Shared from the 6/4/2018 Financial Review eEdition

Automating business processes a no-brainer


Any process that involves interaction with clients via telephone, webchat or self-service functions can be automated; inset, Scott Stavretis.



The widespread automation of business processes will eliminate entry-level jobs and push wages higher, but the many benefits will far outweigh those drawbacks, a business process expert says.

Acquire BPO chief executive Scott Stavretis boldly predicts the automated part of his business will, in the short-term, cannibalise the revenue of his people-based businesses while he grows his business process outsourcing venture to even greater heights through automation.

That’s a big call, as his company currently employs 7000 full-time staff in Australia, the US, Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

Acquire provides its clients with inbound customer care, technical support, sales expertise and other front-office functions as well as backoffice services like accounting, payroll, accounts receivable, marketing, design, graphics, software development and business analysis.

Stavretis knows that one day automation will eliminate most entry-level roles at his company, as it will at most companies. However, the chief executive officer is well prepared.

That’s because Acquire BPO has taken the step of establishing an Automation and Intelligence business to focus on automating clients’ businesses. In parallel, it has also established an Employee Development Services team within his Learning and Development department that solely focuses on upskilling and repurposing its existing workforce. So while many positions are disappearing through the successful automation of clients’ businesses, the company is investing in its workers so staff levels won’t directly need to be reduced. ‘‘Previously we’ve been providing people-based solutions for our customers. Today, we’re providing a blend of robotics and people, to ensure our clients are prepared for tomorrow,’’ Stavretis says. Apart from creating an opportunity to upskill existing workers, a crucial benefit of automation is certainly reduced business costs, he adds. Automation will in some cases reduce the largest cost to most businesses – the staff themselves. In those cases, it will also cut the additional support costs of employing people in areas such as human resources, payroll, management and physical premises. Another benefit to come from automating processes is enhanced consistency. ‘‘A robotic process will deliver the same outcome every time, consistently,’’ Stavretis explains. ‘‘You don’t need to manage it, it doesn’t have a bad day. You’ll get the same, consistent answer and predictable response.’’

An additional advantage of automation, he says, will be eliminating the need to pause doing business because robots can work constantly without breaks or shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

‘‘They are able to handle customer inquiries when you may not have staff rostered on; they can process and they can execute a broad range of functions such as reviewing loan applications any time of the day or night,’’ he says.

Finally, the chief executive believes automation will provide a huge advantage over a human workforce when it comes to strengthening compliance.

‘‘You’ll have a robot with a complete audit trail behind it and you’ll know that it will act in the right way because it has been programmed with all the relevant laws and regulations in mind, ensuring compliance is 100 per cent,’’ he says.

The chief executive is yet to encounter a business where he hasn’t been able to identify a range of processes that could be automated.

Any process that involves interaction with clients via telephone, webchat or self-service functions can be automated, he explains.

In the event a robot can’t deal with a situation, it can divert the issue to a human; and with machine-learning technology, that robot can then learn from itself as well as what the actual human did, to become smarter and smarter over time.

‘‘A high volume of repeated actions or transactions can be automated,’’ Stavretis says.

Ultimately he believes automation will allow many businesses to upskill their staff, save money and time, and enhance compliance and consistency.

The concept is already widespread when it comes to back-office processes; but the automation of customer-facing processes may at first come with a level of some scepticism, the chief executive officer predicts.

That’s because many businesses still believe their customers favour interactions with people, rather than machines,. However, he says they are wrong.

‘‘At the end of the day what does the consumer want? They want an answer or their issue resolved as quickly as possible,’’ he says. ‘‘No one wants to call their bank or insurance company.

‘‘So if a robot can do that better than a human, that’s a great outcome.’’

Stavretis jokes that consumers will get over the fact that robots may not ask them if they’re having a nice day because time is so important and people want their issues resolved.

‘‘It will be a bit of a learning curve for consumer interactions. But for the back-end processes, there’s no reason that you wouldn’t automate them right now,’’ he says.

‘‘If you want to compete on a global scale that’s what you need to do.’’

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