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  • Ross Talbot --I don’t understand what business process automation is. Do I already have this in my company?

    Tim Passios--You may. You’ll want to understand your own internal processes for getting work done to understand Business Process Automation. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or what company you work for, we all have processes that we must go through for the work that needs to get done. The key is to find those processes that can be automated with technology. Would you like an example of a common process?

    Ross Talbot--Yes!

    Tim Passios--Ok! Let’s say a fax gets sent into a hospital with relevant patient information on it, it requires a human to review it and manually route it to the right location (pharmacy, doctor, emergency, etc.). There are several ways this process could be automated. Let’s look at one way it could be automated with technology. We could receive that fax and have it scanned automatically for relevant information (patient ID, doctor name, prescription information, etc.) that would then be routed to the right email inbox as an attachment. This eliminates human error and latency, automates the process, and improves efficiency and effectiveness. Get the idea?

    Ross Talbot--No. What do you mean by "scanned automatically?"

    Tim Passios--The old way of receiving a fax meant a piece of paper came out of a fax machine. However, it’s just as easy to receive a fax electronically and then deliver it somewhere for viewing or processing. One of those places could be a place where the fax is examined using optical character recognition and/or forms recognition software. These tools can “read” a form and extract names, addresses, patient ID, prescription name, and other information and pass that information along in the process.

    Samantha Kane--I'm not really clear on the relation between business process automation and unified communications.  Can someone describe the relationship?

    Pam Avila--I think a lot of people wonder about that. Let’s take a look at the definition of UC and see if that helps - unified communications is defined as communications integrated to optimize business processes. By this definition, business process automation becomes the nirvana of unified communications - it's where companies can really realize a hard ROI.

    Art Rosenberg--Samantha,I would keep things simple by describing the role of UC as being able to make timely contact with a person (or persons) in a variety of ways, depending upon the circumstances of the contact initiator as well as that of the recipient/respondent.

    Unlike the tradtional telephone call, it's not just for "person-to-person" contacts, but also "process-to-person" outbound contacts. The latter is where an automated business process requires the participation of a person (specific individual or anyone who is available). In such cases, the business process application will act as the contact initiator and have the flexibility to initiate the contact independently of the recipient's circumstances, devices, or preferences. All the process has to do is initiate the delivery of  the information or Web links and make sure that the recipient is notified and can access that information in a timely manner. I call this a new type of "I/O" that can addresss individual people device independently through UC.

    Samantha Kane--Why would my business be interested in Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA)?

    Art Rosenberg--Business processes can't be fully automated like some manufacturing processes. They have to be monitored, managed, and coordinated with people who are part of every business process.  Rather than depend on people to have the time and remember to check on the status of a task or situation, it is more efficient to have an automated process detect exceptions of concern and notify appropriate people in a timely manner to get things fixed or changed when necessary.  That not only minimizes the high cost of labor involved in a group task activity, but also avoids or minimizes any losses resulting from the failure to resolve issues as soon as possible or to meet deadlines. 

    Rick Chin--Ah, this is where you start going beyond simple business process automation and into the world of Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA). What’s the difference?  Business process automation simply automates a process, leaving communications out of the picture. CBPA, on the other hand, leverages communications to further extend the effectiveness and efficiency. The ultimate end result is to unify all forms of communications for seamless interactions across all devices, applications and locations in order to improve business processes.

    Ross Talbot--How does CBPA really do that and how does it go further than simple process automation?

    Tim Passios--Good question! Let’s take another look at our previous fax example. So far, simple process automation got the fax into an email inbox and delivered to the right person or department. However, nothing is being done with it and unless someone is monitoring that inbox, nothing is going to happen to it.

    With CBPA, that fax would never have made it into an email inbox. Instead, it would have been scanned for relevant information, identified for the right person or department needed to handle that information, and then routed into an electronic queue to wait for the next available person to read it. At the same time, it would have made an outbound communication (SMS, Email, phone call with a recorded message, etc.) to the person who sent it so that they knew it was being processed.

    Ross Talbot--Is that it? Doesn't seem like much.

    Tim Passios--No, there’s a lot more. CBPA continues the process to ensure that this is handled completely. Let’s say that our fax was delivered to the Doctor’s office on the 3rd floor of the hospital. The nurse sees a form presented to her on her desktop client and opens it. This form contains the patient information received from the scanned fax, a prescription request, and the attached fax (in the form of a PDF) for verification. The nurse clicks a button on the form to pass it along to the doctor for prescription approval. At this click, the form is routed back into the queue to the doctor for approval. However, using presence, the form gets rerouted to the doctor on-call because the primary doctor is currently out of the country.  The on-call doctor receives the form along with a screen pop of the relevant patient information so that he can review all necessary records to be sure that this can be approved. Once approved, the form then gets routed directly to the pharmacy for fulfillment. The last step might be to automatically send a message (SMS, email, phone call with recorded message) to the person who originally sent in the fax indicating that their prescription has been filled.

    Ross Talbot--What industries are best positioned to take advantage of CBPA?

    Rick Chin--Lots of industries, including insurance and financial institutions, healthcare companies, higher education, entertainment and hospitality, and more!

    Tom Parrot--What are a couple of examples of how my company can benefit from communications-based process automation?

    Rick Chin--To be honest, it’s really easy to find these examples. Take a look around your organization and identify manual processes that could involve human error and human latency. Simple ones typically come to mind like vacation requests, approval processes, order processing, new hire HR and IT processes and many others.

    Tim Seabrook--Your company can benefit from Process Automation in a number of ways across many of the processes that your company uses in every day of business. From basic communication with your customers to more complex process automation involved with Workflow Management across departments within the business.

    Basic customer communication can be automated with automated outdialing applications to contact your customers for issue resolution notification, appointment reminders, or product release notification.

