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OPTIMISING DIGITAL EXPERIENCE IN AN INTERNET-RELIANT FINANCIAL SECTOR

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Tony Finn, EMEAR Lead, ThousandEyes

 

It would be unfair to say that the events of the last year have started a wave of digital change in the financial services (FS) sector. Speak to any leader within the industry and, although digital transformation looks different to each organisation, it was already high on the business agenda. That said, the pandemic has undoubtedly fast-tracked many FS firms to a complete digital overhaul. In fact, according to data, business adoption of digital services was propelled forward five years in a matter of weeks. For all FS organisations who have made the transition to remote sales and services, it has evoked a re-evaluation of everything from people and property, to technology.

Underpinning it all is the core focus on how to deliver an always on digital experience. Whether you’re a payment provider or stock brokerage, ‘business as usual’ is now dependent on this, without delay or failure.

That said, keeping customers happy and employees productive is increasingly difficult, with remote business adding another layer of complexity to an already intricate puzzle. Providing a good digital experience now relies on an intricate web of Internet, cloud and SaaS services – with many infrastructures lying outside of an organisation’s view and subsequently their control. With remote business here to stay, many are realising the need for increased control over both customers’ online experience and employees’ ability to access now business-critical SaaS applications.

 

Conservative to cutting-edge

According to EY’s UK Banking Cloud Adoption Index, before the pandemic hit, the majority of UK banks (80%) had moved less than 10% of their infrastructure to the cloud. As a highly regulated sector, financial services have traditionally been conservative about diving headfirst into new technologies.

Enter COVID-19. National lockdowns meant that a new approach to technology, particularly in IT, was necessary. With offices and branches closed, never before had FS organisations had to face almost all of their customer base and workforce accessing services and products online – and perhaps most importantly, outside of their IT perimeter.

Over a year has passed and a by-product of the pandemic is that many FS organisations are rethinking their entire business operations. At the end of last year, Capital One became the first major bank to exit all of its data centres, completely overhauling its IT environment in favour of AWS’ public cloud services.

But it’s not just technology choices that have irrevocably changed. Changes are also being made to both organisations’ real estate footprint and remote working policies, with banks already making work-from-home options permanent. As a result of the latter, we’ll see hybrid work strategies emerge with different category employee personas, including field, fixed, and flexi  workers – those who return to the office, those who continue to work remotely and then a combination of both.

 

An IT blindness dilemma

Navigating new employee preferences and consumer expectations for digital banking requires a  complex service delivery ecosystem, hinging on a multitude of external components including public and hybrid cloud, SaaS applications and the Internet. Finding the source of any performance and availability issues amidst a maze of internal and external dependencies is almost an impossible task. However, gaining visibility of what’s occurring within these networks is critical for businesses to achieve that all important user experience.

The challenge is that traditional monitoring tools can’t identify the problem quickly or provide insights into what’s going on outside an organisation’s four digital walls. You certainly can’t fix what you can’t see so, more often than not, IT teams are left scrambling to troubleshoot the issue. What’s more, customers and employees don’t see or appreciate this internal battle so a lack of sight into the root cause often leads to blaming of the product, rather than the network. Not only can a potential outage cause immediate problems in the form of lost employee productivity but it can result in more harmful damage to a FS organisation’s reputation, and ultimately its bottom line.

 

Getting digital experience right in the “next normal”

So, what’s the solution for FS businesses? To optimise digital experience, it’s all about understanding the health of global Internet networks, employee and customer applications, and everything in between. Financial services navigating the digital era post COVID, will need new solutions that provide the reach, visibility, and insight they need to get a holistic view of their entire digital service delivery ecosystem.

End-to-end visibility ensures that issues – happening both in and out of a business’ control – can be quickly pinpointed and mitigated. Sometimes this can take place even before customers are aware or are impacted. This level of visibility empowers IT teams to avoid any finger-pointing and quickly decipher root cause and have purposeful discussions with relevant parties such as service providers. What’s more, there are also advantages to this approach from a network planning perspective – something which many FS organisations will need to include in their IT strategies. Visualisation and scoring of performance across applications, groups of users and locations allows a better understanding of how critical employee services are performing from a benchmark perspective.

