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April 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 11
Ask the Experts

Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA), part 2

By Tim Passios,
Director of Product Management, Interactive Intelligence

There is a huge rush to streamline operations as a result of the current economic situation. However, every company should be looking at ways to run their business with less cost and higher efficiency at all times. It helps prepare a company for lean times and ensures they will get the most reward during up cycles.

When margins get thin or revenues start to fall, action needs to be taken. What is the right action? Do we cut staff? If so, when? How many? These are hard decisions. However, now is the time to make the right decisions so future decisions become easier.

Perhaps the most overlooked way to improve business conditions is by optimizing and automating business processes. Even focusing on just a few processes can have a dramatic effect on a company’s bottom line.

Everyone is cutting staff now because they didn’t optimize their processes years ago. In 2004–2005, they could have been running with 10–50% fewer staff members. They would have made more profits and been in a stronger position to handle either a significant increase or decrease in sales volume — or they could have pursued additional markets. Like a bucket full of holes, valuable resources are being wasted instead of being used productively.

In last month’s article, we talked about Communications-Based Process Automation (CBPA) and how it supports automating virtually any business process. But is this the time to be reviewing processes for automation? Absolutely! Here’s why:

First, automating repetitive manual, tedious procedures focuses your staff on making money. Most jobs have some repetitive tasks. For example, once a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) is issued, a repetitive set of tasks could be automated. Shipping replacements, checking for duplicates, notifying the returns department, and charging a credit card if the item is not received within the time limit are examples that could occur automatically when an agent enters an RMA. Likewise, the initial review of an insurance claim could look up the policy details of the claim and examine whether it meets one of the hundreds of criteria that generate an automatic approval. Claim history could be examined to determine if the deductibles have been reached. Instead of agents looking at every claim, they could review the smaller number of claims that don’t qualify for automatic approval. That represents a potentially huge savings in the number of employees needed to complete that task.

Second, businesses risk losing staff with valuable knowledge and experience. Documenting and incorporating that knowledge into system processes protects your business from losing valuable operating information. Systematizing your best employees’ processes will increase the productivity of other employees. Imagine if the successful techniques of your most profitable salespeople could be utilized by new or less experienced salespeople. You could evaluate sales performance with a more balanced measurement.

Third, many tasks function much better as automated processes. Processes like expense report approval or initial insurance claim review both require a complicated matrix of overlapping criteria to be properly applied. The work of building these complex matrices can be done once, tested, and then released for use by all employees in an automated workflow. When changes or corrections occur, only one update is needed.

One of the unique features of CBPA is the ability to automate most (if not all) of the business process. Most existing business process automation “solutions” serve a particular niche or act as an extension of another product such as imaging/document management solutions.

The techniques and technologies that serve as the foundation of CBPA are rich and well developed. Contact centers have refined these technologies because increasing utilization, improving revenue, and reducing costs even $.01 per interaction snowballs into huge savings. The ability to look deeply into processes and optimize revenue and cost is critical.

Knowing the skills and availability of each employee, routing and queuing work to the next available employee and recording the time for each step (including latency) are vital techniques the contact center has developed, and that businesses should be adopting without delay. Being able to monitor the progress of each process in real-time and to take proactive corrective action is something most businesses can only dream of. And to be able to historically report on the individual or aggregated results for accountability is also uncommon. How many times have you asked, “How is everything going?” and heard back, “Fine”? Couldn’t everything be improved in some way? Yes, but most people are at a loss to tell you what they would change. Managers don’t have the information they need to even know where problems exist. They just hope for the best.

Tim Passios is Director of Solutions Marketing for Interactive Intelligence, Inc. and has more than 18 years experience in the contact center industry. Interactive Intelligence is a leading provider of IP business communications software and services for the contact center and the enterprise, with more than 3,000 installations in nearly 90 countries. For more information, contact [email protected] or (317) 872-3000.

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