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What if...

"What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet."  Woody Allen

What if, during your next hotel stay, a digital kiosk used facial recognition software to recover your reservation, a voice-controlled smart speaker adjusted the temperature in your room, and an artificial intelligence-powered robot delivered your room service? It sounds like a scene straight out of a movie, but it's real.

The applications of this kind of automation extend beyond hospitality. Companies across multiple industries are automating administrative functions to save time and money. Front office automation, as it's called, has the potential to transform daily operations and add massive amounts of productivity to your workforce. However, your process for implementation will determine how well you ride this wave.

Bringing Automation to the Front

By incorporating robotic process automation, AI, natural language processing and other adaptive systems, you can not only help to boost accuracy and productivity within your company, but also improve the user experience with collaboration tools—for both employees and customers.

Mail, for instance, continues to be an integral part of document workflow in many companies. A large part of a typical mail center worker's day is spent manually sorting, distributing and processing incoming and interoffice mail—a mind-numbing, costly, and error-prone process.

The point of front office automation is not to do things differently but to do things better.

Sophisticated automation and collaboration tools can open incoming mail, scan and digitize the contents, extract and classify relevant information, and then distribute messages through email. As a result, they drive operational efficiency, enhance privacy protection and optimize interoffice communication.

Consider that once mail is digitized, it can be automatically fed into new work streams, where specific people in an organization are notified to take action. For instance, a tax bill may require timely legal review, which can be kicked off into workflow automation software that engages the right parties.

There's value in front office automation, but this technology isn't yet perfect. Optical character recognition software, for example, interprets handwriting less accurately than printed text. And when it comes to physical mail processing, consider image clarity, contrast, paper creases and dirty or smudged sections, which can all hamper the effectiveness of mail digitization.

Front office automation is promising, but it is still being refined. It's not yet a “set it and forget it" type of technology. Knowing that, here are three tips to keep in mind when implementing front office automation solutions and collaboration tools.

1. Implement consolidated solutions.

With any new technology, it's tempting to take a piecemeal approach (i.e., deploy pointed solutions for pointed problems). But when you implement automation in isolated pockets, you may end up introducing more redundancies, integration issues and barriers to communication.

Let's say you decide to implement a mail digitization system—but only in one department. In doing so, you disrupt workflow because your departments cannot properly work alongside one another. Similarly, if you introduce an automated data extraction system to pull from physical documents and match it to defined data fields, you need to also invest in automation tools to organize, route and store the data. Otherwise, you'll create more work for your staff and hamstring your efforts.

When it comes to implementing automation, the benefits multiply when you consolidate and coordinate silos under a single framework. Begin your company's evolution toward automation with as many plug-and-play options as possible—simple solutions are great for experimenting—but keep end-to-end automation as your final goal.

2. Engineer tangible improvements.

Without strategic objectives, automation initiatives fall flat. The point of front office automation is not to do things differently but to do things better. Consider the amount of time your employees spend completing manual, repetitive tasks that feed into critical processes. Use front office automation to engineer real improvements in those areas first.

For example, rather than review resumes manually, hiring managers can delegate the first filtering step to automation. You'll then need humans during the interview process, but once you identify the best candidate, automation can distribute onboarding documents.

An online onboarding workflow can help eliminate manual data routing and streamline the process, ultimately helping to increase staff productivity. And when companies deploy automation to provide tangible efficiencies, that can help boost their competitive advantage.

3. Don't assume consumers always need a human touch.

Relying on technology alone may make you uncomfortable, but don't convince yourself that a human touch is always necessary. It really depends on what your customer is paying for and what he or she expects. Acknowledge that technologically advanced systems are welcomed by many consumers, as they often provide exceptional speed, convenience and accessibility.

Tech-savvy consumers enjoy a greater degree of control and personalization when they interact with convenience-driven technology—and adoption rates are high. As an example, rather than hiring a full-time receptionist for a low-traffic entrance, businesses can now leverage a virtual receptionist to monitor traffic and greet occasional guests with prerecorded messages or through a video chat feature. There's no need to hire an additional worker when customers can use a kiosk to request essential information such as the Wi-Fi login credentials or services such as disability accommodations on a 24/7 basis.

Technology, from the telegram to the internet, has always been what drives businesses forward. Now, front office automation is poised to effect the same kind of change. As this technology continues to mature, you can expect lasting transformations to essential front office processes.

 

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