    Workflow Management can be automated with various activities being queued / delivered to each department when the activity requires each department's skill. An example could be an insurance company handling claims. The claim is lodged and delivered to a Data Entry Operator who enters the details. The claim is then delivered to a Claims Assessor for investigation and approval. When approved / declined the claim is then passed to the Customer Service department to notify the claimant.

    Through all these stages the Claim can be queued for the appropriate departments so that the activities can be automatically delivered to the properly skilled staff.

    Apart from the automated delivery of the activity one of the main benefits here is that all these actions can now be reported on and monitored from a management level. You can monitor how long it is taking to process each stage of the claim and also see how many claims are being handled by various staff - in the same way that you can monitor the phone calls to your CSRs in the Contact Center.

    Each process within your business can be automated in one way or another depending on the actual process and how it is implemented within the business.

    Scott Todd--I’ve heard about other kinds of business process automation. How is IPA -using CBPA - different?

    Rick Chin--Other companies offer products to try to automate parts of your business. Companies like IBM, Documentum, FileNet, and Lombardi all have products that attempt to do this. However, these companies are trying to take products that manage portions of tasks and extend them across the enterprise. Because their foundation was not built around communication, it’s not surprising to find that they are “walled gardens” with little ability to encompass all kinds of activity. Even other communications companies like Avaya and Genesys have taken a stab at automation. However, because their products are actually an amalgam of separate products brought together through acquisitions, they too lack the ability to present one unified view.

    IPA is different. It’s the only product to use the new CBPA methodology that brings the proven contact technologies of ACD Queuing, Skills-Based Routing, Presence, Recording, and Real-time Supervision to any business process or work flow.

    IPA knows how to route work, who is qualified and available to do the work, delivers the work, records what was done, and allows management and supervisors to see the status of that work in real-time.

    Scott Todd--Customers are very important to my company.  How would CBPA make my customers’ experience better?

    Rick Chin--CBPA is built on the technologies that have existed for years within the walls of the contact center – a place founded and focused on customer service. Technologies like queuing, recording, reporting, alerting, monitoring and more are leveraged within CBPA. Simple screen-pops of your favorite CRM application with prefilled information about the customer can easily be routed to anyone within the organization during any steps of the process to ensure customer information is always at the fingertips of whoever services that process.

    Jerry Brown--How high does CBPA seem to be on the priority list for CIOs?

    Tim Passios--CIOs look for products that can support the business goals of their company. And CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs have all been interested in automation for quite some time.

    CBPA should be high on the any CxOs priority list because it is easier to implement and maintain, does not require expensive custom programmers, brings the power of process automation to most businesses, facilitates market responsiveness, and establishes visibility into the progress and status of processes.

    Existing solutions are expensive to buy, setup, maintain, and update. Expensive consulting and custom programming are constant additional costs due to complexity. Lead-time for implementation or change is very long, affecting a company’s responsiveness to the changing market. Lastly, these systems become “yet another” application with separate data to manage and they often create more “silos” of information because they only handle a small portion of the entire process.
    Blair Pleasant  --- Don't other vendors offer solutions similar to IPA? I've heard other vendors talk about routing, queuing, and automating back office tasks and workflows. What's different about IPA?

    Michael Finneran  Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 4:26 PM   

    We've run into some new ROI elements for CBPA recently that can really have an impact. A vendor of voice picking systems (that's where you have workers in a warehouse get their picking instructions via voice commands over a wireless headset) described his solution and along with the obvious benefits like improved accuracy, faster training, increased productivity, but then popped some real surprises. The headsets allowed the workers to be more aware of their surroundings, and that reduced accidents (a worker is killed in the US every three days from a forklift accident). One key one was that they boosted their fulfillment accuracy from under 90% to over 99.8%. That 99.8% was a magic number because it made them a "preferred supplier" with some of their biggest customers (e.g. WalMart), which meant their trucks got to go to the head of the line for deliveries.

    Now no one is worrying about getting hit with a forklift in a hospital or an insurance company, but what it does tell you is that if you look deeper into the business processes (and talk to the managers who are directly involved), you can also find much more subtle but vitally important benefits that can be used to justify CBPA.
    Blair Pleasant  Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 4:27 PM   

    This all sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of work. How can the process of CBPA be made simpler for enterprises. 

    Rick Chin  Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 7:03 AM   
    Typically, other offerings only address portions of the process, leaving the company with pockets of automation in between areas of manual tasks. In between the automated parts, the company loses visibility and work can get lost. IPA seeks to automate the entire process regardless of whether it involves two people & ten minutes or fifty people & ten weeks while providing up-to-date visibility regarding work status and progress.

    IPA also associates phone and email communications with work. That might mean it uses communications to reach out to the customer or places a call or email when necessary. IPA could also start a new action or continue and existing one based on an email from a customer.

    One other difference in IPA is the use of presence and skills to know who is available and send work to the most qualified person. 

    Rick Chin  Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 7:24 AM   

    The CBPA methodology doesn’t have to be complex. Bringing process automation and management within the reach of “normal” businesses was a key goal with IPA, the first automation system to embrace CBPA. People find that the visual design environment of IPA makes creating process flows very interactive and intuitive. 

    However, I would say that analyzing a process and automating it takes some practice. The first few times you do it, your eyes begin to see process and activities with much more detail and decision points. This is why engaging a consulting firm that specializes in process automation is recommended for initial implementations. Once you become familiar with the way processes are automated, you can do them without assistance. Learning how to do it right the first time is well worth the minimal investment.

    Of course, you can jump right in and do it yourself if you feel comfortable with those skills.

    Once you get comfortable doing automation, you will start to see automation opportunities everywhere and the CBPA methodology allows you to automate things other solutions couldn’t handle.

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