Six Sigma, the well-known framework for process improvement that was invented at General Electric, is nearly 40 years old! First introduced by engineer Bill Smith in 1980, legendary GE CEO Jack Welch recognized the value of the methodology and, by 1995, it was a critical pillar of GE’s business strategy.
Originally intended to drive out waste and inefficiency in manufacturing, it quickly became a popular method for also improving white-collar business processes across industries.
Six Sigma focuses on financial benefits and data-driven decision-making. This turned out to be a sea change or many businesses, where management by intuition or anecdote had long dominated. Six Sigma programs, while not without some level of controversy, have inarguably changed how we think about improving business processes.
In the health care industry, the impact of errors and inefficiency can often be life and death. Six Sigma is credited with reducing patients’ preparation time from 45 minutes to 5 minutes at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.
Intelligent Automation Enters the Scene
As technology has marched on, however, some have questioned how Six Sigma, Lean and other process improvement frameworks fit into this brave new world. Even the lexicon is changing, as the term “Operational Excellence” is now often used to denote overarching process improvement efforts.
The advent of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) platforms have injected a much-needed element of innovation and disruption to these disciplines.
Over the past five years, various intelligent automation (IA) platforms have become popular ways to leverage software to drive process efficiency. Where Six Sigma and related process improvement frameworks sometimes fall short, IA can help continue the journey to increase revenue and margin.
The opportunity is significant: the Capgemini Research Institute predicts that organizations will have achieved global, aggregate savings of nearly $500 billion by 2022 using IA.
Ways to Harmonize Intelligent Automation with Lean
Here at Capgemini, our global delivery team has automated more than 2,000 business processes and deployed nearly 6,000 bots. Furthermore, our business process outsourcing (BPO) unit, Capgemini BsV, has created innovative ways to mesh lean process improvement programs with intelligent automation.
Among the trends we’ve seen:
4. Cognitive Document Processing (CDP): take the Finance function, please (apologies to Henny Youngman). In all seriousness, an Accounts Receivable department must deal with invoices that appear in wildly unpredictable formats. CDP leverages Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies and then layers on text analytics for tasks like document classification, key field recognition, and natural language processing. This can remove a huge number of manual interventions previously required to handle the document accurately.
3. Conversational User Interfaces (CUI): I think many of us have already experienced chatbots and call center voice recognition platforms. I’ll point out, that for me personally, the end-user experiences have varied wildly. But there is little doubt that some of the latest technologies, with the right process design, can deflect significant percentages of first-level calls from a call center and improve overall customer sat ratings at the same time.
2. RPA: all major RPA vendors continue to evolve their platforms at a startling rate. Far from the days of screen-scraping and keyboard macros, RPA tools today provide an increasing level of intelligence, from recognizing fields that moved on-screen (in multiple ways) to automatically recognizing and responding to unresponsive applications. Today’s top RPA tools provide impressive task- and process-analytics, self-healing capabilities, and proactive security measures.
1.Training: the latest RPA tools are very easy to use. Many include “screen recorders” and drag-and-drop development studios to help speed up delivery of automation. Some leading organizations are training their OpEx or Lean teams on these tools — not to be professional developers — but so they can recognize where and how automation can be leveraged.
Further, many business-focused associates appreciate the opportunity to upskill on a hot new technology. We see some companies excelling by having business users pilot new capabilities while collaborating with an IA Center of Excellence to ensure appropriate governance.
In summary, process improvement initiatives would do well to consider embedding intelligent automation into their arsenal. The results for some have been exceptional.