The pandemic has undoubtedly turned the financial services sector on its head. With restrictions in the UK slowly easing and optimism around the vaccine rollout, we will see employees return to offices and customers visit branches again this year. That said, some aspects of remote business are here to stay forever and we’re already seeing the impact of this on organisations’ priorities in relation to property, technology and people. Ultimately, success in this new digital-led future will depend on a business’ ability to provide a first-rate digital experience.

 

Finance

FOUR STEPS TO INTEGRATING INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION IN THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Marieke Saeij, CEO of Visma | Onguard

 

It’s clear that Intelligent Automation (IA) is still very much an emerging technology, with one indication being that is has only been mentioned a handful of times on Twitter since the beginning of 2021. Results from our latest annual FinTech Barometer reveal a mixed picture in terms of awareness, with half of finance professionals having never heard the term before. Whilst this is unsurprising for a technology concept very much in the ‘early adopters’ stage, organisations can stand to gain real benefits from embracing Intelligent Automation now, particular within the finance department. With this in mind, we explore some of these benefits and share a step-by-step best practice to implementing it into business operations.

 

Intelligent Automation ensures a predictable order-to-cash process

Such is the speed of introduction of new technologies that it’s a challenge for businesses to keep pace. As the newest innovation in finance, Intelligent Automation is one that organisations can’t afford to let pass by. It truly takes financial process automation to the next level. In addition to helping maintain a high-quality customer service, it also complements the existing skillset of finance professionals in the industry.

Marieke Saeij

While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Big Data are key innovations for the sector, IA can be likened to an additional layer that enhances existing technologies. By combining applications, this layer is capable of independently assessing situations and determining the appropriate process sequence. It can, for example, fully determine the risk of a specific customer, and can also predict at an early stage which invoices will be paid late, or even not at all, ensuring that finance professionals can then plan accordingly. The result is a reliable and predictable order-to-cash process.

 

The four steps to an IA-proof organisation

While the benefits of IA are numerous, implementing the technology can prove complex, although some are already treading the IA path without knowing it. In this instance it’s crucial to become aware and begin the purposeful process to full integration. Below are the four key steps to becoming fully IA-proof.

  1. Exploring the potential: Brainstorm where automation can be applied

Step one is to examine the extent to which automation can help your organisation. Blue sky thinking is the key here. What is the ideal relationship with the customer? What does the ideal order-to-cash process look like? In this phase, involving multiple departments from within the organisation is key, from management to operations. The finance professionals who have the most contact with customers are likely to have the strongest knowledge of which processes they would like to see automated. With no limits to ideas, it’s best to explore all the opportunities in the entire order-to-cash process and describe broadly the potential value to the organisation.

 

  1. Decipher which data and technology is needed

The second step is to map out which data and technology is required. Working with a specialist, either external or from the internal IT department, is beneficial at this stage to see where the opportunities lie. In many cases, off-the-shelf solutions are already readily available to help make the difference, so it pays to do the research and gain advice where possible.

 

  1. Firm up the strategy

With the plan mapped out, it’s time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Which technology and accompanying software is proving most valuable? It’s vital at this stage to analyse the results the organisation is achieving from deploying the right technology and software. It’s also important to outline any limitations and emphasising the potential risk of failure. This is the business case and the basis for the elevator pitch that will be presented to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Draw up the roadmap and start benefitting from agility

The fourth and final step is prioritisation. The roadmap will describe step-by-step how to move from the undesired current situation to the desired end goal. In the first step, choosing a subproject that is relatively easy to achieve will help gain support from other departments within the business, and provide invaluable experience that can be applied to the more complex components that follow later. This agile approach facilitates a learn-by-doing mindset and allows the following steps to be tackled in a smarter and simpler way.

