Applying robotic process automation to insurance practices isn’t intuitive, but it is important. The implementation allows carriers to achieve more productive activities in their workforce.
I like to say, “Time on a keyboard should be as enjoyable and productive as possible.”
Keying data into a computer all day long feels unexceptional. I have coded a lot of software in my career, and my least favorite task was the actual typing of the code. I found my enjoyment came in the problem-solving and design aspects of programming.
Speaking from experience, I can safely say data entry doesn’t lead to high levels of employee satisfaction, especially if it is repetitive and doesn’t require much thought. We know insurance carriers have many associates doing this type of mundane work, which can lead to less efficient and low-quality results. Carriers also want to use talent for other, higher-value work. So, what’s the solution?
Insurance and Robotic Process Automation
Being risk-averse by nature, the insurance industry is historically slower to adopt newer data management technologies. Carriers also remain painfully aware of the significant investments required to update systems for policy, claims, underwriting and other functional areas.
The size and scope of these projects often require years of effort and millions of dollars. Even then, you still have gaps requiring manual entry of data. Robotic process automation (RPA) allows carriers to quickly reduce cost, gain efficiencies and increase associate satisfaction.
To get a sense of where RPA is most effective, let’s view the insurance industry as an information business. We require accurate information to be effective and successful. Data comes in all shapes and sizes (fax, web forms, email, paper and more) and flows into a carrier from agents, customers, vendors, regulatory agencies and other sources.
Companies need to apply data to specific locations to route new business and drive claims, underwriting, billing and servicing to provide the most value. Information is the primary driver across the insurance value chain.
How Does RPA Work?
RPA is a software technology that captures, interprets and replicates the actions of humans. It is a simple concept, like the screen scraping applications of old, but those older technologies proved challenging to create and maintain and had minimal functionality.
Today’s generation of RPA software can support or supplement human employees in processing transactions, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other systems. It’s especially valuable to organizations using people for knowledge-process work that is:
The RPA application, or “bot,” performs various tasks, depending on need, from a simple one-task process to a complex multi-step process. Unattended bots sit and wait for work to appear – or are scheduled to run at specific times – and then process it once it does. Developers program attended bots for humans to kick off the bot to perform a particular set of tasks. Ultimately, RPA offers a lot of problem-solving flexibility.
To understand what RPA does, we need to know what it won’t do. RPA can offer an interface between legacy systems, but it may not cover an entire process. In addition, RPA is not a recommended way to reduce headcount. Instead, it is a way for employees to add value to their current workflow, which increases their job satisfaction and allows a carrier to achieve more productive activities from its workforce.
Finally, RPA is not synonymous with machine learning (ML) or artificial intelligence (AI) but is usable in conjunction with these technologies. We address this differentiation in another blog, as we believe the impact of these combined technologies can provide profound benefits.
How Do We Get Started?
Currently, there are over 15 vendors listed on Gartner’s magic quadrant. Today’s leading RPA vendors (including UiPath, Automation Anywhere, BluePrism and Microsoft) have made the creation, installation and maintenance of bots cost-effective and straightforward. RPA toolsets typically offer a visual development environment and do not require a technical background, although we recommend developers have a certain degree of technical acumen and design experience to work with these tools.
This experience assists in creating more efficient and scalable bots for your company’s environment. That said, we are seeing an increased interest in citizen development, and some vendors offer scaled-down versions of their tools to support this.
A Successful RPA Approach
At Centric Consulting, we successfully combined a Center of Excellence (CoE) for Automation with high-velocity development staff. Staff may include on-site, near-shore and off-shore development elements, along with client associates who become part of the CoE. Clients gain flexibility in controlling costs and throughput for development efforts.
The CoE functions as an intake and coordination function. Automation requests, and there will be many, come into a central point of control. Your CoE then reviews these requests for business function, cost-benefit and priority. If a request passes the initial review, the CoE will do an estimate and create a benefit case. The benefit case is critical in the process, as it determines the actual return on investment for the bot over time.
Bots come in all shapes and sizes and provide different levels of return. In some cases, a straightforward bot that takes a few weeks to develop could offer a substantial return, whereas a more sophisticated bot may not provide the same type of benefit. A business case considers non-tangible benefits as well, such as risk avoidance, quality control and compliance. Then, the business case drives prioritization.
The CoE maintains a backlog of bot requests, including the detailed functional requirements for the developers. We recommend a steering committee to provide oversight and guidance to your CoE as the team works through the intake and prioritization process.
Once your CoE prioritizes requests and your team completes the functional requirements, the CoE hands off the request to the development team to perform the technical design, development and unit testing. Upon the completion of all phases of testing and signoff by the project sponsor or owner, your bot is ready for deployment.
Approach your RPA journey thoughtfully. Think big, start small, act quickly. Align your organization to RPA based on the highest value activities. Determine if RPA is a long-term strategy or whether RPA is a gap-filler while you focus on other strategic efforts. Other factors include vendor review and selection, CoE establishment, training, associate communication and change management and ongoing maintenance and support, to name a few.
Optimize your RPA investment by applying it to the most valuable areas of the insurance value chain and delivering it using a delivery model that is highly flexible and cost-effective. It will make all the difference for your company and your staff.