Every business leader knows that robotics and AI can reduce operating costs and free up employees for more enjoyable tasks. But how is automation fitting into common business functions?
Finance professionals spend a chunk of their time collecting, tracking and chasing receipts and invoices – up to 2.7 working days every month, according to research by spend management specialists Moss. Yet up to 16 working hours for every 100 transaction-related tasks could be saved by adopting an automated spend management platform. That’s according to Saray Hamarneh, strategy and business development manager at Moss.
Waste-management company Biffa has triumphed after binning its old cash-collection system. Emily Munnoch, the firm’s finance director for shared services, explains that an AI-powered order-to-cash platform has helped to secure and accelerate cash flow – by expediting invoice payments and managing disputes and credit risk. “Our dunning success rate has improved by 22.5%, which has reduced overdue debt and improved cash flow for the business,” she says.
And there are further benefits. “All of our credit controllers love using the platform, and it has enhanced customer communications because we can now communicate electronically with more than 99% of our customer base,” she adds.
Elsewhere, Ilija Ugrinic, commercial solutions director at Proactis, an international payments software business, offers two examples. His company saved Screwfix £100,000 year-on-year after introducing “one standardised, integrated automation solution that streamlined receipt, approval and exception handling”. Additionally, Wigan Council, which deals with around 90,000 invoices a year, improved invoice processing by 66% using Proactis’ solution and generated an annual saving of £120,000.
HR and recruitment
Shayne Simpson is managing director of TechNET IT Recruitment. He admits that he took a risk in choosing a solution that automates recruitment processes and communication with candidates using staffing software company Bullhorn’s cloud-based platform. But he insists that the gamble has paid off.
“In the last six months we have saved 28,609 hours, sent 144,269 automatic emails with a 53% read rate, and sent 45,852 texts,” says Simpson. “All of this equates to the admin of 30 full-time consultants being completed by a robot every month.”
Jason Heilman is Bullhorn’s senior vice-president for automation, AI and talent experience. He points out that the average recruitment firm currently automates more than 20,000 emails, texts, updates, notes and tasks each year. “Cumulatively, this represented an estimated saving of 2.5 million employee hours in 2021 alone, equal to freeing up three hours every day per recruiter,” he says.
Chris Underwood, managing director for executive search consultancy Adastrum, though, is ambivalent. “It’s important to question the reliability of AI in implementing the diversity and inclusion agenda during recruitment,” he warns. “Take Amazon, for example, which no longer uses AI in HR as it discovered its AI-driven candidate screening discriminated against women.
“Removing the human element from HR will only frustrate and limit the candidate’s company experience if interviews are robotic.”
Legal and compliance
The legal sector has been slow to take up AI and robotics. “The scope for efficiencies in legal processes is staggering,” says Jonathan White, legal and compliance director at National Accident Helpline. “While law firms have been behind the curve, we’re beginning to see significant advantages, particularly in automating processes around creating documents with common features such as non-disclosure agreements.” JPMorgan’s contract analysis solution, Coin, can reportedly complete 36,000 hours’ worth of legal work in mere seconds, White explains.
Tom Dunlop, co-founder and CEO of legal tech developer and provider Summize, claims to have developed the world’s first integrated contract lifecycle management solution. “The average reported time to review one contract manually is approximately 92 minutes,” he says. “With large organisations managing an average of 350 contracts each week, speeding up this process makes a huge difference.” Summize’s product, which uses AI and natural language processing, means a contract can be created in under two minutes and then the first-pass review in under five minutes. “Clients report time savings of 85% or more compared to manual processes,” he adds.
With nearly a quarter of a million legal contracts stored within one central system, Elliott Young, chief technology officer at Dell Technologies UK, required such a solution. “The legal team was reading approximately 800 contracts per quarter, so processing the repository would have taken 212 quarters or 53 years,” he says. Instead, a proof-of-concept system that combined AI and humans achieved the same results in months.
“Automation presents a huge opportunity to build on the foundations of our relationships with customers,” says Carlene Jackson, CEO of Brighton-based digital transformation consultancy Cloud9 Insight. “If a customer follows you on social media, that could trigger a private message which encourages them to download a guide from your website.” That message could then generate timely emails with useful content based on pageviews or links which they have accessed on subsequent visits.
Natalie Cramp is CEO of data science consultancy Profusion and agrees. “Automating even basic processes like email builds and sends can save marketing teams a lot of time and money. It can also, crucially, increase marketing effectiveness while removing the potential for human error.”
Of course, mistakes can still creep in. In January 2020, for instance, Aviva accidentally called all the customers in its email base “Michael”. Cramp continues: “If businesses can dedicate time to more complex automation, such as data management and algorithms, these can fuel highly personalised customer journeys and lead to a huge impact on customer experience with vastly increased sales.”
Nick Mason, co-founder and CEO of Turtl, a content automation platform, says that personalised content can generate up to 10 times more subscribers. “You can cut the time to produce sales proposals by 90% if you use pre-existing automation engines to create personalised digital documents,” he says.
For Virgin Media O2, which has around 47 million customers in the UK, automating its contact centre was a strategic imperative – not least because uncoordinated messaging to the business’s 7,000 agents was leading to inconsistencies and knowledge gaps.
Last October, it overhauled its processes using Intradiem’s intelligent automation solution. The platform was used to deliver training directly to agents’ desktops; to send notifications to help keep call-handling time within preset thresholds and to facilitate their ability to take breaks on time and to use the off-phone time to stay up to date on internal communications, explains Faye Herring, Virgin Media’s workforce planning manager.
“Within four months of launch, more than 3,500 hours of offline time were delivered to agents’ desktops via Intradiem to make productive use of what had previously been wasted available time,” she says. “And it reduced the average call-handling time by up to 60 seconds.”
Greg Adams, regional vice-president for the UK and Ireland at Dynatrace, offers an equally impressive example. His company’s work enabled UK health and life insurance company Vitality to adopt a proactive servicing model. “Its customer service teams are automatically notified when Vitality’s members encounter errors in their digital experience, so they can contact members and resolve the issue instead of waiting for them to get in touch to ask for help,” Adams says.
He adds that the proactive customer support capability has helped Vitality to reduce policy lapse rates among members who come up against problems in their digital journey by 65%.
This article was first published by Raconteur in November 2022