Rise of the robots: Four ways that Robotic Process Automation is driving digital in telecoms
The digital revolution has brought many benefits for consumers and large organisations alike, but while the former enjoys more sophisticated experiences than ever, delivering these can be a struggle for the organisations themselves – in all industries, says Ravi Kumar Palepu, global head, Telco Solutions, Virtusa.
As consumer standards increase, the amount of digital pressure organisations face builds along with it. Many firms are turning to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for help, using software ‘robots’ to automate repetitive tasks that take up a good deal of staff resources. This is a growing trend – Gartner believes that total spending on RPA will reach $2.4bn (€2.1 billion) by 2022.
The telco industry offers a good bellwether for how the RPA landscape is shaping up. Digital pressure is particularly acute in this industry, against a backdrop of greater regulation and tech skills shortages. Telcos are having to update their infrastructures to support trends like the Internet of Things (IoT), yet face dwindling revenues as over-The-Top (OTT) providers like Netflix chip away at their margins, while consumers lose their appetite for expensive phone upgrades, squeezing pre-paid contact revenues. Here’s four key areas where RPA is answering the digital questions that telcos are currently grappling with.
1: Transforming the call centre
Despite a big push to improve its reputation for customer service, the telco industry continues to fall short. In the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, published in January 2019, the telco and media sector was ranked in the bottom three of 13 industry sectors. Frustration with the call centre is often a key factor – how many people enjoy listening to hold music for an hour, only to walk away without the answers they need because the agent didn’t have access to their full profile?
RPA can help turn the call centre from a cost centre into a source of revenue. With robotic ‘helpers’, RPA aggregates and harmonises customer data from all the siloes it’s typically stored in, giving agents a 360-degree view of the customer that enables them to answer queries quickly. The time saved can then be spent on up-selling/cross-selling other services.
2: Network diagnostics
Telco networks are complex; featuring a mix of old and new technologies, with multiple tools monitoring service assurance. Inevitably, things will go wrong and customers will complain. The teams overseeing these networks face a battle on two different fronts. Every single alert from the network – some of which aren’t urgent or high-priority – must be investigated. This causes ‘alert fatigue’ and critical alerts might end up overlooked.
At the same time, every ticket the call centre raises must be addressed, since call agents can’t carry out diagnostic tests. This means network issues can take a long time to resolve – during which the number of angry customers venting at the call centre or via social media will inevitably rise.
RPA can fix both issues. Robots can analyse network alerts and run diagnostic tests to decide whether an alert can be eliminated or passed to the operations team. When combined with AI, these robots base the rules they work from on historical patterns to improve their accuracy. This even allows call centre agents to handle enquiries themselves, giving customers a quick answer while reducing the burden on the operations team.
Upgrading a network, say, for the impending arrival of 5G, can cost billions – so capacity planning is critical. Accurate capacity planning calls requires analysts to manually examine current and historical data across areas such as consumption rates, customer profitability and quality of service. This is complex, time-consuming, and often imprecise. RPA can consolidate and analyse data across these areas, even where data is stored in disparate siloes. RPA can even ‘auto-recommend’ the most cost-effective path for installing a new cable, and bring in new data such as expected population increases within certain areas, greatly increasing accuracy.
According to some estimates, up to 20% of telco charges are billed in error. Notwithstanding the hefty fines that regulators impose as a result, telcos face the wrath of angry customers querying their bills. Many of these errors are due to complexity; telcos often aggregate the services of other providers, spanning various SLAs and geographies, so it’s can be hard to spot where the error comes from.
When humans are responsible for tracking the source of the problem, customers often get passed between departments to check various CRM and billing systems. With RPA, these systems can be tied together to provide a complete audit trail. RPA digitises the billing and invoicing process, summarising the data on each customer for call centre agents who can resolve problems faster, or avoid them altogether.
Getting the most from RPA investments
Having identified the areas that can benefit from RPA, telcos need a clear strategy to ensure return on investment from any project. According to analysts, just 13% of RPA initiatives are scaled across the entire organisation. This indicates many firms are taking a fragmented approach and relying in IT teams to apply RPA in a piecemeal manner, rather than as part of an enterprise-wide strategy.
To avoid this and make sure RPA delivers on its promise – organisations should create a ‘Centre of Excellence (CoE)’ that can act as a dedicated RPA hub. This will bring key stakeholders from across the business together to ensure disruption is managed and minimised, and to replicate successful implementations in other departments.
The CoE should include the senior leadership team, business process analysts, operations support, network managers, and line of business – not just IT. There’s no doubt RPA will help streamline many telco areas of operation, but to ensure success as part of the wider digital transformation efforts – it must be a company-wide collaboration.
The author is Ravi Kumar Palepu, global head, Telco Solutions, Virtusa