Robotic Business Process Automation is Here

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Samantha Bureau-Johnson is the VP of Business Process Excellence and the Project Management Office at BCBSNC. She is currently accountable for an enterprise portfolio of strategic business initiatives that have an annual investment of over $300M, as well as, delivering over $100M in improvement initiatives since the Business Process Excellence program began in 2008. Her responsibilities also include Enterprise Business Architecture and Business Analysis. She has been with BCBSNC since 1996 and has served in leadership roles in functions across the company including Network Management, Sales & Marketing, Operations, and Human Resources.     She is a dynamic business leader and champion for the enterprise deployment of Lean Six Sigma. She excels at translating strategy into execution to drive solid business outcomes. Her passion for developing talent can be seen in her commitment to coaching and mentoring employees and leaders, as well as, her appointment as an adjunct professor for Leadership Development curriculum in BCBSNC’s BlueUniversity.   Samantha is actively involved in her community and an avid supporter of the Girl Scouts, CORA Emergency Food Bank and the Carolina Tiger Rescue. She has dual Masters degrees (MBA/MHA), over 28 years of business experience, 23 of them in Healthcare Insurance where she has led core operational teams, emerging healthcare models, large project implementations, change leadership initiatives, business process redesigns and IT teams. She is also certified in Coaching, Change Leadership, and Business Leadership Development, and is a Six Sigma Greenbelt.

Robotic Business Process Automation is all the rage right now. It is the new cost reduction initiative that many executives are eager to implement. There are numerous conferences focused on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the evolution to Cognitive Processing or Machine Learning (AI). There are many emerging companies that show great promise and businesses are strongly considering adopting these tools. The following from Accenture, is a succinct depiction of the spectrum of Robotics, with RPA being the simpler end of the spectrum.

SBJ Image 1

As I have been looking at where Robotics can fit in the ecosystem of a company, the value is not necessarily in the tools, but how you deploy those tools, to enable Business Process Management (BPM).

Elements of Digital Transformation

In the graphic below, Accenture depicts the different elements of Digital. The opportunity for Business Process Management meeting Digital Transformation, is in the underpinning of Mobility, Online /e-Commerce, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Social and Collaboration as well as Analytics and Big Data. That is a wide spectrum of opportunity for businesses to drive enhanced value by looking at how BPM efforts can enable Digital.

SBJ Image 2

The Journey

It dawned on me recently, as I was meeting with a company to discuss their approach to Digital Transformation, focusing on just the robotic tools; that the connection to BPM was missing. I started to think about the connection to BPM and how that could tie to the broader business process ecosystem to drive additional business value. It was in this meeting that it dawned on me that robotics is not the end game, connecting BPM and Digital across an ecosystem was what could drive real transformational value, for a business and customers.

Many Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies have been using robotic processing to improve accuracy, quality and reduce non-value added transactional processing of back office functions. Many of the digital transformation examples were coming from the consumer engagement side with Amazon, Uber and Banking, and the robotic transactional examples are in manufacturing process or only back end transactional situations.

I personally have never experienced where technology, in itself, solved a business problem, until you step back and reimagine not only the problem, but also the solution.

Technology is an enabler of a business and to transform a business you have to think differently about how you deploy new technology to best effect business value.

To connect BPM and Digital transformation, business process efforts needs to move beyond looking at a single process that deploys robotics in a way that is just automating defects downstream. Although this can help in the short term to uplift productivity and quality, it does not unlock the additional value of eliminating the defects upstream in the process, as well as identifying how to use the data collected upstream to work across multiple value streams, thus unlocking additional business value. We have to use our Lean / Six Sigma principles and toolkit to move up stream in the process to deploy our robotic digital workforce.

One step further is to transform our business process approach to see the power of a Digital Workforce that is working to solve problems across value streams (different departments, divisions, silos) and work where processes intersect.

A digital workforce breaks through all the routing workflows that go to other departments for a new piece of data to drive a decision and complete the transaction. They become a new type of workforce. They begin to interact with a variety of legacy and new systems, departments and divisions, to bring together data that can be used by humans to focus on making decisions, or in the case of cognitive processing, the digital workforce is making decisions. Then our human workforce changes to managing the digital workforce, tasking “bots”, analyzing data and finding ways to digitally improve the process.

And it is not that far away as evidenced by some companies that have been exploring and deploying the “Chat bots”. Verizon and Geico are two companies with chat bots that I prefer to use than wait online to speak with representatives.

My research left me grappling with “what do we do in Healthcare, when we have a lot of legacy applications and a very complex business ecosystem?”

The Tie to Business Process Management

Business Process Management (BPM) helps businesses visualize, manage and identify areas of improvement across a value stream and across the company’s ecosystem. It focuses on understanding the voice of the customer and their expected outcomes, cost, resources, and captures data to measure efficiency. This insight then identifies improvement opportunities to remove conflict, align across the value stream and drive more consistent business outcomes. By all accounts, it is a way to increase visibility and manage through organizational silos. However, BPM is fairly linear by design, in that it looks across a value stream, and optimizes within that value stream.

What if a digital workforce could be tasked to solve data discrepancy issues, collect disparate date or other types of time intensive, low value activity issues within a given value stream and across multiple intersection points? What if the same digital workforce was rigorously looking at what was coming into a company and not accepting things that were not going to be able to be processed within the ecosystem? What if you added a third dimension in your business process management context, and then started to connect to Digital Transformation through design thinking or design for Six Sigma? For example, how could you provide visibility into the status of a claim that had multiple reason codes? A digital workforce could help gather and transform that information to accommodate the needs of various stakeholders.

Actualizing Business Value – Use Case Healthcare

What if, BPM could be in 3D? What if we could look across all our value streams and find the common data elements that were being duplicated across multiple value streams and computer systems? What would we find if we looked vertically as well as horizontally across value streams to find the commonalities of data elements that are duplicated, repeatedly requested, or re-entered multiple times across the entire business ecosystem?

What if Data elements were seen as an asset? An asset is a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality. An asset has value and can grow or decrease in value. The more we can reuse it, the more value it can create, by decreasing the process drag associated with re-collecting the same information over and over again.

In Healthcare, whether you are an insurer, provider or the federal government, one main data element that is critical, is the diagnosis code. A diagnosis code provides a key piece of data that is used to make decisions on benefits and payments. It is being used to determine quality of care, as well as, utilization of services. It is a data element that, when combined with a person’s identifiable information, becomes protected under Personal Health Information. This one piece of data is extremely valuable and used to make determinations across many value streams.

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