you develop enthusiasm and momentum first, and then get your IT in order? Or do you start with RPA and AI, and fill in the rest afterwards?”
He deliberately combines RPA and AI. “Almost everyone starts with RPA, because it is very tangible. But after that first year, when the low-hanging fruit is robotised, they move on. We see that some organisations start working with process mining, going one layer deeper than RPA. Other organisations are adding AI to automate cognitive processes. Even for companies that are not currently working with AI, it is good at least to know what is possible, so they don’t miss out.”
This trend can also be seen on the supply side. “Whereas large providers such as UiPath were still talking mainly about software robots and RPA a few years ago, they are now also increasingly moving towards artificial intelligence in their offerings, including the end-to-end automation of processes. We as Ciphix also started with RPA, but have increasingly broadened our offering over the past four years to other aspects of process automation, from consulting to management with partners such as Google and AWS.”
He explains: “We once started in the Dutch market with a very young team by implementing hundreds of robots for our customers. Based on that experience, we were able to advise other organisations on the best way to deploy such robots. In this way, we started working more intensively with our customers on all aspects of automation, in addition to the actual implementation, of course.”
From this transformation arose the Ciphix Digital Workforce Journey Framework to get the best out of the digital workforce journey. “We are basically building an HR department for digital employees, the Digital Workforce. To get there, we have defined three phases based on our experience: start, scale up and expand. These phases are in turn divided horizontally into consulting, technology and governance.”
The first phase in the consulting axis is already about creating awareness around the possibilities of RPA and AI, and automating the first processes. The next step, after RPA, is AI. “This is in line with our mission: we take the robot out of the human using virtual employees, and they can do three things: perform tasks with RPA, think with AI and communicate with chat. So we use that order in our framework as well.”
Technology entails making the right choices, from platforms to suppliers and standards. “We help organisations that are starting out with RPA with the initial choice of technology, and we also review the existing technology for organisations that have been active for some time to see whether it matches the ambitions for further growth. We have already done this for clients such as a.s.r. and Vattenfall.”
Finally, governance deals with issues such as organisational set-up, coordination between business and IT, whether to outsource work, and identifying new processes. “Organisations can use a checklist, which can be downloaded free of charge, to see for themselves which phase they are in, and where they could use help.” This framework is also applicable to organisations starting out with AI, and thus have a different starting point. “The framework is not a law, but a guide, a guideline.”
For whatever phase an organisation is in, the promise of automation is undiminished in helping human employees by taking away boring, repetitive work, and ensuring that they can do more enjoyable, meaningful work. This fits in well with the trend of employees demanding more and more from their jobs, while at the same time it is getting harder to find talent. And finally, RPA is the way to organise data flows in such a way that organisations can actually work in a data-driven way.