Most South African businesses that want to stay competitive in the current market are looking for solutions to save on costs, reduce risk, ensure employee satisfaction, and deliver exceptional customer service. New operating models, technology and process optimisation, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and digital citizens, can assist in achieving these goals.
What is automation?
Automation is not industrial, talking robots or a digital workforce taking over from human beings. Rather it emulates human worker tasks through user interface, automates activities across multiple functions in an organisation, and uses software that acts as the hands, feet and eyes of a workforce ‒ not the brain.
In a recent webinar for the ’How Digital is your Business?’ series hosted by SYSPRO Africa, Johan Du Preez, Business Development: Automation Executive at iOCO, advised that before introducing any automation technology to their organisation, businesses need ensure that they use the right digital tools and select the right processes to support their market drivers. “The operating model should have clear roles and responsibilities, leveraging reusable asset libraries. Automation is often perceived as a mammoth and complex process, but if it is planned properly, businesses can start small and grow on a continuous journey,” he said.
Optimising workflow in an organisation
Many businesses begin the journey to automation by implementing robotic process automation (RPA). This technology allows organisations to automate repetitive tasks and mimic human activity through existing user interfaces and therefore lessening the risk of business disruption. The technology can use digital tools like SYSPRO ERP software for system integration, where a company is provided with a full view of how their processes, systems, data and workforce are designed, so that they can identify ways to streamline activity and reduce time and costs.
The most common processes that businesses should automate are those that are admin-intensive and cost drivers. These are usually focused in the HR, supply chain, IT, finance and accounting, and customer services divisions of a business.
In a business’s finance department, for example, RPA can be utilised to automatically upload invoices, pay bills, produce budgets across departments, extract data from accounts and suppliers, and create an audit trail for compliance. Information is connected and transparent, and there’s no need for siloed spreadsheets, volumes of paperwork, or employees dedicating their time and skills to monotonous tasks. The impact of human error on revenue is also greatly decreased due to the accuracy and speed of the automation process.
Meet the digital citizen
Through RPA, bots are created, which can perform repetitive tasks much faster than a human could, making more time available for business resources to spend on high-value activities. Among the designs are networking bots or chatbots, with algorithms to interact with human users in real-time. These ‘digital citizens’ are embedded with AI and machine learning to predict customer behaviour, respond to queries quickly, and deliver always-on, consistent self-service, to enhance efficiency and customer experience.
In retail, South African companies can utilise digital technologies and automation to increase sales and store engagement. Chatbots can prompt online shoppers with personalised offers, based on available data on historical buying patterns and real-time pricing. Data and analytics can help retail teams make informed decisions based on trends and facts. Customer service divisions can use bots to assist and interact with customers 24/7, particularly on social media.
Manufacturers can adopt digital citizens in their processes, too. The SYSPRO Bots has 60 skill sets available for managing ERP specific functions, which can be implemented across an organisation, whether internal or supply-chain focused, to assist with surfacing information or perform automated tasks, such as price queries, stock control or updating an order status.
Looking beyond RPA
While process-driven automation through RPA can streamline workflow and remove costs, data-driven digital technology can optimise a business one step further, using intelligence and analytics to elevate strategies and operating models across an entire organisation, and encouraging innovation and differentiation in all sectors of industry.
When chief audit executive at Bidvest, Lauren Berrington and her team began an IT audit of the company, they experienced a multitude of challenges to manage its risk and compliance. A lack of common infrastructure, complex, siloed divisions, multiple audiences, geographies and technologies, and real-time results, were just some of the obstacles they faced.
This led to the development of ALICE, a cloud-based bot that combines intelligent automation with cognitive abilities to create digital services to assist with governance, management and monitoring in a business. ALICE facilitates the collection, digitalisation, storage, analysis and reporting of IT environmental data to offer remediation strategies to mitigate risk. The platform is scalable, always available, fully independent, and comfortable in all IT environments. It is also constantly evolving to assist every stakeholder in an organisation.
South African businesses should take advantage of the emergence of new technology to assist them in being more efficient with their time and resources, starting at the top. By showing their support of automation and sharing its successes, organisation leadership can encourage employees to adopt technology at an early stage and be excited about engaging with it, so that the full benefits of digital transformation can be experienced across industries throughout the country.