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How robotic process automation is transforming Asian businesses

How robotic process automation is transforming Asian businesses

In today’s competitive world, it is not only about who can deliver the best products and the best services faster and/or cheaper. As consumers are looking for the best user experience, business-to-business (B2B) clients and customers need to maximize their effectiveness across the entire value chain.

This has been made possible through the years by industrialization, lean management techniques and advancement of information technology. Electromechanical robots, much more revolutionary than in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, were introduced in the early years to automate and boost productivity in factory assembly lines. Over the last decade, software-based robots have taken business process automation even further with increased effectiveness while still achieving the same goal.

In this article, I will look at whether your business needs a RPA and how RPA can help to transform your business, especially in Asia.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that allows a highly repetitive and standardized process to be automatically carried out to achieve predefined results. It is a very basic form of artificial intelligence based on scripts and routines that are pre-programmed to allow the robot to execute tasks following a workflow; mimicking what a human operator would be performing in front of the monitor screen.

 

While this offers a large panel of possibilities, not all processes are fit for automation with RPA. The main characteristics of a process that is a potential candidate for transformation include:

  • Being clearly defined and well documented
  • Receive only digital or digitized inputs
  • Have a rule-based decision-making scheme where no human judgment is required

 

However, these characteristics alone do not fully qualify the process as a good candidate. It must be repetitive, receive standard inputs, have a limited set of exceptions and specific scenarios, and most of all, handle a significant volume of operations. Ultimately, it must create more effective value than when performed manually.

The technology requires a combination of continuous effort, improvement and know-how which involves processes, people and technology. It cannot process unstructured data, think or learn by itself without complementary cognitive solution or adapt to changes in its environment of application.

With proper implementation and the adoption of a new governance, it can help reduce the effort of repetitive tasks, improve the performance of non-decision-based processes and allow the human workforce to focus on high-value activities.

Now more than ever, organizations should consider evaluating the power of RPA and both the tangible and intangible benefits it offers. As the related skills and tools are growing, the technology has reached a significant level of maturity and the automation of tasks of virtually any level of complexity has been made possible.

Confidence in its potential return on investment has also encouraged the growing adoption of RPA. Furthermore, think about how a company can still produce or deliver its services when its human capital is not at work, outside of business hours, on leave or unable to attend to it due to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

How would you know if your business processes need RPA? You can test it using the below flowchart:

RPA is not a magic wand

Asia has steadily moved from being a region where companies relocate in the search of cheap labor to becoming a serious competitor to the Western world. Particularly in Southeast Asia where fast-growing markets have transformed societies and its labor cost is no longer cheaper than most other parts of the world.

 

To remain relevant, Asian businesses must engage in digital transformation to keep ahead of the globalized competition. RPA can help in this endeavor by introducing automation and digitization with a very low impact on a company’s existing systems and tools.

 

Companies in various industries, including the insurance and banking sectors, who have implemented RPA technology in their operations are already enjoying the benefits. The technology is beneficial for regional or global shared services centers which are constantly in need of a qualified workforce to support their growth.

 

The convenience of automating operations and re-deploying it easily while preserving the level of consistent quality and compliance is a serious advantage when engaging in market expansion activities into or from Asia.

DKSH started its RPA journey in 2018 and we are constantly exploring possibilities and its evolution with our technology partners. Our virtual workforce of robots is presently being utilized in our Healthcare Customer Care Center.

 

Some of the operations are run by bots under the supervision of the DKSH specialists who used to perform these same operations manually and are able to carry the end-to-end process with no human intervention. One example would be the bot having to retrieve and download a purchase order from a client B2B portal and extract the relevant information from the document.

 

It will then key the relevant information into our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to submit a sales order and trigger a delivery order creation. After a few minutes, the bot will reopen the sales order, retrieve the generated delivery order, reconnect to the client portal and complete the order form with DKSH references and planned delivery date.

 

Another example is when the bot would read emails sent by sales representatives and client managers in a dedicated mailbox and identify the customer and goods described in the attachment. It will maintain the price or bonus conditions on the ERP, generate a report once all the records have been processed and send the report with a summary to the requestor by replying to the same email.

 

Besides a faster execution of these tasks as compared to manual processing, this allows our colleagues to re-allocate the time spent on it to more value-added activities such as supporting our customers and clients and answering their queries over the phone.

 

The outcome of this initiative improved our operational excellence and employee satisfaction within the team. It would not have been successful without strong support from the DKSH Business Units and management team. We are currently identifying similar processes that can be automated in our operations in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam and as well as the Group’s other functions such as Finance, Supply Chain and Human Resources.

I truly recommend considering automation only when optimization and standardization of processes have already been explored. RPA is not a magic wand and the identification and prioritization of the process must be conducted thoroughly as not all processes are fit for automation. The intangible benefits from RPA might be difficult to quantify or monetize but it will certainly help to pave the road toward your organization’s digital transformation goals.

Get in touch with me to share your experience and thoughts on business process automation or if you want to know more about DKSH’s robotic process automation journey.

Abderrahmane (Abdou) Sairi

About the author

Abderrahmane (Abdou) Sairi joined DKSH in January 2019 and is currently Manager, Group Technology Innovation based in Kuala Lumpur. He holds two Master’s Degrees in Telecommunications Engineering and Business Administration specialized in Information Systems Governance and has considerable experience in Project Management and Consulting. Born and raised in Morocco, he studied and worked in France before moving to Malaysia.