Robotic process automation (RPA) has vastly improved the job satisfaction and opportunities for humans at customer services provider Teleperformance.
The company initially introduced an RPA project, using software from UIPath, at its operation in the Netherlands, and following its expansion across Europe, the project now has the attention of its global human workforce of about 400,000 people.
In fact, rather than spread fear of jobs being taken by robots, staff are competing to think up the best new roles for their robotic colleagues.
Danny Kuivenhoven, head of digital transformation at Teleperformance, which provides outsourced customer services to its business clients, including global 500 organisations, started at the company in 2011 as IT services manager. He told Computer Weekly: “RPA was a natural journey because automation has always been in our DNA.”
The first RPA projects set out to cut costs, and he began with a project close to home: in the IT department.
It started, in 2014, using automation for the provisioning and de-provisioning of staff, a job carried out traditionally by the IT helpdesk. There was a vacancy on the team at the time, and Kuivenhoven convinced the CEO to fill it with a robot.
This was welcomed by the other members of staff because the repetitive and laborious nature of provisioning and de-provisioning joiners and leavers was the task nobody wanted to do. “We have a lot of leavers and joiners in our industry, so we have to provision and de-provision regularly,” said Kuivenhoven.
The project proved a success through cutting costs, improving accuracy and saving members of the team from having to do the most boring task of all. “There was an obvious cost benefit because we reduced the team by one, but it [also] reduced mistakes that can be problematic,” he said.
If mistakes are made during provisioning, new staff can’t, for example, start training or begin their roles on time, which is business-critical to a company that provides outsourcing of people. “I would say there were at least four incidents of bad check-ins per month in the Netherlands alone,” said Kuivenhoven, adding that this can happen easily, for example by mistyping.
He said the additional benefit was extending recruitment processing beyond the work day. “As a result, we could actually recruit for a day longer because robots continue to work over the weekend.”
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When, in 2018, Kuivenhoven became the head of digital transformation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, excluding Spain, Portugal and the UK, the RPA strategy was expanded.
The RPA department sits in the digital transformation department, which is kept separate from IT, although both the departments work closely on RPA projects. “Transformation is not part of IT, but is a department on its own, intertwined with IT because we make use of the IT department, such as RPA developers,” he said.
In the region Kuivenhoven is responsible for, the company made operational savings worth €25m through RPA last year. The company now has RPA centres of excellence all over the world, which all carry out RPA development.
Of its overall staff of 400,000 worldwide, about 95% are customer services workers, performing customer contact centre and back-office roles.
The staff performing customer services roles tend to be young and just starting out on their careers, and Kuivenhoven said RPA has improved their job satisfaction and career prospects.
“A lot of our customer representatives are young, often in their first jobs, and in touch with modern technology,” he said. “Through RPA training they are being given important skills early on which they could benefit from throughout their careers. In the past, they were just there taking calls, but now we are offering new career paths including becoming a RPA developer.”
Kuivenhoven anticipates that in the next two years, every project will have its own RPA developer. “What I like about this technology is that it’s becoming a lot easier to use and you don’t actually have to be a techie to do so,” he said.
Rewarding staff innovation
The company is raising awareness of the technology and its capabilities among staff, and striving to get more people involved. The company organised what Kuivenhoven calls a botathon – a hackathon focused on RPA development, and awarded prizes for the best ideas from staff across the world.
It also has a project known as All Ideas Matter (AIM), which is a suggestion box for all employees, where they give ideas that the company can implement across the globe. “We explained what RPA is and gave our employees the opportunity to come up with ideas for their departments,” he said.
In the first month alone there were 1,500 ideas captured. It then chose a couple of ideas from each country and allowed the people that came up with them to develop their own bot.
Working with UIPath, the staff were given four hours of training on the basics, and then, with the guidance of a mentor from the transformation team, they can build their own minimal viable product in two weeks.
“We wanted to promote the capabilities but also to show what was possible and how easy it is to implement,” said Kuivenhoven.