Business Process Inefficiencies: Communication Technologies to the Rescue
On June 22, Interactive Intelligence launched Interaction Process Automation (IPA) – a communications-based process automation tool (see the press release here). It leverages Interactive Intelligence’s proven unified communications (UC) and contact center technologies as well as some document and workflow management capabilities originally developed by AcroSoft, acquired by Interactive Intelligence earlier this year (see announcement here).
What is IPA?
The following Interactive Intelligence UC platform capabilities have been incorporated in the new IPA solution:
Contact center-style queuing and routing are used for accurate and flexible prioritization and distribution of process work.
- Enterprise presence becomes “process presence,” indicating availability for a work assignment and speeding processing time.
- Automated escalation functionality ensures that service level goals are met.
- Recording becomes an essential part of compliance for business processes.
- Real-time monitoring provides management visibility into every step of the work process.
- End-to-end reporting delivers the ability to manage and measure each process attribute.
- VoIP provides complete location-independence, enabling employees to participate in businesses processes from anywhere in the world.
With the IPA solution Interactive Intelligence offers a unique perspective on the use of communication technologies for automating business processes. While we have all, jointly and severally, managed to overhype unified communications before we could even define the concept properly, and have also coined the term communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) before any major examples were even commercially available, Interactive Intelligence has managed to identify an opportunity for UC and contact center technologies to provide tangible value to businesses suffering from inefficient business processes.
The Business Challenge
While manufacturing has been pretty much automated since the invention of the assembly line, business processes involving office workers are frequently pretty manual even though a lot of the information retrieval and input are handled using modern computing technologies. It is the hand-off of work items, tasks and responsibilities that is still quite manual (in the sense that it is initiated and handled by humans) and is therefore somewhat random and unpredictable and prone to latency and error.
Just picture a typical day in the life of an ordinary office worker and you will see that it is characterized by information and communications overload and demanding schedules and deadlines, and very much impacted by the efficiency and diligence (or lack thereof) of others. Frequently, the result is poor productivity, management and customer dissatisfaction, stress and, ultimately, a waste of revenue and individual financial reward (bonuses, etc.) opportunities.
There are multiple horizontal business processes – MIS support, new employee on-boarding, etc. – that are very repetitive and fairly simple and can be significantly facilitated and accelerated through some degree of automation. There are also vertical-specific processes such insurance claims, loan applications, etc. that also involve repetitive activities and a hand-off among multiple individuals that make them suitable targets for automation.
A Creative Solution
One of the few office worker processes that has been decently automated is customer care. From the ever-annoying interactive voice response systems (IVRs), which, however, provide some real value to the company, to call queuing and automatic call distribution (ACD), to intelligent call routing, to computer-telephony integration (CTI), to call monitoring and recording, communication technologies have enabled contact centers to make customer care at least somewhat reliable and predictable. These technologies ensure that a customer call reaches the right person (based on skills, time zone, availability, etc.), that the caller receives some preliminary information from the IVR, and that the call center agent receives as much information as possible about the caller.
Interactive Intelligence seems to have found an interesting approach in the application of contact center technologies and UC (mostly presence) for the automation of business processes beyond the contact center. The IPA solution seems well positioned to provide significant value to businesses of multiple verticals facing various inefficiencies. It is, however, mostly a framework and requires quite a bit of customization for each application. If Interactive Intelligence manages to identify the pain points of each vertical and also create an eco-system of application developers that can freely design and test (in a “sandbox”-type environment) easily deployable solution modules and prepackaged applications for different business processes, this solution can help many businesses recover more rapidly from the economic downturn that entailed pervasive workforce reduction and probably left many businesses unable to grow or even satisfy existing customer demand.
Let’s not forget that any business is as strong as its weakest link, which is its most inefficient process. Therefore, each business should take a long and hard look at where latencies and errors occur most frequently and whether certain tasks or activities can be automated for greater efficiency and productivity. After all, our business processes determine our competitiveness and ability to grow – by either improving the productivity and quality of output of existing resources or re-purposing resources for more efficient resource utilization.
Business decision makers should, however, apply a structured approach to business process automation. First they need to map their processes, separate the critical from the non-critical ones, identify the resources involved and the major stages in each process, etc. Then they need to find the weak links and set their improvement objectives in terms of specific return on investment (ROI) and measures of performance (MOPs). Finally, they need to carefully evaluate existing (deployed and those available on the market) technologies and solutions in order to select the one(s) that best addresses their needs.
For more information on the IPA solution and business process automation, please join us for this webinar on June 25, 2009.