By Kabelo Makwane
Think about a typical South African business and you’ll likely be thinking about a company where everything, or nearly everything, remains insourced. From HR to finance, supply chain and procurement, an ‘in-house’ mindset often pervades.
At the same time, when management is focused mainly on the business’ ”core” operations, the upshot is often inefficiency in the non-core functions. And when it comes to ‘non-core’ functions – including procurement, marketing, HR, finance and others – many South African companies haven’t considered outsourcing. Yet, internationally, that inclination exists – tapping into business process services (BPS) and leveraging smart partnerships are far more the norm, and with good reason.
According to a report from HfS Research and Accenture (NYSE: ACN), organizations that leverage Intelligent Operations to make decisions and act in real-time will be best placed to thrive in the future. Establishing an ecosystem of smart partnerships allows organizations to leverage these partners’ innovation potential, complementary skill sets and new technologies to drive innovation. In fact over 90% of survey respondents said working closely with partners would be important to help them meet business objectives.
Organizations that partner with a business process service provider can expect to achieve more than streamlined operations. Business process services can also help break down the silos between the front and back offices, which is essential to delivering a superior customer experience and deftly responding to evolving business needs. By tapping into business process services and intelligently leveraging and embedding applied intelligence, it has become possible not only to drive efficiency, but also to unlock trapped value in often-overlooked areas – such as HR, supply chain and procurement.
Part of the value stems from the automaton of routine processes. Yet there’s an additional value gain in insight. With data analytics and machine learning, it becomes possible to leverage an understanding of how both customers and staff operate. With that comes knowledge of how machines can best automate, augment and assist. The result is that people, process and technology come together – freeing human beings to focus more of their attention on tasks that require uniquely human ingenuity.
A relevant example is account opening. Whether a retail or supplier account, the process has become highly standardised: gather and check bank statements, confirm addresses, verify identities and business names and so forth. Given the standard nature of the inputs and the process required to compile them, it’s easy to automate. In this case, anomalies are thrown out as exceptions – and from there passed to an agent to resolve.
BPS and beyond
But the paradigm of single-business BPS solutions extends even further – into cross-industry ecosystems. Here, technological advancements are not only disrupting traditional value chains but also lowering barriers to industry entry.
In financial services, for example, by leveraging open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), it has become possible to create fintech spinoffs that handle processes formerly part of banking core value chains. In fact, disaggregation of the banking chain is no longer a novelty. Be it in the realm of payments, customer relations or even capital markets, the insourcing paradigm is being superseded.
From an eCommerce perspective particularly, tapping into a platform is not only efficient, but also necessary. Businesses wanting to transact digitally need access to platforms flexible enough to allow customers to interact with the business on demand, and with the levels of personalisation today’s consumers expect.
Business owners don’t own all the necessary capabilities, however: driving click-throughs to payment, for example, or leading customers from viewing a product in a digital showroom to making a purchase often require outside capabilities that organizations wanting to sell online need to tap into. The value chain encompasses a number of specialist processes; each of which is a key aspect of the buying experience. Proactive advertising, specialist product parameters, access to funding options – all need to come together in a user-friendly platform that enables organizations to compete with others already in the marketplace.
Sales is one application; sourcing is another. Platform-based analytics tools can help drive supply chain efficiencies by suggesting input items and price, based on product comparisons and buying histories; automation and machine learning continually refine the suggestions, making the process more efficient over time.
From an HR perspective, business process services offer clients an ability to pursue and accelerate their transformation agenda. Improving the employee experience with intelligent self-service means repetitive tasks such as employee queries about policies, entitlements and medical aid can be handled by a chatbot, freeing HR staff to address more complex, human issues such as company culture. Cloud HCMs, automation, artificial intelligence and analytics are part of an integrated platform, enabling intelligent operations.
Far more than simply enabling efficiency and savings, through Intelligent Operations, business process services have the ability to unlock value formerly hidden in often-overlooked ‘cost-centre’ functions such as procurement and finance. Our report found that organizations which harness the combination of innovative talent, diverse data, and applied intelligence will be in the best position to overcome digital disruption and use data-driven insights to drive superior business outcomes. Nearly 90% respondents from our survey believe automation and AI will help them achieve their business goals.
Technology is changing how business is done. But using that technology effectively requires human ingenuity and business-savvy talent.
By Kabelo Makwane is the Managing Director for Accenture Operations in Africa
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