Today’s Key to Business Excellence – ‘Bot-enabled Solutions

Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 01/09/2017

Founded in 1835 and headquartered in Australia, ANZ is one of the four largest Australian banks, ranked in the top 25 banks globally by market capitalisation, employs ~49,000 staff and operates in 34 markets globally.  Its operations are supported by four global service centers in Bengaluru, Manila, Chengdu and Fiji. Together, these centers employ ~6,500 people that provide financial service support to ANZ's global operations. Simen Munter is the global head of these so-called “group hubs,” and is based in Melbourne. He explains why RPA is such an obvious solution he skipped the pilot phase, and why the future of business excellence is inextricably tied up with robotics.

Simen MunterGiven the stop-start approach that characterises much of todays’ RPA debate, it's wonderfully refreshing to speak to someone like Simen Munter (left) of ANZ Bank, who doesn’t understand why more people aren't pushing robotic implementation more aggressively right now. For Munter, who oversees ANZ's four global service centers and is based in Melbourne, the case for RPA was so self-evident that even the delay implied by a pilot project was an unnecessary sidestep. The opportunities were so pressing, and the business case so clear, he explains, that there was simply no reason to delay implementation. “The winnings were there to be had and we wanted to risk no delay in moving forward.”

A new mindset, pure and simple

And yet, there are always detractors, whose concerns slow down a project. "What I've noticed with robotics is that where complaints do arise they don't come from the people whose work is being robotised," Munter says. “Instead, pushback often comes from people more removed from the work, who sense a loss of control or discomfort associated with robotics. I also find it interesting that while there is little resistance or concern around committing millions of dollars to a three-year IT transformation project, a three-week robotic implementation can cause somewhat of an alarmist reaction.”

By way of example he points out that whilst straight-through processing as a result of introducing a new API (Application Programming Interface) is easily recognised (and adopted) for the speed and simplicity of processing it delivers, similar outcomes using automation are still met with suspicion, despite offering the same outcomes at far less cost – and importantly, without adding much to overall complexity. 

This lag in recognition pervades business communities around the world, and continues to keep many from adopting RPA capability into their operations. At ANZ, by contrast, the trust in the tools was so complete (the market is by now rife with examples of what RPA can do, after all), and the business case so simple (the GBS ran its own business case), that what ended up being more challenging was the implementation – in other words: getting people on board.

“The idea was to scale robotics across our centers as soon as possible and as widely as we possibly could,” Munter explains, “but for this we had to prove that RPA was not threatening; on the contrary, that it was intended purely as a means of easing existing jobs and workloads. We wanted to go as wide as possible with this solution so it became more of a culture change project than a system change project. In addition, we wanted to ensure we were doing RPA with our people not to our people. Getting that right, we knew, was going to make all the difference.”

Before any robot was deployed, the project had to prove it would meet four criteria: 1) a better outcome for GBS employees, 2) better support for customers, 3) improved control, and 4) a positive impact on shareholder value.

Today, 18 months post-launch, Munter can point to wins across all of these.

"We are doing record volumes and FTE-involvement is dropping, while quality is improving," he explains. "The tools do exactly what they say they’ll do – they empower our people who, we discovered, had been trapped by our systems in the past. They knew the processes they needed to follow but the systems more often than not forced them to work a different way. Robotics has help reduce the height of that hurdle."

It’s results like this that lead Munter to puzzle over why more organisations have yet to embrace robotics (although he hazards a guess that what’s holding many back is the idea that they should be addressing the root cause of inefficiencies, i.e. replacing systems, rather than ‘fixing’ them).

What can a ‘bot do?

While many are getting hung up on the actual numbers of robots being deployed (ANZ is launching 30-50 a month) this misses the point, says Munter. "The question is not how many ‘bots, but what the ‘bots are actually doing,” he says. “We specifically did not target ‘robot optimisation’ in our contract. Instead, we worked across two different strategies, one of which aims to get our employees to buy into robotics; and the other, which dives deep into processes, potentially yields the big cost savings.”

The important thing for Munter is that, today, robotics is inextricably tied up with any efforts around business excellence. “It's simply not something we could leave out of the performance equation," he says.

The first strategy references what Munter calls "going wide" – focusing on supporting RPA implementation as broadly as possible across operations, as part of a Lean/improvement culture. "It's fairly quick and easy to build a robot and so we are supporting our teams by giving them the tools and allowing them, within constraints, to build a many robots as they need to improve their workflow. However small the fix, what we're finding is that employees quickly buy into the concept and become our most effective advocates. It's very much about giving them the tools to improve their environment, and trusting them with those decisions.”

As an overall target, Munter has specified 15% of FTE work to be robotic-enabled. Because these RPA projects are led by individuals, engagement is quick and they are easily implemented. “The wins are quickly realised and recognition of the value of robotics spreads exponentially,” he says.

The second strategy is about "going deep", or covering a process end-to-end. The wins here are far greater, concedes Munter, potentially impacting hundreds of FTEs, but at the same time projects are far more complex and impact far more people and stakeholders. “It's harder to make progress in this area, but by "going wide" we are winning fans for robotics. And that allows us to develop other opportunities.”

How do you measure benefits?

Obvious benefits are measured in terms of FTE savings, but this project is not really about reducing employees, Munter explains. It's about creating meaningful work for people, many of whom, with university degrees, are essentially overqualified for transactions processing. "We take our responsibility as an employer very seriously, and part of that means we have to offer people the opportunity to do work that optimises their skillsets. Robotics is key to doing that." 

There are other benefits, too. As Munter’s team encourages individuals to build their own robots, and robots take away mundane work, a new set of jobs is emerging – jobs that are better paid and more interesting than those they replace. It also means that ANZ’s services centers are developing a growing resource of robot specialists. "It is a brand-new pathway for careers that offers more value to the enterprise and greater opportunities and satisfaction for employees," says Munter.

In fact, most of the robots that are now being built are being built by ANZ’s own people, but using the provider’s toolsets. “The provider makes it easier for us to build automated solutions but there are certainly plenty of alternative routes,” says Munter. The basic tools required to build a robot are similar to the toolsets required for systems testing – a set of instructions to test a specific site.

“The Internet offers some free tools that support this kind of solutioning, too,” says Munter. “It's really up to the individual organisation to decide which route it prefers to take.”


Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 01/09/2017


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