 

Effective preparation is half the battle

Exploring the potential of automation, mapping the required data and technology, establishing the strategy and laying out the roadmap are the four crucial steps to ensure the foundation for Intelligent Automation. Effective preparation and estimating which technology and accompanying software is needed will help to create a streamlined and error-free order-to-cash process. To ultimately save time and costs, empower finance professionals and maintain customer loyalty, the time for Intelligent Automation is now.

 

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READING BETWEEN THE BUZZWORDS: DISCOVERING THE POWER OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION?

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by Yad Jaura, Product Marketing Manager at Netcall 

 

The nature of automation means that new technologies, ideas and solutions are frequently developed and invented. New words and phrases are banded bandied around, with many similarities and discreet distinctions. A relatively recent buzzword in the business process transformation arena is Intelligent Automation.

Here I explain what is meant by intelligent automation. In doing so, I aim to unravel some of the terms that are intrinsically linked to automation and explain why intelligent automation can be so crucial for organisations in transforming business processes, fast.

 

So, what is intelligent automation exactly?

Put simply, it is the combination of multiple process automation technologies together into a single platform or solution. Those process automation technologies include low-code, robotic process automation (RPA), built-in workflow, integration platforms and intelligent business process management suites (IBPMS). Using any combination of these to automate business processes qualifies as intelligent automation.

 

And how is that different from hyper automation?

It’s very similar to be honest; they were created by the technology research analysts. Forrester coined the phrase intelligent automation, while Gartner came up with hyper automation. Essentially, they mean the same thing.

 

Define RPA and how that is a part of intelligent automation?

The simplest definition is that robotic process automation (RPA) focuses on automating repetitive and rules-based on-screen processes. Intelligent automation does the same job but in addition to using RPA techniques, it incorporates other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (like machine learning, natural language processing, structured data interaction, intelligent document processing).

RPA when combined with Process as a Service technologies such as low-code can automate interactions with existing systems on a screen. In effect, what the robot is able to do is replicate the actions that a person takes when they are operating various different systems, and do those things automatically.

For example, opening a system, accessing some data, copying it, pasting it to another system, generating a report, emailing that report to someone. This is a process flow. And a robot can be instructed to replicate that exact process flow. It’s especially effective for repetitive and tedious tasks, the robot can take that activity and free your people to work on other more meaningful tasks.

 

Why is intelligent automation so important?

Releasing your people from the necessary but repetitive or high-volume tasks can open up endless possibilities. It’s extremely potent in a customer experience orientated environment because staff can use that freed-up time on activities that need more cognitive, imaginative and interpretive work and more complicated interactions with customers. It allows robots to perform the menial tasks freeing up people to concentrate on delivering a great experience for customers.

 

Can you trust a robot?

Yes. You have to select suitable tasks and you have to program it correctly. But you can absolutely trust that the robot will do EXACTLY the same process, with no deviation from what you asked it to do. RPA robots don’t make mistakes or stop for any breaks – for the right type of tasks, they are better suited to the work than humans are.

The analysts also believe that we need to put our trust in automation and software robots. I particularly liked this quote from a webinar we ran with Forrester in 2020:

“Every process within an organisation needs to be automated in software, or else be liable to failure, and the consequences of failure.”

I really like that, because for me, it provides a real-world definition of intelligent automation in practice. Intelligent automation is the automation of business processes at scale. Plus, the quote demonstrates where we are headed – the idea of automating everything in software, so that those processes can be operated from anywhere, at any time. It’s been proven in the last year, with lockdowns and restrictions, because processes are no longer reliant on people being in specific locations, with access to certain paper, machines etc in that location. Intelligent automation is really about process automation at scale, to address these issues.

 

If the potential is endless… will automation and robots take over everything?

People will always be needed in organisations. You need a human to build an RPA process – a robot can’t think of what is needed to build the set of tasks for another robot. Intelligent automation gives you the best of both worlds. Build faster, reliable processes that are virtually infallible. Use your people for the human interaction side of your business and for the planning, creative and intellectual responsibilities that only a human being has the ingenuity and talent to deliver.

Side by side, people and robots can develop highly competent, successful operations and deliver outstanding CX, every single time.

 

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